July 18, 2015

NOT JUST CORN, IT HAS TO BE CHILLIWACK CORN!


It was a summer potluck in 2012 ago when I marveled at the taste, freshness and beauty of what looked like a very healthy robust corn.   My neighbor Rose, who brought the boiled corn cobs said they were Agassiz corn – referring to the farming town of Agassiz, around 77 miles east of Vancouver BC Canada near the border with Washington State.

Corn is grown in neighboring areas as well, mainly in Chilliwack where the golden ears is known as Chilliwack corn.  In Vancouver any corn harvested from the Upper Fraser Valley, where Chilliwack and Agassiz are both located, is referred to as Chilliwack Corn.



One of the major growers, Sparkes  Farm (www.chilliwackcorn.com), has little green barns with yellow roofs labeled Sparkes selling their corn in brown paper bags all over Chilliwack, Bridal Falls, and Agassiz and this year in Vernon and Kelowna .    See www.chilliwackcorn.com for locations.  Barns are open from 10 am till 6 pm, seven days a week.   Another farmer direct seller, Van Santen Farms, have all-yellow barn - lets. 

Owner and farmer Ian Sparkes said that harvest time depends on the weather:  the combination of heat and rain.  Sugar content goes up with heat.   The first batch was on sale July 1st , the earliest it has ever been because of the unusually hot summer Western Canada has been having.  Sparkes said they stagger planting the corn so that batches of corn are ripening every few days.


Chilliwack corn will be available for 12 weeks until the first week of October 5th.  Sparkes said there is usually a slowdown in sales after Labor Day (September 7, 2015) but in reality good corn can still be picked from the fields until November.

Sparkes does not grow the popular bicolor corn (with yellow and white kernels) marketed as Peaches and Cream.   Sparkes only grow all yellow which he calls Triple Sweet Jubilee.  Sparkes claim it has a higher sweetness and has never been genetically modified.    I did try the Peaches and Cream from Van Santen and it was not as sweet.  


The other big farmer, the Joiners, sell Peaches and Cream and the all-yellow corn everyone else just calls Jubilee.  But most corn from the Joiners are sold wholesale to independent corner stands – who peddle them at the back of a pick-up truck  - all over the Fraser Valley, Greater Vancouver and even as far as Sechelt in the Sunshine Coast.

Sparkes advises the public, “If you buy corn anywhere it is hard to really be sure of where it was grown unless you know the farm or farmer. There are some people selling corn from California, Florida or even as far south as Mexico, and labeling them as Chilliwack corn. This is very wrong and unethical but it is being done.  Technically, Chilliwack Corn is only grown in and around the Chilliwack area.”

When Buying and Cooking Corn

The best corn is the one harvested the same day or at most within three days, with fresh  green husks, not dried out, wrapping snugly the ear, not loose, with golden-brown silk.   Do not buy corn that has been opened up or partially stripped.  I know you want to examine the kernels but the store should have samples unhusked and that should be representative for the day.  Or peel the first layer of husk, and feel the kernels through the remaining husks, just like a good set of teeth, should have no spaces with a firm rebound.  That should give you a pretty good diagnosis.

This means that most corn you buy in the supermarkets are no longer in their peak sweetness unless they came in straight from the farm that day.   But who can tell? Sometimes the store clerks know, and sometimes they can be guessing. 

It doesn’t hurt to ask , especially in farmer’s markets, if the corn was picked early that day.

Another place you can get fresh Chilliwack corn is at Yellow Barn Country Produce (Exit 104 No. 3 Road off Trans-Canada Highway, 8 am to 8 pm) in Abbotsford.  The store is run by an 80ish grandma Marjorie Hodgins-Smith who has been farming for almost 60 years.  She grows both Jubilee and Peaches and Cream.  Marjorie said the real Chilliwack corn is the all-yellow Jubilee which local farmers started half-a-century ago.  Her tip: buy corn at her store around noon or later in the day which will guarantee “Just Picked”.  Earlier in the morning might be last night’s carryover.   Marjorie said the corn will be very sweet this year because of the heat, but there will be less bushels because of lack of rain.

