Sustaining the Okanagan 9: 1 Hour, 42 Jars

Keep your eyes open.P1180010

Oregon Grape, Okanagan Lake Shore

Ripe when the stems turn red.

Spend an hour.P1180151

Go to the kitchen.P1180156

Soon you will have 30 Jars of jelly and 12 jars of herb-and-honey-spiced reduction. Share the wild. If you’re sharing domestic fruits you are sharing domestication. Sure, if you want to become industrial nitrogen.


The choices are clear. Off you go. There’s still time this year. Imagine, though, if we bred these things and cultivated them everywhere water gathered at the foot of stone slopes. We’d change food culture world-wide, because there’s little that can compete with Oregon Grapes.


If we stopped spraying them with pesticides, herbicides and other gick in landscaping planting, every building could be a habitat. Every building. Food doesn’t have to be private property.


The Best Apple Pie in the World: a Very Slow Recipe

Here’s how to bake the best apple pie ever.

1. Go for a drive on the far side of the lake towards Fintry. Be curious. Stop.

First Growth Apple Orchard Gone to Roses and Elders…

and mud. Don’t forget the mud. This is Ewing in early October 2012.

2. Wander around. Taste a few seedling apples growing here and there. Let the rain run down your neck. Find this:

Apples Just Out of Reach

I jumped up and down. I worked my fingers along the branches, and eventually I got a taste. It tasted like … a bottle of apple cider in my hand. You know, the kind of stuff made by people who chisel a hole out of the mountain and keep it there in the dark and check on it once in awhile when the snow blows.

3. Dream. Remember this:

Cider Tree Smelling So Sweet

Darling of the Sun, Taste of the Earth, Beloved of the Sky, Elixir of… well, you get the idea.

4. Go back mid-March to get some grafting wood. Find this:

Bear Attack!

Black bears like apple cider, too. Good to know! Our brothers and sisters have taste and class, because this one left the other trees alone. So did I. Bah. But I think the bear who did this might do well to learn to climb a ladder.

5. Dream some more.


6. Graft it at home.


Spring, 2013. The Fintry Apple Grafted onto a Transparent.

Note: the transparents from those blossoms were great.

7. Grow a tree. Tend it carefully. Bend the branches down and tip the ends to encourage early fruiting. Dream.

8. It grows, winter comes, you wait. You dream of apple cider.

9. Spring comes, with blossoms. You get a couple dozen apples. Amazing! Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

10. Finally, it’s late September, 2014, you pick an apple, and … it tastes exquisite, but it’s way too soft for cider. It’s an old, soft variety, not a juice-laden marvel.

11. Make apple sauce. Aha! It’s just as good as Transparent apple sauce, which is high praise indeed.

12. Make an apple pie for friends. (Shortening, flour, salt, water, apples, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour, you know the drill. Easy does it.) It’s tart, it’s rich, it’s sweet, it’s really grand. Everyone is pleased. If we want a processing industry, and the best apple pie in the world, this is our baby.

P1500847Welcome, Fintry!

These darlings are about 2 inches in diameter, and oh-so-fine.

So far, four people and one bear have enjoyed the Fintry apple. Oh my, that just won’t do.


Beautiful Green Apples from Russia

You can see why Adam just had to bite.



Transparents, Second Picking (in my milk pail)

The greatest contribution of Russia to world civilization. The name comes from the transparent skin, if you peel it as finely as you can with a sharp knife.

The things are sour, though. Great for pies and applesauce and juice but for fresh eating, well, Adam, my boy, they’ll make the eyes bug out of your head. When the Okanagan had a fruit processing industry, there was a demand for these beauties. Now, you’re lucky if you find a tree anywhere, and that’s a crying shame, because I can imagine a few hundred acres planted in transparents, with juice and sauce and pies to put all others to shame. Instead, we have fast food service jobs. Can you imagine a civilization [sic] in which flinging burgers in an industrial kitchen smelling of fry grease is preferable to celebrating one of the delights of life on earth? Talk about poverty. Tonight in this house, we had apple crisp with the last five of these, just in time for the first peaches. Apples before peaches. Adam, you should have waited, man (but I’m glad you didn’t.)

We do Not Have a Food Problem

We do not have a food problem.

My Magic  Tomato and Her New Icelandic Friends

We don’t even have a production problem.

Black Krim Tomatoes


We don’t even have a farming problem.

P1320462U-Pick Tomato Field at the End of the Year

What we have is a succession problem, compounded by land speculation.

P1320453Aging Farmer Cutting the Vines Away In Preparation for Plowing.

And a distribution problem, exacerbated by the lack of an adequate social language for these concerns.

P1320446Good Food Becoming a Burden and a Waste

The point is not that this food should be donated to a food bank, but that the distribution system, which includes the system of creating value to allow for this food to be harvested for compelling wages, is completely inadequate. This food should be in the jar and on the shelf and in kitchens and smeared on the faces of children.

P1320463Ridiculous. I am totally ashamed to live in a society that considers this normal.


