My sister, Paula, is a bit of anachronism. Once my baby sibling with a firey attitude, she has become a proficient “mountain woman” who laughs at cold (I, on the other hand, do NOT laugh at cold). Paula cans things, dries things and she pickles things.
Ray and I went to Winfield (just a few ticks north of Kelowna in the Okanagan) to stay with her this weekend. I brought about 15 pounds of our little plum tomatoes and an armload of fresh sage. I always knew that Paula canned peaches and made jam and pickled beets. She’s dried enough cherries to feed a small town, but she’s run up a few new tricks. She had dried sliced leeks and chopped peppers — of every colour. Fabulous! The smell of these little treasures was amazing and they will bring happiness to soups, stews and fried potatoes all winter. She set me up with one of her five driers (all purchased for a song at garage sales) and I broke all of the sage off the branches and set those up to dry.
We went to the Kelowna public market on Saturday morning and bought massive Walla Walla onions and perfect little carrots from Zelaney’s Farm. The Zelaney’s handle and sell vegetables like they’re hand-raised puppies. It’s like they know and love everything they grow and it shows in the exceptional produce and the beautiful faces of everyone who works there. Then we discovered smoked garlic at another little stand that sold Italian, French, Russian Red and several other fresh garlics as well as this exotic smoked stuff. Stick your nose in THAT brown bag and tell me you don’t have an out-of-body experience! Paula put some of that with carmelized onions on pizza that night. What a treat.
Paula also bought about 10 lbs. of leeks and more peppers. So I spent Saturday afternoon cleaning and chopping these and into the drier they went. Within 10 hours we had oodles more of both to add to her bounty and we parsed some out for ourselves and a few lucky family members. It’s amazing how much flavour and aroma gets trapped in the dried food. I crunched some of the leeks onto fried potatoes on Sunday morning and they added so much!
On Monday (Labour Day) more friends arrived with their harvest from Tête Jaune Cache (pronounced by the locals as “Teejon”). JP and Alisha live “off the grid” on 9 acres of undeveloped land — no running water, no electricity, no roads. They had picked up JP’s mom, Josée from big-city Montréal at the airport and, after canning and drying at Paula’s, were headed up to show her how the other 1/99th live.
They brought beets the size of turnips, huge cucumbers and various other harvested treasures, all awaiting Paula’s expert advice on how best to process them for a winter that will make them a necessary staple along with the deer that JP can kill by the time the snow gets serious. They live in the wilderness with a moose of a dog named Hilo. He earns his keep intimidating nosey bears and thus protecting his people. He appears to be an Akita in the front and a St. Bernard in the back. He’s all muscle and brute force, but he is a real pussycat for affection. However, we were required to sequester Paula’s kitty, as Hilo is in the habit of eating cats in a bite or two…literally. They also have a new puppy named Leon with the cutest ears. He looks like a husky cross and is as smart as a whip. Both dogs eat only raw food. In the summer, that’s whole raw chicken backs, bone and all. In the winter, it’s the waste from the deer that JP butchers himself. Hilo’s massive jaws make the bones look like marshmallows. I asked JP how he learned to butcher the deer. He says a Métis friend of his taught him the ropes, and now he butchers with so much more care than someone you might hire. He’s careful with how close he cuts to the bone to make the most out of a cut. He sounds passionate about the craft.
It was an interesting education, meeting these seemingly normal people who choose to live with only the barest essentials and make their way as a lifelong learning process unfolds. It was serendipity that they happened by this weekend, when I was really starting to understand how Paula’s harvesting instincts can tighten the 100-mile diet circle.