Once the corn has been harvested, the corn’s sugar immediately starts turning to starch, thereby losing its natural sweetness.  Corn must be cooked asap!  If you do not intend to eat the corn right away, store them whole, unwashed in air-tight containers, or tightly wrapped bags and then refrigerate.   Consume them within five days.  

The best corn recipe according to Ian Sparkes:
Put the water to a rolling boil, go to your garden, pick up the corn, husk it and stick em in your pot .  Once it returns to boil after 3-4 minutes, immediately haul out the cobs.  I tried this and it worked.  Corn kernels were soft and milky.  Perfection!  See an affirmation at www.susanbranch.com/how-to-cook-corn-recipe-corn-salsa/.  Do not add salt to the water or overcooked as it will toughen the corn.  Also see http://whatscookingamerica.net/Vegetables/BoilingCorn.htm.

Did you know there is a hairy silk for every corn kernel?  No wonder “cleaning” corn can be a chore.

How to make sure the corn is evenly buttered?  Ian Sparkes gave a tip: fill up a tall jar with water.  Microwave butter till runny.  Drop the butter into the jar and let the melted butter float in water. Then dunked the  cooked corn and when you pull it out, it will all be coated with butter.  Yummy!

Bring cash as most barns or stands do not have debit/credit card machines, except for Yellow Corn Country Produce.   A dozen corn fetches for around CAD$ 8.50  to $9.00.   ½ a dozen goes for CAD$ 5.00.   In some places CAD$ 0.70 to $1.00 a piece.  Yes a piece. which some locals do.  Bring a cooler, ice packs and plastic bags to store the corn for the commute back.

July 14, 2015

FRUIT PIES WORTH STOPPING FOR

Annaliese showing a Bumbleberry Pie

On my way to Alberta through Trans-Canada Highway 1, I was passing by the town of Chase, British Columbia.  I was there almost a year ago to stay for the night to see the famous Adams River Salmon Run.

Just before hitting the first exit, I saw a signage Fresh Fruit Pies.   I then made a quick swerve to a quite-psychedelic painted store called Golden Ears Fruit Stand and Café.   



The pies were not  the usual singular fruit ones you see in supermarkets, like blueberry or strawberry pie.  They have those too but they make fruit combinations I never heard of such as Strawberry Rhubarb, Peach Raspberry or Apple Sour Cherry to name a few. 


Only one kind can be bought by slice – whatever was in the pie glass dome that minute.



That afternoon it was Peach Blackberry for CAD$3.00 a slice and if I want it Ala Mode - ice cream on top – an additional CAD$0.75.  The blend of peach and blackberry, almost like a velvety silky black mousse was stunning.  But what made the pie outstanding was the delectable flaky crust.  I ate every crumb, and to think I normally discard the peripheral carb-toxic crust.   If the dough makes a pizza, the crust crowns the pie.

A week later on my way back home, I passed by Golden Ears and bought a whole frozen, guess what?, peach blackberry pie (CAD$11.95).  Bev, the store’s friendly pie crust maker said the key to a good crust: handle the dough with care, and use salted butter. 


Bev shaping pie crust dough prior to flattening them in a pie pan with a Manitoba-built shaping contraption.

Most commercial pies sold use shortening.  Bev  said she is still tweaking for the right proportion of ingredients.   Bev, I think you are there, or almost there. 

Golden Ears Fruit Stand and Café (6252 TC Highway West, Chase BC)  is only open during the summer months  – as late as September -  9 am till 6 pm every day.  Take a look at their Facebook page www.facebook.com/FruitstandGoldenEars   or call 250 679 8420.  The store also sells fruit, vegetables, and beverages plus sandwiches and ice cream (Foothills Creamery brand) in their café.

Don Cavers - the owner of Golden Ears Fruit Stand and Cafe

Select flavors of already baked whole pies are available at $12.95 each.  If you decide on a frozen pie (you will need a cooler in your car), the baking instructions (not written anywhere) as jotted down by friendly Brianne (everyone there is nice, even the owner Don Cavers) are:
From frozen, an hour and 20 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit
If defrosted, an hour and 10.

Brianne showing off a Strawberry Rhubarb Pie






June 20, 2015

Camping is Not for Everyone Why?





Simply because it is not comfortable as your own bed or a hotel room.  And for some, it can be a very vocal adjustment.