Next week: what a change in language can do for us.

25 Herbs and Spices for the Okanagan Kitchen

As the task lies before us of building a sustainable local food culture, let’s make that food taste as good as we can. Herbs and spices are high value crops that can be grown in small spaces all year long.  They add extra value to food and are the foundation of a culinary culture, and, may I say, of culture itself. Let’s look at some that grow here, to whet our appetites, and then let’s get planting, growing, harvesting and cooking. The world is a place of delight. Let’s delight, I say!

1. Pansies (and violas, too)P1590401

Violas in Early Spring

Put them in lemonade, put them in a salad, add some spice or even some wintergreen. This is a spice for the heart, that makes you happy to be with your food, which, by the way, aids in digestion, and makes all food more valuable. And while we’re on flowers…

2. Dandelions

P1590469Dandelion and Its Consort

Hint: shake first.

This is another herb that makes the heart sing. Fantastic to brighten up a salad and what would look better in the centre of a strawberry shortcake or a stack of pancakes? Failing that, wine and syrup are made from this flower. With that, spring can be with you all year long, which is particularly splendid in the snow. Some dandelion wine, some wildflower honey, a bit of ginger and some canned peaches stirred on the back of the stove and then sipped from a mug in front of the window is my favourite way of welcoming in the winter. Remember: in its origins, food was medicinal; there was no distinction between food, cooking and medicine. The distinctions came later. For instance,

3. Oregano

P1060453Spring Harvest

The second harvest is already 6 inches tall. Oregano comes back year after year after year. I like it before it goes to flower, but if you like the flowery way the Greeks do it, that’s easy, too. Don’t think of making marinara sauce, spaghetti sauce, grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches, pizza, or salads without this beauty on hand. It adds depth of taste. Originally, in Greece and Rome, in the day? A medicinal herb.

Oh, about those Greeks…

p1080562Greek Oregano

OK, look. It beats me why we import this stuff, when the stuff we can grow here has at least ten times the flavour. Look. You can almost see that flavour, right?


Greek Oregano Left, Harold’s Oregano Right

If there were a world spice championship, the Okanagan would win. 

Sticking to the Mediterranean …

4. Rosemary

P1120119Cooking Without it is Poverty Itself

Even if you have to dry it is a kazillion* times better than the stuff in the spice rack at the grocery store.

*mathematically precise term

5. Sage

P1120076Sage and Her Rosemary Friend

It beats me why sage is traditionally used mainly for stuffing chickens. This fresh herb can do most anything you ask of it, including standing in for many other green herbs. It is perennial and prolific in the Okanagan. The cuisine that celebrates this herb is barely in its infancy.

Note, not this stuff:

P1100090Sagebrush and Her Aphid Control Expert

Okanagan sagebrush is not for eating, but the smell of it, crushed or steamed or smoked and filling a room, that is another matter.

6. Marjoram


Sunrise in the World of Marjoram

The most delicate of Mediterranean herbs is also under-used. A splendid addition to Middle-Eastern inspired dishes based around nuts, grains and lemon, mango or sumac. It thrives here. Once you let it go to flower, a little goes a long way.

7. Tarragon


The Spice with the Bad Rap

Long ignored because of the overpowering sweet, oily nature it takes on when dried and sold in little glass jars in the grocery store, the fresh herb is a pure delight. It thrives in the Okanagan. We could supply half the world.

8. Thyme


Thyme Shaded by the Queen Anne’s Lace from the Sun

Because I like it sweet like that. If you want sharper time, let the sun rip at it! A perennial that requires almost water, and which comes in a myriad of flavours. Another under-utilized herb. Exquisite with scallops, for one thing.

9. Basil


It Comes in Purple, too (And Thai, and Lemon, and Cinnamon, and …)

The, um, cough cough, starving sage sparrows ate my first crop before moving up on the hill to scrounge up what they could of what they could find, so I reseeded.

It loves the summer heat around this place. Great commercial possibilities.

10. Pineapple Sage


New for Me, but it Sure Smells of Pineapple

I’m excited about what the summer will bring.

It beats me why all of these things aren’t grown in lush fields throughout the valley. After all, they are all very tolerant of drought and are the basis of any food industry.

11. Summer Savoury


Your Potato’s Best Friend

And soups. Oh my. Dries excellently, too.

I hope you’re getting the idea that there’s a whole unrealized industry here.

12. Dill


Another Victim of the Hungry Sparrows

Another chance to replant. I’m thinking mini-röstis with smoked trout and yoghurt. Poor apricot leaf. We mourn for her.

13. Stevia


Move Over, Sugar Cane!

Imagine local food cultures weaned off of corporate sucrose and creating sweeteners without large inputs of land and water. I sure can.

I think it’s time for Canada to grow up and accept the fact that it is a country of some 200 global cultures and use that to make itself culturally rich, by building something together. Right now the orchardists of the Okanagan are asking for assured access to future water supplies and massive subsidies to maintain their crumbling industry … none of that is necessary. It is time, as I say, to grow up and use our water, earth and sun, here where the desert threads into the mountains, to finally move into this land.

