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Food and Drink

Orphans at the farmers' market

The only problem with some things on Earth is that they suffer from a lack of good PR. In the food department, hundreds of items are absolutely wonderful to eat, but we don’t give them a chance because our moms never served them or taught us how to use them, or somebody put them down (oh, farmer food, was the classic insult – my how things have changed), or they look a little funny.

With the original Whistler Farmers’ Market well underway on Sundays in the Upper Village (there’s also a farmers’ market Saturdays at Franz’s Trail in Creekside), I thought it would be fun and a little helpful for the poor edibles suffering under a yoke of neglect and misunderstanding to lift the veil on the unknown, the underrated and the overlooked. So I asked vendors at the original market to turn people on to one item they sell that they feel is under-appreciated. Call it a primer to the orphans of the farmers’ market:

Beautiful beets

Whistler is pretty leading edge for a lot of things, but when it comes to beets, we’re slackers.

Barbara Tuemp, the owner of Armitspring Orchard in Lillooet, sells great baking and a variety of organic fruits and veggies at the market. She is a huge beet fan and can’t understand why Whistlerites are, well, a little hesitant about this tasty and versatile vegetable.

"My daughter is married to an Australian and she says down there beets are the latest hot thing," she says. "They grate them up raw and use them on all the gourmet sandwiches. I thought by now this would have spread to Canada.

"In Munich, they’re using them on open-face sandwiches, too – sliced pickled beets, a little hard-boiled egg, and garnishes like pimentos and shredded cucumber on a dark rye bread. They also make a beet salad using sliced, cooked beets in a light vinaigrette, with chives sprinkled on top, like a potato salad."

Sounds like a cold beer is in order.

You can use beets raw, par-boiled, or, of course, fully cooked. When you boil them up, leave the skin and a bit of the stem on, or the red colouring will leach out. Cool them under cold water, then slip the skins off before serving. Or you can bake them wrapped in foil at 350 degrees for about an hour.

Bonus: beet greens are even healthier than spinach. You can stir fry them with a bit of olive oil and onion, or bacon; boil them; or use them raw on sandwiches like lettuce.

Check out fresh beets at the market starting the middle to end of July.

Rockin’ rutabagas

Jeanette Helmer of Helmer’s Organic Farm in Pemberton doesn’t hesitate over her choice to plug: it’s the deep orangey-yellow rutabaga, a cross between the turnip and cabbage. You might know them as Swede turnips or yellow turnips, or, if you’re Scottish, neeps.

"We love rutabagas," she says, with pronounced emphasis on "love." "They’re a very under-rated vegetable.

"They’re very tasty, they store well in a cool place, and they’re just so versatile. They’re really good in stews for lending a lot of flavour, and they’re delicious just plain, mashed with butter, just like you’d do mashed potatoes."

One favourite Helmer approach is to slice rutabagas into 1/4-inch-thick medallions and fry them in a pan on medium-high with a bit of olive oil and sea salt. Turn them when they get crispy brown on the outside. Cook each side about five minutes until they’re soft inside, then eat them with your fingers – delicious.

They’re also great par-boiled and cooked around a roast, or cut in chunks, drizzled with olive oil and oven-roasted with chunks of carrots and onions about the same size.

Sweet stevia

You could call William Hayward the Stevia Man. Since the early 1960s he’s been using this natural sweetener and championing it as a practical, healthy alternative to sugar.

If you’re one of the many people who have heard of stevia and lump it into the same category as artificial sweeteners, you are wrong, wrong, wrong.

"Stevia is a white powder that is a very, very concentrated substance – it’s 600 times sweeter than sugar. You use the end of a toothpickful to sweeten a beverage. If you can see it on the end of your finger, it’s too much to taste," says William.

The powder William and his partner Mojave Kaplan sell at the farmers’ market, along with their special baked goods and heritage seeds, is nothing like artificial sweeteners. It’s a natural extract water-distilled from the green leaf of the stevia plant, a native to Paraguay and Brazil. The nice thing about their product is that it has none of the bitter aftertaste stevia is known for since they use a special variety that William has hybridized.

Besides its pleasant taste and amazing sweetening capabilities, stevia does not affect the pancreas or blood sugar levels, so it’s diabetic-friendly. The trick is to learn how to use it properly.

To sweeten your coffee, you literally dip a toothpick into the powder and stir it into your cup. As for baking, you use one-eighth to one-quarter teaspoon of stevia in place of one cup of sugar. Since she’s an expert on baking with stevia, Mojave has two tips to get the best results.

"To substitute the volume of sugar you’d otherwise use, you can add the stevia to a half or a third of a cup of fruit puree or mashed banana," she says.

"The other trick is to mix your stevia in with the dry ingredients and hold a little bit of your baking powder in your recipe to the very end, and mix it with about a quarter cup of lemon juice. If you add that as the very last ingredient to your mixing bowl, your entire recipe will relax."

We’ll offer more tips on overlooked ingredients next week. In the meantime, venture forth and check out stevia, beets and rutabagas at the Whistler Farmers’ Market throughout the season. It offers a huge range of products every Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., from Fathers’ Day through to Thanksgiving weekend, Oct. 7 and 8, when a special Saturday market is held. The market is located in Whistler Upper Village next to the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Contact Nicole Ronayne at 604-932-5998 or

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who would like you to reconsider cabbage: it’s sweet raw or cooked, versatile, extraordinarily inexpensive, and good for you.