Wandering Gourmand: Non-linear paths in the Similkameen Valley

Original article written for The Vancouver Sun.

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“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about non-linear paths,” says Yvonne Kosugi, the bread baking half of Farmersdotter Organics, known in the Okanagan region for their garlic, garlic scape salts, artisanal jams and the best sourdough bread.

I was startled at the confession as it was something that, I too, had been rolling around in my mind for the past few years, having become, quite accidentally, a poster child for my own zigzagging career path, from designer to chef to writer. I asked her what she studied in school and, ironically, it was journalism.

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I met her and the other half of Farmersdotter Organics, Morris Holmes, at their home and farm in the Similkameen Valley. Driving onto their seven-acre property, I was greeted by a bright kitchen filled with the scents of home. They poured glasses of wine while Kosugi prepared an unexpected feast. I was accustomed to arriving, interviewing, photographing dishes, tasting them and leaving within an hour, a tidy and efficient process that had become commonplace in bigger, busier cities. But here in the Similkameen, it was entirely different: there was a homemade blueberry buckle cake on the dining room table, welcoming me.

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We took a walk near the garlic fields where Holmes showed the rows of hanging garlic, the season only just harvested, their papery skins and stems braided, stained faintly with the violet markings typical of the heirloom varietal of Red Russians. It had taken five years from when they first bought the farm, to be able to sell the quality of garlic they are now most proud of at organic markets in British Columbia and Alberta. He explained that only the best quality cloves are saved for replanting and that most growers sell their best year after year.

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But despite having never been a garlic farmer, and with an intense desire to produce something exceptional, he did something different: he sold only a part of his highest-quality crop and planted the remainder, so that, season after season, only better would come forth.

And as we strolled back near the house, the table was set generously with wine glasses, homey platters and crisp linen napkins, sparkling in a patch of afternoon sunlight. Petite rounds of compound butter, flavoured with their garlic scape salt, sat waiting to be melted onto a pink salmon steaming in parchment. There was a green salad, a big bowl of roasted new potatoes, their skins salty and crisp, and summery tomato bruschetta on a beautifully chewy focaccia.

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“My mother always said that good food would make up for bad company, but good company would never make up for bad food,” chuckled Kosugi, and I immediately felt confident that the conversation would be as delicious as the food, anxious to hear stories of their varied careers and talents.

Kosugi, having done regulatory work for an archeological company, and Holmes, a theatre graduate who worked as an operations manager for the cultural centre and as a well sought-after carpenter in Fort St. John’s, would never have expected to find themselves becoming one of the best garlic producers in the province. It started with a simple phone call from Kosugi’s brother, an invitation to live in the Similkameen Valley and help with a family farm.

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“It was one snowy January night, minus 45 degrees outside and we knew it was time to start another adventure,” Kosugi reflected. And so, they went.

Before long, she worked at a fruit stand and created products like the garlic scape salt that Farmersdotter Organics is now known for.

“I had never worked outside of an office before, and it gave me such respect for the hard work that went into farming.”

After a couple years, Holmes and Kosugi began to look for their next adventure and she found it one night, while she indulged her passion for bread making, volunteering at a local bread bakery for the first time. The moment she set her eyes on the beautiful wood-burning oven sitting on the edge of an organic garlic farm, she knew.

They eventually bought that farm. Kosugi dove into learning everything she could about bread baking, summoning the years of innate knowledge from baking alongside her grandmother and mother. Both she and Holmes began learning about garlic farming and producing packaged garlic scape salts, all things they knew little of. What they did have, however, was a deep-rooted knowledge of how to do something well, and with care.

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After many hours, the sunlight began to fade and I left full and inspired, pondering the non-linear path. Not many things do follow a straight line. Life rarely goes exactly the way we plan. But if Holmes and Kosugi are evidence, life is richer, deeper and much more full of adventure. And in their company, I was happy to be zigzagging alongside them over great food and conversation, which flowed leisurely into every corner, covering topics of politics, love and lives, all led in non-linear paths.

Garlic scape salts can be found at Beaucoup Bakery in Vancouver and in stores across British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. For more information, visit farmersdotter.ca

RECIPES

Simple Summer Tomato Bruschetta

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This simple recipe actually barely requires a recipe. It is meant to be casual, flexible and done to taste, as you like it.