14. Coriander (and Cilantro)


This is my pest control in the tomatoes. Works like a charm, by attracting wasps, which take care of the crawling nibblers that want the whole wide world.

When young, it is cilantro. Once it goes to flower, the flowers are a good cilantro substitute, but subtler in flavour. Once it goes to seed, voilà, coriander. In between, it keeps the garden healthy, and looks real fine. There is no reason not to grow this stuff year round.

15. PeppermintP1120037

Not Just for Mint Sauce

Exquisite in soups and stews, with lamb, in tea, with coffee and hot chocolate, on cream cakes and so much more. So many gardeners rip this stuff out because it spreads. Spread on, I say. In the Yakima Valley, men grow this stuff in vast fields and harvest it like hay. We can do so much better. The oils from fresh mint make even the eyes sing.

16. Chocolate Mint


17. Orange Mint


Can you tell I like mint? There are so many more. Our wild spearmint is exquisite. Apple mint is the tenderest thing imaginable, and, um … do you have one of these?



They love to come out at night and sit on the warm concrete and eat blue bottom flies.

If so, look. You might also have one of these staring at it, for hours on end, waiting for it to blink. Hey, it happens.


Chuck Enjoying a Confined Space, Back in the Day

He stared down many a toad in his time. Blessings on you, my friend.

If so, do your friend a favour and plant some of this…

18. Catnip


Catnip and Its Flowery Friends

Around this house, I call this a lawn.

Happiness will follow. Or, just zonkedness.*

*psychologically precise term.

IMG_1538Chuck and his Brother Kitty Cat After a Nip

Hey, it beats staring at toads. And as far as catnip goes, this Okanagan bud is mighty popular with the feline set. Come on, be a pal. Oh, and you can make a relaxing tea out of it too.

19. Borage

P1120114Excellent for spring flavours and green sauces. Perennial. Beloved of bees.

20. Parsley

P1120113You can use the roots too, in stews. 

A very versatile herb, and if you haven’t stuffed chicken with it, or made a cream sauce for potatoes with it, or in any other way discovered your inner Dane, well, off you go!

We buy this from Mexico. Let me put that another way: we buy this from Mexico? Here’s an idea: let’s stop being a colony.

21.  Pollen

P1610639Pine Tree Shedding its Pollen When Whacked by a Stick in the Spring

Sure, the stuff makes people with allergies go ballistic, but, really, bees collect it and beekeepers sell it as a herbal remedy. What’s more, saffron is crocus pollen, and fennel pollen now goes for a very high price indeed. A world of pollen as a spice is wide open for us (including fennel and saffron). What’s more, this is a new culinary adventure … and we can be in on the beginning of it. So, shake a tree, I say …


22. Desert Parsley

P1600541Why Not Eat the Syilx Way?

Hey, it has worked around here since the glaciers melted away. The desert parsley down here in the valley withered away in the heat months ago, but up in the hills, ah, it’s just coming in now. No water required.

23. Lavender

P1070135Because You Can Cook With it Too

24. Mustard


These are Called Weeds

Actually, this is a hayfield owned by a man who just wants to use it as a tax dodge. Ergo: no hay.

If wild mustard can grow here, so can domestic mustard. It doesn’t make sense that most of the world’s mustard grows on the Canadian prairies, from which it is shipped to France, made into Dijon, and shipped back in little jars.

25. Chamomile

P1090886Shake first!

Chamomile thrives here and easily goes native.

Why are we importing our night time teas from California and Germany? Think how happy we could make these wild pollen-gathering beetles, too! Oh, and don’t forget …


Make Yourself Happy Too!

(Your blog, bringing home the mint!)

So, that’s 25. We could expand the list to a hundred or more. We could give this stuff to our chefs, and they could make this a world culinary capital.  In the colonial model, the valley was sold to the English as a Garden of Eden, where they could grow apples and apricots and make jams for English tables, and live a life of genteel ease. Now that we’ve grown up, and now that other colonial outposts have put us out of the apple business, we can start cooking for ourselves. It has, after all, been a bit more than a century in coming. This is an agriculture we can all get excited about. Besides, you get to play in your kitchen, too…

P1080555Alfalfa Blossom Tea Trials

Around here, my wife never knows what to expect on the table when she comes home from work!

Ten More New Commercial Fruit Crops for the Okanagan

Yesterday, I started putting the practical side of this blog into order. I started with ten new fruit crops that could restart a failing economy unable to retrain its young people, to innovate, or to produce food for itself, although it is in one of the three best climates in Canada. You can read about them if you click here. Today, I’d like to add another ten, before moving on to other crops and to new technologies and land use methods.

11. Oregon Grape


This was Oregon Once. A Syilx Crop.

