Go B.C. or go home! 

BC Day offers the perfect chance to celebrate our colourful culinary legacy


Happy BC Day, everybody! Whether you live here, work here, or you're just visiting this beautiful province of ours, on August 4 set aside whatever you're up to and celebrate all things British Columbia.

Besides the great wealth of natural assets that led to the word "Beautiful" being added to our licence plates 50 years ago, there's a litany of favourite things B.C.-ish we love: The BC Mountaineering Club; BC Research; BC Ferries for all those cheap coastal holidays if we don't take a car; the BC Sports Hall of Fame; BC Arts Council; grand old UBC; and all those busy BC Liquor Stores.

In the food vein, there's the BC Sugar Refinery, still in its amazing 1890s brick warehouse (a favourite film location) on Vancouver's waterfront, pumping out some 100,000 metric tonnes of sugar annually, or about 10 per cent of Canada's output.

We have or, I should say, had, BC Packers, the amalgamated company with 44 canneries, once the heart of Steveston and once behind all the canned seafood sold under the Clover Leaf label — and still the biggest seafood marketing company in Canada.

We've got the BC Tree Fruits Cooperative in Kelowna, the BC Dairy and Cattlemen's associations, and the BC Raspberries and Blueberry councils. And BC Hydro, of course, pumping out all that fine low-carbon electricity to power the greenhouses, irrigation pumps and what-have-you needed for food production.

Then there's that quintessential B.C. staple, our "wild and wonderful" West Coast salmon, almost a brand name unto itself and a mainstay of coastal First Nations' diets for centuries. In Jean Barman's classic The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia — which, happily, focuses less on history made by leaders and more on that made by the people — there's a lovely reproduction of a sketch by John Webber, who was part of Captain Cook's 1778 expedition. It shows the interior of a Nootka house with racks and racks hanging under the cavernous ceiling with hundreds of salmon drying.

You couldn't do better than grabbing a wild salmon fillet to bar-b this weekend, especially the all-time favourite, sockeye, since all predictions are for a record run this summer. (You wouldn't want any of the farmed Atlantic stuff, would you?) And don't forget the other wild salmon — pink, chum, chinook, coho — all good in their own right when properly cooked.

But what else can we eat on BC Day that's downright British Columbia?

If you love foraging, Jim Pojar and Andy Mackinnon's Plants of Coastal British Columbia will set you straight on what you can eat and what you shouldn't in the wilds. In the introduction, they include an excellent section on ethnobotany, outlining the plants aboriginal peoples use for technology — western red cedar at the top of the list — as well as wild plants that serve as food and medicine. There are about 130 different species in the first category, some providing more than one type of food. Salmonberry and thimbleberry, for instance, aren't just for berries; their young shoots were peeled and eaten in springtime for a treat.

Wild strawberries, red elderberries, blueberries, blackberries, soapberries, gooseberries, currants and salal berries; then later in summer and fall, Pacific crabapples, cranberries and huckleberries are all traditional foods and yours for the taking if you know where to look and what to look for.

Edible barks include western hemlock, Sitka spruce, black cottonwood and red alder. Then there are the edible bulbs from common camas, chocolate lily and wild onions; tubers of arrowhead; rhizomes from bracken fern and marine plants like seaweed and algae.

The joy of Plants of Coastal British Columbia is that descriptions and uses of plants are included right alongside their identification so you can't go wrong packing it along on a BC Day hike.

If you're more into building something from a tried and true B.C. recipe rather than helping yourself in nature, try This is British Columbia: Recipes Through the Years. Published by the provincial government and Beautiful BC Magazine — now British Columbia Magazine, another B.C. favourite — it came out around 1974, the year BC Day started.

Check out the nostalgic photos and timeworn recipes. The ranchers' beef soup made with pearl barley, or a pot of pioneer baked beans made with salt pork and molasses will take you right back to B.C.'s good ol' days.

The section on foods from "other" cultures starts with a very English Beef Wellington, a nod to the elegant meals served on the Canadian Pacific Railway. No surprise there: Queen Victoria named our province, and for decades after B.C. joined Confederation in 1871 (on July 20 — nothing to do with BC Day), power remained centralized in Victoria, where the British predominated.

A recipe for bok choy with a hot bacon sauce made with Worcestershire sauce, of all things, and another for turkey curry supposedly speak to "other" cultures. After all it was the 1970s. Thank goodness we now have in B.C. some of the finest authentic Chinese and Indian cuisine — all sans Worcestershire sauce.

On page 59, a great photo of the Anaconda Britannia Copper Mine counterpoints miners' specials like Silver City beef turnovers and miners' meatball "cassoulet" — a wild and wooly stove-top concoction made with ground beef and pork, an egg, bread crumbs and tomatoes.

Mining is no longer B.C.'s second industry, as it was when this recipe book was published. Tourism beat it out by about $5 billion annually in 2012, the latest year for which comparable stats available. To that end, you can righteously trot out a copy of Savour Whistler: From Field to Plate, which celebrates the farms of Pemberton, the restaurants of Whistler and the people who make them work.

This more recent B.C. food celebration starts with Araxi chef James Walt's lovely grilled asparagus salad served with a crispy egg. Yes, you bread and deep-fry poached eggs — this is why we pay for dishes like this in restaurants! The book ends, appropriately, with Tandoori Grill's gulab jamun — those wonderful Indian sweet balls served in a rose-water syrup. In between you'll find lots of Whistler's best offerings, including a recipe for venison chili with bannock from the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre's Thunderbird Café.

So if all else fails this BC Day, go B.C. and go out for dinner. Use the time you saved not cooking and cleaning up to sit under your favourite shade tree and graze through all the above books. Toss in the Encyclopedia of British Columbia for good measure.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who's from Alberta.


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