Friday, April 15, 2011

NALT 2nd Annual Wild Food Festival

Karen will be talking at the Wild Food Festival on April 16th!

Come by for a great day at Bowen Park.
Food served 11-3.
An event not to be missed!

See you there.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The mysterious tale of the leek and the green onion

~Carrie Holt

Several years ago I pulled up my bed of ornamental bushes and replanted with a variety of herbs and leafy greens in efforts to eat healthy and locally. With one year of success under my belt, I decided to dive into urban farming and plant a full bed of leeks, potatoes, tomatoes, and other summer delights. My impending success transforming a relatively low-value bed of bushes into my own local source of produce was thrilling.

My new-found ambition was tempered, however, by past failures at starting plants from seed. Luckily, my partner’s mother is a master in all things green, and supplied me with 30 leek seedlings to get me started. I carefully raised the seedlings indoors with vigilant attention to light, heat, and water levels, hoping to demonstrate that her trust in my growing abilities was well founded. By the end of spring, the leeks still looked like blades of grass, but were growing too tall for their indoor home. So, as instructed, I dug long troughs in my bed, sprinkled some organic fertilizer, and planted the leeks careful to leave the trough relatively deep and allow space to cover the stem as they grew. Patiently, I waited through the summer for the leeks to grow. In the mean time, the kale came and went, tomato flowers bloomed but fruit did not ripen, potatoes were planted, grew and died back. Still, the leeks looked like (perhaps slightly thick) blades of grass. Despite their stunted growth, I slowly filled the trough with dirt, hoping to encourage more height if not width.

By fall, I started to question the origin of my leeks, a suspicion that was supported by research online. Perhaps my leeks were in fact not the hardy vegetable I had hoped, but were scallions, a culinary younger sibling often used as garnish? Although a comparison of my “leeks” with those grown my partner’s mother showed huge differences, she convinced me that there had been no such mistake with the seedlings.

Now, I may have settled with measly, mini leeks (or scallions) and enjoyed a single side-dish with all 30 of them, if it weren’t for an opportune cycle tour this fall through the country gardens of Burgundy, France. With leeks as thick as my ankle and chard the size of palm leaves, I felt like I was cycling through a wonderland of mammoth vegetables. How were these gardeners so successful where my efforts were so fruitless (assuming I as indeed growing leeks)? My spacing was similar, I had been careful about watering, and weeded relentlessly. After careful inspection I noticed that vast fields for cow grazing around these gardens, and huge inputs of natural fertilizer from manure. I reflected on the decrepit-looking lawn surrounding my vegetable bed, complete with a thick layer of moss (indicating poor nutrients) and several mature trees (likely sucking nutrients and water from below). Was the solution to introduce cows to my yard?

Being a resident of the city of Nanaimo, cow grazing was an unlikely option. Thankfully, friends outside of Nanaimo offered me a truck full of composted horse manure. So after a week of digging, sifting, mulching, and moving manure, I now have a nicely reconditioned bed of soil ready for next year’s planting.

Is the answer to this mystery soil reconditioning or a case of mislabeled seedlings? Stay tuned till next summer for the answer.

Thanks to Pat for the seedlings and advice, Rob for his super-human efforts in the garden, and Laura and Stewart for the kind gift of manure.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Eat Local. Eat Happy.

~karen hunter

With the current and intense presence of summer, and its heat and the necessary trips to the Nanaimo River to cool off, we have been granted so much fun food to share with you, and yet not quite the time to make that happen.

To get started, I decided to go ahead and have finger puppet fun with the fruits of summer. I say those fingers look pretty happy wearing all those big raspberry tuques. After I'd eaten off all those sweet pretties from each of my fingers (ok, I did this numerous times), I contemplated the thought of how summer and its food alter the frequency of my happy-go-lucky kid-like behaviours. It doesn't stop with raspberries! Is it perhaps the freshness and taste of such deliciousness that encourages this youthful energy? Plenty of folks are aware of the improved nutritive value of fresh (i.e. local) foods (see the following link for more information: But what if they make us happier?

(psst... this cake made me happy too!)

With all that said, I'm hoping that you are inspired to make something nutritious, simple and perhaps silly with local foods, or rather to grow something yourself. It is not too late to plant for fall harvesting of peas, beans, spinach and other greens etc.