Oregon grape is not a grape. It is the sourest darned thing you’re ever likely going to come across. There’s a certain point in the development of a grape in which the berries are 100% citric acid. These things are still close to that when fully mature. Two thoughts on that: 1. the other few percent are amazing, concentrated fruit flavours and sugars and 2. citric acid is a valuable crop product in itself. We don’t need to grow lemons here, to flavour food and make refreshing summer drinks. We just need oregon grapes. Souring agents are the foundations of entire cooking traditions. A new souring agent can lead to a new cuisine. This work is beginning. Here’s what Tara is up to at Three Bells Ranch in Oroville, Washington, at the heart of this valley that crosses the border on its way south and crosses it again on its way north:


Tara’s Sweet and Sour Cabbage in Oregon Grape Sauce

Now we’re talking! You can read Tara’s recipe on this page here: Source.

Oregon grapes also make excellent preserves, especially jellies. Their roots are a potent medicinal  and their leaves are a fine, decorative floral product, especially for the Christmas season, with both red and green colour.


Sun Dried Oregon Grapes

They go through the same complex fermentations as grapes left on the vine. I think wine and vinegar makers could do wonders with that.

Oregon grapes are drought tolerant and prefer the edges of woody areas, the drip lines of trees, or slopes below cliffs, where they can collect water filtering out of talus slopes, especially ones covered with a bit of silt.


Oregon Grapes in Full Bloom

They are cold hardy, provide premium forage for honeybees and wild bees, are productive, attractive, evergreen, and come in two varieties: tall and short. Currently, they are used as landscape plants. This is one agricultural niche they can fill admirably. They can bring farming back into the city, or back into the hills, where they can farm water that to eyes trained in European agriculture looks like drought.

12. Wild Rose


A Syilx Crop

The hips of wild roses are rich in Vitamin C, and taste like incredibly over-ripe apples. Traditionally, they are dried to make a fruity, floral, tart-sweet herbal tea. They are admirable for that and have the potential to be yet another souring agent. They provide excellent and popular forage for bees. As there are a number of varieties, and many different altitudes and climactic zones as the valley climbs up into the mountains, the season can be extend for many weeks. The Hills Guest Ranch & Spa in 108 Mile, up north in the Cariboo, have been harvesting them wild for years (in large volumes) and distilling them down to essential oils, with are used as a high-end, high-priced medicinal tincture. It puts a lot of pressure on the birds, however, which use these berries for late winter forage. Better to add to the environment rather than taking them away. Better to plant them out. They grow on waste fields, in roadside ditches, at the bottoms of slopes, on the sides of arroyos and gullies — anywhere where a small amount of underground water can find them. They provide cover for birds and valuable protection for herbs needing a thorny fence between them and deer.

13. Rose PetalsP1040119

Wild Wasp Harvesting Pollen

You see how that’s done? Straddle the opening stamens, and turn around in a circle to brush all the pollen off onto your leg brushes, then over to the next blossom, to spin around in a circle again. Whee!

All those bees, wasps, beetles, ants, and pollen-collecting flies can’t be wrong: this is one sweet pollen and nectar plant. Blossoms, however, can also be collected, for floral decoration, for rose petal water (for Middle-Eastern baking and cooking and for perfumes and soaps) as well as for tea. Tea? Oh my, yes.


Wild Rose Petal Tea

It tastes like honey in its pure form, before it has been digested by a bee: spicy, sweet, and aromatic, with flavours both gentler and richer than rosewater.

14. European Currants


Red Currant


Black Currant

These cool climate, northern European plants do well in the Okanagan if given ample water. They do even better in the cooler areas around the edges of the valley and up into the hills — areas originally ignored, because the idea was to grow peaches, which need a lot of heat. Currants don’t. Red currants make exquisite jams and jellies and are a staple of Danish cooking. They provide fruit flavours for pickled cabbage, bright notes for cream desserts, and the base of light marinades and meat sauces. Black currants are smoky in flavour, make exquisite jams and form the base of rich, full meat marinades and sauces. They have the potential to replace balsamic vinegars. In Britain, they are reduced to a syrup, which is then reconstituted in beverages of many kinds, including cassis sodas. They form the bases for cassis liqueurs. One of the most popular uses for them in Scandinavia is as a juice mixed with apple juice, in the proportions of 10% black currant juice and 90% apple juice. When the Okanagan Juice company Sun Rype tried this about 20 years back, they hit upon the insane idea of substituting artificial black currant juice and lots of sugar for the real thing, and then still had enough ego left over to announce that North Americans did not like the taste of black currants. Yeah, sure. The plants require little pruning and are regularly grown for mechanical harvesting throughout Denmark. They are also a great source of nectar for bees.