1 loaf of nice sourdough bread or focaccia sliced into 1” slices
2-4 cups (500-1000ml) of ripe heirloom tomatoes (depends on the size of your bread)
1 large clove garlic
A drizzle of pumpkin seed oil or nice extra virgin olive oil, to taste
A sprinkle of garlic scape salt, to taste

Preheat the broiler on high. Place the slices of bread onto a sheet tray and toast the bread on one side under the broiler until lightly charred or golden brown.

Cut tomatoes into approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch (0.5-1.25cm) dice. The aim here is to have them be bite-sized but the size can be cut to your preference. Combine diced tomatoes in a medium serving bowl, add garlic scape salt to taste and drizzle with the oil. Let marinate at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Cut toasted sourdough into strips that wide enough so that your bruschetta mixture will rest nicely atop without messily falling off. Enjoy as an appetizer while the salmon finishes cooking.

Tip: For the tomatoes, Yvonne Kosugi of Farmersdotter Organics likes a combination of tomato varieties, colours and textures such as Brandywine, Beam’s yellow pear, zebras etc., but any nice ripe tomatoes will do.

Salmon in Parchment with Citrusy Garlic Scape Salt Compound Butter

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The flavourful compound butter would be wonderful melted onto any kind of fish, chicken or even pork tenderloin. It can be made ahead and reserved in the freezer for quick meals.

Farmersdotter’s suggestion on local wine pairing: Orofino’s Hendsby Vineyard Riesling

For the Compound Butter

1 cup (250ml) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large lime, Zested and juiced
1 inch (2.5cm) piece of ginger, peeled and grated on box grater or microplane
1 tbsp (15ml) Farmersdotter Original Garlic Scape Salt
2 tbsp (30ml) fresh minced herbs such as dill, parsley or chervil or a combination
1 tsp (5ml) cracked black pepper
1 large pinch of cayenne pepper, if you like heat

Mix all the ingredients in a food processor until well combined. Alternatively, soften the butter in a bowl and beat with the rest of the ingredients with a spoon.

Scoop the butter into a log in the centre of a rectangle of parchment paper, making sure to leave 3″ (7.6 cm) on either end. Roll and wrap the log of butter in the parchment, like a candy in a wrapper, to form into a cylinder and put in freezer to firm for at least 30 minutes.

Remove from freezer and slice into 1/2 inch (1.25cm) coins and place on serving dish and keep cold in the refrigerator.

This can be made well ahead of time and kept in the freezer wrapped in parchment and removed and hour before you need to slice it.

For the Salmon in Parchment

1 whole salmon (about 4 lbs or 1.8kg)
2 tsp (10ml) fine sea salt
Sprinkle of Original Garlic Scape Salt, to taste
1 large lemon, sliced into rounds
2 large shallots, finely minced or sliced
1 bunch of dill, you can substitute an herb of your choice

Preheat oven to 350 F. Wash fish under cold running water and pat dry with kitchen paper. Sprinkle the inside and outside with the fine sea salt. Set aside for 20 minutes and rinse again with cold water and pat dry.

Place salmon, on buttered parchment paper cut large enough to wrap the entire fish. Place this on top of a piece of aluminum foil also large enough to wrap and seal the fish. The foil helps contain the juices just in case the pleats of the parchment come undone.

Sprinkle the inside cavity of whole fish with Garlic Scape Salt and stuff with sliced lemons, herbs and shallots. Fold parchment over the fish to seal and wrap foil around it firmly.

Place fish into preheated oven and bake for about 45 minutes. (A good general rule is 10 minutes per inch of thickness at 350 F.)

Top with compound butter to serve.

New Potatoes Roasted with Original Garlic Scape Salt

Yvonne and Morris served this with a delicious garlic scape pesto. To make your own, try using your usual pesto recipe and substitute fresh garlic scapes for the garlic and basil.

2 lbs (900g) new potatoes or fingerling potatoes
2 tsp (10ml) fine sea salt
1/2 lb (227g) butter or duck fat or combination of both
2 tbsp (30ml) Original Garlic Scape Salt

Preheat to 350 F. Wash and scrub potatoes well. Fill a large saucepan with cold water, the potatoes and the fine sea salt. Bring to a boil and simmer until the potatoes are soft on the outside but not fully cooked in the centre.

Melt butter and garlic scape salt together and put in a large bowl. Drain potatoes in a colander and give a few sharp shakes to roughen up the skins. At this point you can lightly crush the potatoes if you want to do smashed roasted potatoes. Toss in melted butter/duck fat and place in a roasting pan. Sprinkle more scape salt over the top if desired and roast until golden brown.

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