VANCOUVER - Summer in B.C. spells bountiful, so I thought this menu would be a no-brainer, considering the challenges faced in other seasons and provinces. With so many choices, I figured my biggest difficulty would be deciding how many courses to serve (I settled on five) and the main entree (seafood or meat).
Easy-peasy, right? I got a head start on dessert a few days earlier when my neighbour Giovanni gave me several pounds of figs. I hauled out the ice-cream maker (it hadn't seen the light of day since last summer), and acquired the usual ingredients: Avalon Dairies milk and cream and Abbotsford eggs, but ingredients from farther afield -- sugar and lemon -- required substitution. A sweetener was easy; I used honey from Arila Apiary in the FraserValley. But what could understudy for the tartness of lemon? I couldn't use vinegar but I did have lemon verbena and lemon mint in the garden, so I chucked a few handfuls into the mix and, throwing culinary caution to the summer breeze, added some basil.
Since my ice-cream maker was taking up most of my counter space, I kept going and made blackberry ice cream, too, just in case figs and basil were incompatible.
I inspected the rest of the veggies in my garden -- tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, green beans and an array of herbs -- to jazz up the menu.
This was turning into the 100-yard menu, and the price was certainly right.
But the more thought I gave to the menu, the more challenging it became. What could I use instead of bread or crackers for the cheese course? Raincity Grill's chef Andrea Carlson, whose restaurant offers a 100-mile menu year-round, suggested hazelnut biscuits -- no flour allowed. And Andrea gave me the recipe: toasted and ground Aggasiz hazelnuts, honey and egg whites. Then I found a recipe for flourless walnut cookies made with egg yolk; I could just leave out the sugar and serve with the cheese course. Simple. Or so I thought: Desserts and baking have never been my strong points.
After two batches of both recipes were chucked into the garbage, I finally produced crisp hazelnut wafers and limp pancake-textured walnut things.
I also wanted to make root-veggie chips, but that idea got nixed as the third sorry-looking batch went directly from my oven to the compost bin. (Brushing veggies with clarified butter doesn't work as well as deep-frying them in safflower oil.)
I must confess, after my litany of disasters, I got a little sorely needed help from my friends. John Bump and Lorian Roberts arrived Saturday morning from Victoria and brought with them well-marbled Port Alberni pork butt and a sack of QuadraIsland (oops, just over the radar by a few miles) mussels.
John already had the pork resting in a two-day marinade of Marley Farm blueberry vinegar, along with tomatoes and chile peppers, chervil and Babe's honey, all from the Saanich Peninsula, and ground kelp (also used in everything else on the menu, except dessert) from Diane Bernard, the Seaweed Lady at Outercoast Seaweeds in Sooke.
We fired up the Cobb barbecue -- a nifty barbecue/smoker/convection oven -- sprinkled maple chips over the coals and gently smoked the meat for five hours. Meanwhile, Lorian set the table with an edible and elegant fruit display made from local hazelnut branches, quince with fruit, blackberries, grapes and a sunflower.
So what was left for me to do? With my matchbox of a kitchen full to the rafters with produce from Langley Organic Growers at Trout Lake Farmer's Market, I made a fast vichyssoise, since two of my guests were vegetarians. Alison Porter and Andy Raby contributed the vegetarian entree -- wild mushroom quiche with mashed potato crust -- because I was running out of time.
I still had to roast sweet Chilliwack corn for a relish that would accompany the pork and pat ground walnuts on to discs of Blue Caprina goat's cheese for the salad.
Wine was another hurdle, and I almost stumbled. I was initially steered off course at the wine store and bought Saltspring Island's Garry Oaks Pinot Gris (right) and Garry Oaks Labyrinth (wrong). Turns out that most Vancouver Island and lower mainland wineries get their red grapes from the Okanagan. Again, a call to Raincity Grill's general manager and wine guy Brent Hayman set me straight: Garry Oaks Zeta was made of 100% estate-grown Zweigelt grapes and he guaranteed a perfect pairing with pork.
The plump and juicy ebony mussels were steamed with a splash of the Pinot Gris (the rest went into our glasses), roasted organic garlic and rosemary: a heady aromatic broth. (I think the vegetarians were miffed.) Next up, wild greens and warm nut-crusted chevre drizzled with blueberry vinegar and hazelnut oil from the FraserValley.
Because the meat was heavily marbled, John decided at the last minute to serve pulled pork, thus eliminating any bits of fat on our plates, and drizzled the shredded meat with a sweet-spicy sauce made from marinade reduction. We all agreed pork can't get better than this: just the right amount of maple-smokey flavour, melt-in-your-mouth tender. "The only ingredient in this recipe I would change would be to add salt. Seaweed didn't quite cut the sweetness," John said.
Brent Hayman was right; the Zeta's black cherry and spice flavours elevated this dish to greatness and convinced even the wine snobs among us that great wine can be produced locally. "I didn't think the Island could produce a good red with these characteristics: full-bodied and full-flavoured," dinner guest Sue Alexander said, "but I was pleasantly surprised."
We fired up the Cobb again and cedar-planked a small wheel of brie. It was so delectable that nobody seemed to mind the walnut blimps used to scoop up the melting cheese. A few other cheeses and honeycomb (from Arila Apiary, of course) completed the course, made even finer with more Zeta.
It is now Sunday morning and I just scarfed two pieces of toast washed down with sugar-laden coffee. The 100-mile menu would make an excellent 100-mile diet. And though we congratulated ourselves on eating locally, it takes patience and time to battle the crowds at the farmers' market and GranvilleIsland.
In the end, though several trips were required to find all the ingredients, the miles driven were way less than the miles it takes to transport food from the prairies and California. Would I do it again? I'm already thinking about stocking the freezer at summer's end.
JANE MUNDY’S VANCOUVER FIG ICE CREAM
- 1 kg unpeeled ripe figs, stems removed (about 8 figs)
- 2/3 cup wild honey
- 2 cups cream
- 2 Tbsp lemon verbena, finely chopped
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 1 cup crème fraîche (made with apple cider vinegar)
1. Purée the figs in a food processor or blender and add 1/3 cup honey. Transfer the purée to a 10-inch skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring often until the figs have thickened to a jam consistency, about 20 minutes.
2. In a saucepan, bring to a boil the cream and the rest of the honey. Whisk a little of the hot cream and honey mixture into the egg yolks, and then whisk them back into the pan.
3. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the spoon. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the fig purée and crème fraîche and chill thoroughly. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form and fold into the cooled fig purée mixture, and then freeze in a 4-quart ice-cream maker following the manufacturer's instructions.
© National Post 2006