15. Wild Currants


Native Syilx Currant


American Black Wild Currant

These native Okanagan currants (red) and native North American currants (black) deal with drought and heat and produce in conditions that would send a European currant shrivelling and back on the boat to Sonderborg to drown its sorrows in Akavit. Other than that, they have flavours that are more intense (more floral, spicy and sharp for the red, Okanagan currants, and smokier for the black ones). They are easy to reproduce. The black currants are currently sold as landscape plants. Early adopters of these plants could make a good living just selling plants to the nursery trade. Where the European currants can harvest the cooler upland climates, these can harvest hotter hillsides. The smoky flavours of the black currants should make steakhouse chefs sit up and take notice.

16. Juniper Berries


Also Known as Wild Gin

Look, if we’re going to landscape with these suckers, with either these imported varieties or the native varieties that carpet exposed hillside slopes, we might as well harvest the berries and make gin. Fortunately, one Vernon company, Okanagan Spirits, is doing just that, with a fine martini gin. The path is open to explore a wide variety of local juniper species and to create a more extensive, more varied gin industry, and perhaps even a gin strong enough to stand up to a tonic.


As Gentle as a Spring Rain

The combination of juniper flavours with flavours from other wild berries and plants also needs to be explored, to create other gins with distinct local profiles. Dried juniper berries are excellent for wild meat flavours, including wild boar and bison. Most of them have a sharp, petroleum taste, but some are sweet as can be. This is one of those crops used extensively as a decorative ground cover, that has the potential, after further development and exploration, to bring farming into urban gardening. Furthermore, given the wide variety of colours and growth patterns in this species, the potential for a floral industry is extremely strong. Junipers are extremely drought and cold hardy, withstand untold abuse, adapt to a wide variety of soils, are long-lived, require no pesticides or pruning, and are simple to reproduce. Oh, and they smell soooo good.

17. Sumac


A Syilx and Indigenous American Crop

The Syilx harvested the indigenous Smooth Sumac, which is a smaller version of this giant from the east, Staghorn Sumac (which was also an indigenous crop).

Tanner’s Sumac is an ancient Aramaic, Arabic, Indian, Egyptian and Mediterranean spice, still essential for cooking in the Middle East. It has left India with tandoori cooking, where it has recently been replaced by manchoor, Egypt with Duqqa, and the Fertile Crescent and Greece with an entire culinary tradition — one of the oldest, if not the oldest, of them all. It is made from the dried berries of a European cousin of the North American sumacs. The drupe fruits of our sumacs are too stony for this procedure, and bear a slight risk of allergic reactions among people allergic to cashews (their loving sisters, along with the mangos), but they have long been used by Indigenous North American peoples to create a cooling summer drink, that far surpasses lemonade or iced tea, and which can reproduced into a syrup that can take the place of Mediterranean sumac. The wood of the tree can be reduced to a high temperature, smokeless wax, for candles, and lights up in a black light, which ought to have some interesting applications. Every part of the tree is highly medicinal, with that cashew-allergy caveat, and the leaves are essential to the leather tanning industry. In fact, in the American east, whole groves of sumac are grown for their use as tanning agents. This is a plant that withstands incredible drought, grows anywhere, is highly decorative, and currently lines the short term parking lot of the Kelowna International Airport — for example. Some mature trees in Kelowna are 20 feet tall and dwarf the houses they once stood before. This is a plant with a great future. What we need is a tiny bit of research from a university willing to do so, and we are off. What’s more, this is the real autumn colour of New England. Plant enough of these things, and local tourism operators should be able to appreciably increase the value of fall wine tours, and even provide fall colour tours, for the many partners of wine enthusiasts who just don’t like to play the taste-the-papaya-on-your-tongue-in-the-wineshop game.

18. Soap Berry


A Syilx Crop

These berries whip. Like egg whites. Whipped, with a little sugar, they form what is locally known as “Indian Ice Cream”. Here is a crop that grows in the cool hills and open upland forests. It laughs off cold and drought. An industry built around it can not only supply
Aboriginal communities with a traditional product, but has the potential to supply the chemical and cosmetic industries with an organic foaming agent. In that direction, the potential is almost limitless. They also make an attractive landscape plant, especially for xeriscape situations. And, yes, the bees love them.

19. Black Hawthorn

little-black-applesBlack Hawthorn (Falkland Clone). A Syilx Crop.


Black Hawthorn (Vernon Clone). A Syilx Crop.

What beauties, eh! Here is another fruit crop that take fruit farming out of the valley floor into the side valleys, and onto grassy slopes, lake shores, road margins, hedgerows and boundaries of all kinds. They harvest water moving by gravity down gentle alluvial slopes, are favoured nesting sites for magpies, provide early spring forage for bees, and fruits and bark of high medicinal value (anti-cancer drugs). There are indications that the fruit has fresh fruit or processing value as well — again, just a small amount of research is necessary and we will have a crop resistant to deer, needed no pruning, easy to train and hedge, free of pesticides, with incredibly low water needs or none at all, and able to grow in a huge number of currently wasted or under-utilized environments. What’s more, she’s pretty as all heck. This is another one with potential.