In the near future I will write to tell you of my current experiences with growing meat chickens at the farm where I live. We have yet to process the birds into an edible form and am a little uncertain of how to document all of that... It will be my first time ever butchering my own meat. I'm giving thanks to all my chickens well in advance!

Pictured above are ISA Brown hens which are our egg-laying birds. Our meat birds are basic, commercially bred broilers.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Only 7 Buckets

~karen hunter

While there are many things to do on a day off, not all can be treated the same as Canada Day. In order to celebrate something local on our national holiday, I chose to do the season's first JAM.

Jam. The grocery store has nearly half an aisle full of it, yet it is so easy to make. I'll provide a nice recipe for fresh strawberry jam in just a moment. But first, let's talk about the star fruit, the Strawberry. Below are some buckets of summer-sap ladden berries picked just yesterday south of Nanaimo.

It's not uncommon to hear people agonizing about the last time they had a good strawberry. Of course, what they are longing for are those berries that are so truly flavourful, juicy and 'warm from the sunshine fresh' that they could only be from a local farm. Here in the Nanaimo area there are at least 2 farms operating as strawberry U-Picks. We know of these two: Dudniks Farm (2219 Gomerich Road, South Wellington; phone: ;; U-Pick and We-Pick Berries: Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, and red and black currants Fresh vegetables. Open mid-June to late August, 8am -5pm) and Katie's Farm (phone ; Fruit and produce in season. U-pick strawberries).

Yesterday, I picked enough to freeze about 11 small bags, have some for jam, some for a pie or two, and yes, some for eating. YUM. I was actually a little sad when my buckets were full as I did not want to leave the company of the field, the rows of fat fruits or the company of other pickers. Not even the bodily pains associated with kneeling for an hour made me want to leave that summery morning (yes, the sun was out). The flip side is that it only took about an hour or so to be rewarded by the fruit. Well, that's if you don't include the taste-testing I did on site. I encourage you to go picking, and now jamming!

Here's a simple recipe to make strawberry jam taken from Janet Chadwick's 'Preserving Food at Home' (2009, Versa Press). It uses SUGAR. In the jam I made today, I used 1/2 sugar and 1/2 honey as an experiment. If you do this, the jam may not set. So if you must have stiff jam, follow a traditional recipe. Otherwise, I suggest trying out other sweeteners and being happy with the result, even if it doesn't require a knife to spread it.

Basic Strawberry Jam
Makes about 7 500ml jars.
8 cups strawberries
6 cups sugar
1) preheat the canner, sterilize jars and keep lids in hot water.
2) Rinse the berries and remove the stems
3) Combine the berries and sugar in a stock pot. Crush the berries to release juice.
4) Bring the mixture to a boil until sugar dissolves. Then boil rapidly about 40 mins until thick. Stir the jam for the last 10 minutes to prevent it from burning.

5) Remove from heat and skim off foam.
6) Pour into jars leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe the jar rims clean with a clean damp cloth. Adjust the lids and screw on the rings until finger tight.
7) Place the filled jars on the rack in the heated canner. Process the jars for 10 minutes once the water has returned to a boil.
8) Remove jars from canner carefully. Place them somewhere to cool. In an hour or so, check the seals, remove the rings, label and store your lovely work.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Naked Wheat - The story behind the sheath.

~carrie holt
What's a person to do― trying to eat locally, but in love with bread? When I started eating locally a few years ago, I felt resigned to give up this important staple in my diet. An unfortunate loss indeed; kicking a 34-year bread habit is not an easy task. The day Karen found wheat grown here on Vancouver Island was a momentous day in both our lives. Ecstatically, I went looking for the wheat and figuring out how to turn it into a loaf of bread. The answers turned out to be more complicated than I had originally thought. It turns out that all grains of wheat are not equal. In fact, several varieties of wheat are now grown here, including Red Fife, a heritage variety that has grown widely across Canada in the late 1800's and numerous varieties of modern hard red and white spring wheats, as well as rye. All make fine loaves of bread because of their relatively high protein contents, but their textures will differ. Farmer Tom Henry at Sea Bluff Wheat Farm in Metchosin produces hard red spring wheat in a fairly large-scale practice, supplying grains to bakeries throughout the region (young wheat shown below).

On the other end of the spectrum, the Island Grains, Vancouver Island's first grain CSA (community supported agriculture) in Duncan is a grass-roots group that engages the community in small-scale farming practices of heritage and other varieties of grains and oats. While you need to be a member of the grain CSA to get their wheat, Tom's is available at his farm as kernels (before milling) at the farm, or as grains or milled wheat at True Grain Bakery in Cowichan Bay.

