Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Keeping B.C. beautiful

Fresh choices to celebrate B.C. Day



It's hard to imagine, but B.C. Day has only been with us since 1974. Before that, everyone just kept working without trying to buck up precious vacation days around the August long weekend to stretch out enough time to go camping.

Mimicking similar August civic holidays already established in other provinces across Canada, B.C. Day also happens to fall close to August 2, the date when British parliament established the Province of British Columbia in 1858.

The strategy was pretty much in reaction to the thousands of mostly American gold rush fortune hunters that in 1857 started flocking to what had previously been a relatively quiet corner of the colonial empire after gold was discovered in the sand bars of the Lower Fraser River.

Picture what's now a sleepy collection of little cottages at Yale along Highway 97 as a bustling hub of transportation for thousands of men and a smattering of women making their way up the mighty Fraser. Ditto the tourist-magnet remains of Barkerville as once being home to 25,000 people in the 1860s, making it the largest settlement in Western Canada. And all of it driven by gold "in them thar hills."

Sourdoughs, as these early prospectors were often called, were indeed named after bread. Originally the term referred to someone who had spent a full winter beyond the Arctic Circle, but it soon meant any old hand who'd survived the gold rush trail year after year.

Story goes that a French family, the Boudins, who were master bakers, brought the first sourdough bread to San Francisco. It was as loved by city dwellers as it was by prospectors in California, where gold was discovered in 1848. The name followed the men as they followed the gold to Alaska, Yukon and B.C.

Sourdough was a much more reliable starter than traditional leavening agents like yeast or baking soda for prospectors bent on making their own bread. Many an adventurer would keep his sourdough starter in a pouch around his neck or close to his body on his belt to keep it warm. The fear was it would be harmed by freezing temperatures, kiboshing any bread-making aspirations. The irony is sourdough starter, which is acidic like the bread made from it, is killed by high heat, not cold. Hopefully, none of those sourdoughs cuddling up to their starter got to a feverish pitch.

So be an original. In the name of celebrating a slice of local history, bring a loaf of crusty sourdough bread along with the story to your B.C. Day picnic. Add some of our best local offerings and you'll have it made.

In better days, I would tell you to grab a salmon, too, but with all the changing oceanic conditions due to climate change, it's tough to eat local salmon with a clear conscience. For one, the record drought this summer has left salmon streams looking more like rock and gravel beds than streams, leaving salmon trapped in local Pacific Ocean waters waiting for enough flow to travel upstream and spawn.

It's hard to admit but B.C. commercial salmon choices green-lighted by Sea Choice, the sustainable seafood system used by the David Suzuki Foundation and one with more stringent and more up-to-date standards than Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise program, are few and far between. (Strangely, both the B.C. Salmon Marketing Council and the Ocean Wise program's facts and figures are old, dated 2010.) As well, the nuances are complex enough to give you a headache figuring them out.

For instance, by Sea Choice standards, Atlantic salmon farmed in land-based pens is fine, but good luck finding it. One of the few sources is a land-based salmon farm in Lummi, Wash. Coho salmon that's been farmed via recirculating aquaculture is also OK. Wild chinook, chum, pink, coho or sockeye from Alaska that's been caught with drift gillnets, purse seines or trolling gets a green light, as does sockeye from Washington caught in reefnets.

But all of that is U.S. salmon. When it comes to B.C. stocks, chum, pink and sockeye, and north coast coho all get a yellow (caution) flag due to some concerns. Farmed Atlantic salmon raised in open-net pens in coastal waters, of course, is a no-go with all its harmful impacts on wild stocks.

That said, we can still support local fishers who make the effort to fish sustainably, and with a little effort you can find them, usually at local marinas selling off their boats.

Otherwise, think alternative fish favourites like local sardines, albacore tuna, Dungeness crab, spot prawns caught by trap (available frozen now), farmed clams or oysters, and sablefish.

Top off your B.C. sustainable seafood choice with yummy locally grown veggies from any farmgate vendor or market, and add in some fruity local favourites for dessert.

Besides all that luscious fruit rolling in from the Okanagan — crisp early apple varieties like Sunrise and Ambrosia, and plump juicy apricots, peaches and cherries — wild blackberries are ripe so early this year with all the heat, you can pick some local bounty right beside your picnic site. A quick favourite around here is to cook them up in a saucepan with a little honey, blackberry liqueur, butter and a dash of vanilla until you have a thick blackberry puree that transforms vanilla ice cream into an exotic feast.

B.C. raspberries are almost as iconic as their blueberry cousins and well worth celebrating. Local commercial raspberry growers have been at it for 40 years, so some farms are now in their third or fourth generation of growers.

Again, with the radical early heat we've been having, the berries are virtually rolling off the bushes right now. In fact, many berry farmers in the Lower Fraser Valley are leaving beautiful raspberries, blueberries and more in their fields to rot because plantings that were staggered have all come ripe at once so there is far more supply than demand.

Local corn, peas, potatoes, carrots, green leafy veggies and beans are all looking for eager buyers, so check those produce counter signs for place of origin in your favourite grocery store and buy B.C. as much as you can.

Bundle it all up with that sourdough baguette and sustainable seafood and head to your best picnic nook or campground this B.C. Day. Then pop open your favourite local beverage and toast this fine province that was born 157 years ago on the heels of some tough, bold adventurers, and be glad you're following in their footsteps.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who'd rather go sustainable than traditional.