20. Velvet Leaved Blueberry


A Syilx Crop

These North American native berries are traditionally grown on Vancouver Island, in Oregon, on the Olympic Peninsula, in the Fraser Valley, in Maine and in Montana. Montana? Yes. That’s inspiring. The Okanagan Valley bottom does not have the moisture or the acidic soil to grow these berries unless a cheap, easy, organic acidifier can be found and the water issues can be cured with shade, perhaps from mulberries. The high country, though, where the water for the valley floor farms is sourced, that is perfect. The local blueberry is a low-bush variety, with low yields of small, intensely flavoured fruits, hovering just above the 3000 foot level. It should be possible to find enough land to grow enough of these high up there, in that blueberry zone in the pine shade, to keep an appreciable amount of water in the upland system to return some balance to the natural water flow down through the hills. At $3 a pint for decent berries, and $2 a pint for the ones 2 days short of rot, sold here to empty cold storages in the Fraser Valley, it’s worth a go. Besides, the darned things make excellent bison sausages, fantastic preserves, wondrous baking, and a deep wine that puts the low end $15 Okanagan reds into the spittoon. I’m all for wine that regular people can afford. This is one worth exploring. Look up to the hills. There, where the clouds run.


The Lip of the Plateau Above Vernon

Right now, we ski and snowmobile and snowshoe and cut down trees up there. We could do a lot more.

That’s twenty fruits, and twenty new ways of not only creating new economies and new cultures, with room for our young to grow and invent and prosper and dream, but also to enrich the environment at the same time. Inspiring, eh. There are many further opportunities within fruit crops currently grown here. I’ll be getting back to that. Next, however, I’ll look at vegetables. Until then, you noticed my new mascot, the guy with the tongue, right?

P1060029Click on This Young Buck for a Closer View of the Okanagan Tasting Experience

An Oriole, a New Food Crop, Northern Pineapples, and Drinking the Sun

 I am piecing together a guide to new crops that can build a new, sustainable agriculture and food art culture in this grassland sea. Yesterday, I noticed that a late spring crop was at its peak, and I let myself walk for awhile in its story. I invite you to walk along. Watch where you step!
P1610664 Pineapple Weed Making a Carpet of Our Path into the Hills

This little gem is also called false chamomile, which is just plain weird, because there’s nothing false about it. So what that it doesn’t have big lovely white petals like its sister that grows on the road shoulder in front of the old Japanese orchards down below, spread through the gravel by the annual shoulder mowing machines. It smells so fine when you step on it and it lingers for hours on the fingers. Here’s my first harvest, looking very real and pineapply (Pineapplish?)…P1010638 And here it is, catching the sun in a teapot of boiling water, just a few minutes later…pineapple Glorious, isn’t it! Look at the beauty that it makes out of the water. And ten minutes later? Aha. Here we are, out on the deck, with the apricot and nectarine tree in the back and all that lettuce … hey, you don’t want some lettuce, do you?



Pineapple Weed Tea, Ready for You and Me

The top half of the cup and the little waves of light on the railing show the actual colour of the tea: a pale yellow, like sunlight pooling inside a grass blade. The tea smells like fresh pineapple, tastes light and sweet and fruity, like chamomile without the bitterness and with a touch of pineapple honey. It’s a very calming drink, and, oh, did I mention, it smells sooooo good?

Flavour, purity, light, scent, spirit and beauty, all without chemicals, water, tillage or any labour other than a couple minutes on the way home from watching a blackbird dance. It grows anywhere you let it. Currently farmers spray it with Roundup because they are intent on growing Royal Gala apples which no one wants, in tight rows which can only be factory farmed using incredibly expensive machines. Premium teabags go for about $2.50 down at the local tea shop. Imagine growing it in a restaurant or teashop window and serving it in a glass teapot. Imagine what you could do with it. Not only could you build an agriculture and a food culture, but you could stop the insanity of lazy, careless men who react to the undesirability and industrial blandness of their product by doing this:

P1010669 Royal Gala Industrial Plantation Sprayed With Roundup

People, you aren’t supposed to spray it on the tree. It is a systemic herbicide. It goes into the sap of the plant and kills it from within. Is it any wonder no one wants to eat these apples? Yuck. I mean it. Yuck. Look again.

P1010668One second with a pair of hand clippers would have helped, but, you see, in an industrial plantation you do your pruning from a platform. This farmer never, ever walks his soil. It is, in effect, not a farm. It is a factory. Now, I think food is a spiritual substance, and look: while I was sipping my light yellow-green tea, this beautiful creature came a-calling…yellowpickFemale Bullock’s Oriole Pulling the Stuffing Out of My Old Chair to Build Her Hanging Nest

Go, girl! And, would you look, she’s the same colour as the tea. If she was the colour of Roundup, or smelled like that gunk, I’d be worried for us all.

So, this is exciting. The only thing is, what should we call Pineapple Weed when we grow it and sell it and drink it and it makes us as calm as the gentle grassland wind? The name is a bit weedy. Oriole fern? Oriole Blossom Tea? Pineapple Cone Tea? Pineapple Bird Tissane, Desert Pineapple Tea? Feel free to chip in.