Fresh milled wheat has a rich, almost nutty feeling and taste, which I quickly fell in love with. Without additional processing steps commonly used by commercial companies (e.g., Robin Hood), the natural oils in wheat germ can become rancid and so the wheat should be consumed relatively soon after milling. However, it can be stored in the fridge or freezer to extend shelf life (lasting several months). Feeling satiated with bread and proud of my new findings, I starting spreading the word about this freshly milled wheat. However, I was humbled after meeting my boyfriend's grandmother, Nicé, a wheat miller for many decades who has been making multi-grain bread for several generations of her family. I had (and still have) much to learn! Since then I have become the proud owner of my own electric grain mill. Although it lacks the aesthetic appeal of Karen's hand-cranked one, it takes only seconds to make flour for several loaves. Perhaps a small step away from the slow foods movement, but, in my case, a step towards practicality.

I have recently experimented with slow rise breads that use less commercial yeast than regular bread and have a longer rising time to allow the yeast to more thoroughly break down the gluten. These breads have a wonderful spongy texture and rich flavour, and are more easily digested than quick-rise breads.

Although I combine my local whole wheat with a smaller portion of white bread flour, it is possible to make loaves of pure whole wheat. Here is my recipe:

2 cups freshly milled red fife or hard spring/winter wheat, more for dusting
1 cup white bread flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 ¼ - 1 ½ cups water all at once. Stir until blended; dough will be shaggy. Cover bowl with damp kitchen cloth (keep moist). Let dough rest at least 12-18 hours at room temperature, about 18-20 C°.
2. After rising the dough should be dotted with bubbles. Fold the dough over on itself once or twice, dusting the dough with flour. Cover the bowl with the damp towel and let rest about 15 minutes.
3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour; put dough on towel and dust with more flour. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size.
4. Before dough is ready, heat oven to 450°. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid or tin foil, and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 10-15 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Adapted from Jim Lahey at the Sullivan Street Bakery via Mark Bittman at New York Times
Thanks to Tom Henry, Nicé Jepson, and Rob English.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

New Event, April 9, 2010

Exicitng news for LFFN! We have been invited to meet with international travel writer, Paige Donner. We will be discussing the local food scene in Nanaimo, and more generally on Vancouver Island for inclusion in her web blog "Local Food and Wine" ( We will make our best attempt to represent as many food heroes as possible in our short time with Ms. Donner. Nettle gnocchi, winter kale salad and Morning Star Herbals tea are also on the menu!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dried Corn Experiment

~karen hunter
The corn we grew last summer was, in my Eastern Canadian opinion, not very tasty. Of course, I've had GREAT Comox Valley corn, but apparently we failed to grow the sweet, juicy kind I was hoping for. So what to do with a few rows of corn that you don't want to eat fresh or freeze?

Being a huge fan of the Rebar cookbook, I am known to make its version of buttermilk corn cakes with blueberries (p. 74). The ingredients call for both fine and stone ground corn meal. I will admit absolutely that this recipe was the sole reason that I decided to harvest and husk all the somewhat dry and drying corn from the garden in late August last year. The experiment to make my own corn flour was born.

There may be something a little crazy about having 50 cobs of corn sitting quietly in a warm, dry and dusty kitchen. I'll let you decide. The experiment resulted in a scene that included cobs balancing on a homemade drying rack (meant for pasta). We waited a few weeks before hulling the cobs to ensure the kernels were bone dry. Despite all the waiting, the result was pretty fantastic! Oh, and the TASTE!!!

It worked so well that I have used most of the dried kernels in various pancakes, waffles and corn breads. Being the recent owner of a new Estrella tortilla press, you know what I'll be up to next in the kitchen to finish the last of my beloved kernels. I can't wait to grow corn just to be able to dry it all over again.

Now, you may be wondering - how to crush hard kernels into meal or flour? For that I used what has come to be a trusty friend. It makes amazing fresh and tasty flour, and it can be adjusted to pastry-fine texture or like stone ground. It also provides a form of light exercise on cold and rainy days... The contraption I use is a "Country Living Grain Mill" ( You can purchase electric models as well, but we like having our mill as a permanent fixture in the kitchen and it was a few hundred dollars cheaper than a quailty electric model. Either way, Happy Grinding!