A Recipe for Fondue

First, think slow cooking.  Really slow cooking. Second, a word of friendly advice: to taste wine the alpine way, don’t use Icewine. No, no, no, no, no. Don’t leave the grapes on the vine until they freeze, pick them before the sun comes up and squeeze them before they thaw. Leave that to the advertising gurus. Most of the water gets left behind, and what remains is concentrated, fruity, and rich … and tastes a bit like grapes left way too late on the vine and hurt by the world. If they were in the fridge, you’d have chucked them out in a Sunday cleaning weeks back. Save your $100 and do this a gentler way. Call this the Method of the Celts. They were doing it long before the Romans took over, and the Romans, and then the Swiss (who are the Celts) had the good sense not to mess with it. What you do is plant early-ripening grapes at 1300 metres altitude, under, say, the Bietschhorn, in the Jungfrau Group, in the Southern Alps, and let the altered climate do the work for you.


The Highest Vineyards in Europe, Vispertermine

That’s the Bietschhorn (3934 m.) in back. Its glaciers cool the intense southern sun. Italy is just a few minutes away.

And what if you’re not living in the old Celtic valleys of the Alps? No problem. First, remember that in places like British Columbia, winemakers are chasing the sun. They think they’re in California or Tuscany. You don’t want their wine for fondue, either. A few who are cleverer are chasing the cold. Those are the ones. They’ve moved farther north. Here’s the Larch Hills Semillon I use for a fondue base. Here’s the man who makes it, Jack Manser. Next door to his winery is a ski hill. That’s the way. Another winery producing excellent wines this manner is the Sunnybrae Winery on Shuswap Lake, far north of any common thinking on winemaking sanity. Don’t be fooled. This is very sane wine, better than most in the hot Okanagan to the south.


Suynnybrae Vineyard, Sunnbybrae

If you don’t have a glacier nearby, then let the continental cold chill your grapes, and let the mountains hold the sun to temper it.

Yes, the recipe is coming! First, the preparation. This is the Sunnybrae way:


Siegerrebe Grapes, Sunnybrae

Another way to balance the seasons in the early prep for making fondue looks a little stranger:


Noble Rot

This grey fungus, Botrytis cinerea, concentrates grape juices in a similar manner to ice wine, but matures them at the same time. The best late harvest white wines of the world are produced in this way. Compared to them, icewine is just marketing schtick.

Again, one plays with season length and light levels in this way. This kind of wine was invented in the Rheingau, at Johannisberg, but is also popular here, at the southern entrance to the Rhine Gorge, at Ehrenfels…


The Schlossberg from the Bingen Ferry

These late season grapes shedding their leaves in the November fog of 2010 are edging towards a fine late harvest and splendid noble rot. That’s the ruin of Castle Ehrenfels in the middle of the image. I came back in June this year and picked wild strawberries in the old castle garden. Can’t beat that!

And what on earth is wine like this for? Aha! This, straight from the Alps:

Cheese Fondu Neufchateloise


To substitute for a Swiss Fondant, look for a Chasselas, a Semillon (best!), or a very subtle Riesling. As for the bread, make your own baquettes, if you can. It would be best to make them on the thin side, to get some good solid crust. If you must buy them, look for a very solid baguette. If you can’t get that, I suggest you change the menu and make cheese toasts.

We had fondue last night to welcome the new year. The addition of Okanagan Spirits Choke Cherry Kirsch (instead of the Austrian plonk normally brought across the Atlantic as ballast in oil tankers), added great spiciness and charm. You can get that here …


Choke Cherries Triumph at Last

Okanagan Spirits is Here.

And what on earth has the bravado to stand up to all that cheese and all that cherry fireworks? Why, this:


Weinberg Karl Schön Rudesheimer Burg Schloßberg Spätlese 2010

These are the grapes that were maturing under the yellow leaves in the image of Burg Ehrenfels above. A pair of beautiful Japanese women sold me my bottle in a dark wine cellar in Rüdesheim early on a June evening, after opening bottles all over the place and sampling them with me. It was a very pleasant half hour. At six and a half euros, my dream of a winter dinner was priced at about 7% of North American prices. It was absolutely the perfect match for the Kirsch Virginiana.

Ah, here she is, after the fondue, with my apricot tree in behind, dreaming the winter away…


Forget the heat. Wine is not made in a laboratory. It is made in the earth. The fermentation is only the closure of a long process of maturation and balance. When it’s done right, it tastes just the way this looks:


Turtle Point, January 2, 2013

An hour later, I started grating cheese.

Your turn. If you start now, it might be ready early next year, or the year after that. That would give you, I think, enough time to perfect those baquettes!

Dandelions, Awake!

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce you to the neighbourhood quail doing their tra la la back in the sweet time of flowers and weeds. At night, this stretch belongs to the coyotes, owls and deer, who have their own mysterious thing going on, but right now it’s time for cooing and head bobbing and, oh, did you see that coffee growing at the side of the path?withquail

Friendly Agriculture 

Quails, dandelions, and humans sharing an ecosystem.

Back in the Second World War, the danes, being clever and thrifty, blended their coffee with dandelion and chicory to make it go further, because nothing went very far back then and ships had a habit of sinking. Well, that’s one form of agriculture. Here’s another …


Industrial Apple Orchard in the Week of Chemicals

Those dandelions under the trees have been poisoned with an industrial brew pioneered by Monsanto, called glyphosate. I don’t recommend eating them.

Ironically, there just might be more money in those dandelions than in the royal gala apples above them, in which there really isn’t any money at all, but lots of expenses. This, for one…



Down at the molecular level, in the children’s construction toy model design often favoured by chemists. The stuff ain’t cheap.

Dandelions are cheap, though. Their leaves make salads, their flowers make wine, their tea is anti-carcinogenic, and their roots make coffee, especially in the winter, when they store their minerals for the dark and look like this…


Dandelions Hanging Out With Their Carrot Buddies

Note to self: wash them in a bucket next time. Sheesh.

I mean, if queen anne’s lace can make the journey from weed to agriculture, why can’t dandelions? One way is to roast them….


Dandelion Roots, Toasted

Note to self: a lower temperature gives a bitter coffee; a higher temperature gives a sweeter one, but don’t go too high, as high temperature toasting of any food is ill-advised.

And a little fun with the coffee grinder gives this…


Dandelion Root Coffee, Ready to Go

Just add water, wait five minutes, and … oh, isn’t that nice.

Actually, it tastes better than coffee. Not a secret, I guess. The neighbours have been in on it for a long time …


Beetle Waiting for a Cuppa

Why is it that humans are always the last to know?

The great thing is that you don’t have to go down to Starbucks and buying it for a kazillion kronur a pound, but can pick it up most anywhere and slip it into the oven as it cools after you’ve cooked your dinner. Why, just the other day I found some just along the side of the road …


Oops, Not That One.

Ah, this is better…


Oh, Shoot!

Why is it that people put cigarette butts into their cold coffee? Isn’t that, like, gross?

Ah, this is better…


Dandelion Keeping Its Coffee All to Itself

If this plant were harvested and kept cool, it could be encouraged to produce fresh spring salad in the middle of January, when the coyotes were nipping the frost off of their feet outside and the deer were making clouds with their breath. I mean, if you don’t want coffee.

As for the danes, here’s another weed that they used to use to stretch their precious wartime coffee yet further…



Notice how little respect it has for the military technology of barbed wire fences.

Same as dandelions: it grows everywhere; just dig it up, roast the roots, grind, and you have food security. The alternative, of course, is this:


University of British Columbia Okanagan Administration Building

Instead of an agricultural university, we have been gifted one on the golf course model. Note the very secure golf club carrying rack on the back of this scooting-around vehicle. Note. too, the heavily fertilized weed-free lawn in the background, just right for the 8th hole. Easy does it. No wild swinging and thrashing. You wouldn’t want to break any glass. Oh, wait. They’ve taken care of that. Notice all the nice golf ball proof brick. 

Did you notice the revolution brewing, as they always seem to do on university campuses, despite the best attempts of administration to stamp them out? Here’s a closer view:


The Revolution Begins

Like I said, why is it that humans are always the last to know?

Beats me.


Green Sweat Bee

Just gathering some chicory pollen at the side of the road. Twelve hours before the humans came with a mower and did what the danes knew better than to do.

Sabo Cooking Past and Future

Ah, what’s the way to sweeten strip loin marinated in pomegranate molasses and cooked with fresh mint just so? Sabo, the ancient sweetener of the Mediterranean, what the world had before balsamic vinegar and merlot reductions scented with marjoram and ooh la la.

Sweetening, the Palestinian Way

Three cups grape juice + heat + time = heaven. No doubt, this is the reason that those Egyptian grapes, the Traminers, are so beautifully florally scented. Sabo: more complex than honey, with deeps and valleys as individual as wine.

What to do with that sumac lemonade that’s beautifully sour and maybe too sour for some times of the day? Aha! Sabo.

Sumac Lemonade

The colour of late summer. Sabo binds with the flavours and they all come out totally new. Dark sabo is best for this.

And turning sabo on its head, what to do with that sumac lemonade, also in the Palestinian way? Aha, Sabo!


Sumac Tea + Heat + (Not a lot of) Time =

Sumac Sabo!

The ultimate in a complex, sour, concentrated, rich, rounded fruit flavour. A drop’ll do you. It’s like suddenly finding yourself sitting on Mount Olympus with the gods. The taste won’t leave you for a long, long time.

No wonder the Romans brought sabo home with all sails furling. Cane sugar and lemon juice, we need you no more! And to think, it starts with this…

Enough Sumac for 4 cups of tea or 2 tablespoons of sumac sabo!

In the language, or the spirit, of sabo joy, a new logo…