So there is tip #1  Find out how your family can take it.  The younger they are the easier to withdraw from creature comforts – generally but not all.  Try an overnight first before going on a weekend long adventure.  If you have the space for it, take a mattress that you can fold or an air bed.  This will make your adventure sooooooo comfortable!

Second tip, check out the weather forecast.  Camping in wet conditions is a major turn-off.  With long days and short nights, if it is dry, it is so conducive to chat, sing, bond over a meal and campfire.

Tip # 3   And since temperatures can dip at night and/or at higher elevations, make sure you carry jackets and sleeping bags good for minus Celsius -  that can be snug and toasty even though it’s frosty.

Tip # 4   If possible, research in advance on two or three campsites in the area – so you can switch to Plan B or Plan C.  It might look good in the website photos but images lie.  Once you are there, what looked like a postcard by the sea camp site can turn out to be a rocky RV slum.  Thanks to photo cropping. 

I say if possible, since sometimes at the spur of the moment I just want to  jump into my car and go where the wind blows that day.  But in BC there are so many campgrounds –  so there is no need to worry of not finding one.

There are Provincial Campgrounds (labeled BC Parks), National Campground (labeled Parks Canada), Private campgrounds, and Municipal Campgrounds.  It can range as low as $10 a night per site for a family of 4 to as high as $45 per.   Average $ 25 – $ 35 a night.  In some campgrounds, there are group sites where for 4 – 5 families or more can be together.

A number are fully-booked for the summer on weekends (Alice Park and Porteau Cove along the Sea-to-Sky Highway on the way to Whistler from Vancouver) – so call to check. 
 

Tip # 5  If you see a Visitor Information Centre with the symbol i (usually closed after 5 pm and Sundays), grab a campground catalogue.  Many have toll-free numbers.

Tip # 6  But if it’s late, there is no Wi-Fi, no campground list – ask the locals.  Over at Chase, BC, right before Adams River – a bank teller gave me a good tip on a still open (it was mid-October) campsite – right next to the Fraser River (no train tracks) where I can hear at night, and later see at dawn salmon jumping.

Tip # 7  Some suggested web sites for campgrounds listing:
·       www.bc-camping.com
·       gocampingbc.com  (albeit incomplete)

A good one for families in BC is Sunnyside Campground in Cultus Lake ( avoid the noisier public parks).  Add Vedder River Campground along Vedder River in Yarrow,  Fraser Cove overlooking the mighty Fraser River in Lillooet, and a number along Chilliwack Lake Road on the way to Chilliwack Lake which is lovely.  In Alberta, I like Honeymoon Lake in the Rockies .  I like campgrounds with a water view or next to it with trails.

There are nice ones too in Vancouver Island, especially in Port Hardy, Zeballos, Malcolm Island, and Saturna Island – but in Saturna you need to hike for 40 minutes to get there.  Bring a car then – pricey on the ferry, or hitchhike.  BTW, hitchhiking is acceptable in most of the small islands.   A number of the islands have fun farmer’s markets on Saturday mornings – see my other blog entries.

Discovery and Serendipity are an awesome combo.

Tip # 8  Avoid  setting in near rail tracks especially along the scenic Fraser River on Fraser Canyon (places like Boston Bar, North Bend, Yale, Lytton) – the cargo train passes on both sides of the river so the night will be rumbling every hour.   There are campgrounds on the other side of the highway  - where you can still hear an occasional choo choo but not the chugging of 50 train cars.   I wonder how the residents sleep?

Scope out factories and paper mills (like in Merritt) – Paper mills abound in BC and they operate 24/7 – worse than train tracks because of the mill’s exhaust.  You cannot tell it’s noisy during the day – sounds attenuate at night.

Tip # 9  Check out the washrooms especially if it’s late season (past September) when cleaning is often less frequent or dropped.  The washrooms in the municipal campground in Enderby (between Vernon and Salmon Arm) were crawling with tiny inch-size worms.  I am not kidding!

Tip # 10  Don’t drive to a campground which will be an 8 hour road trip – people will get cranky.  Max 5 hours drive (traffic-free), minimum 1 hour –you don’t want to be too close either otherwise it feels like you are play-camping in your backyard.

Tip # 11  Pick a campsite with shade and soft grassy ground (if it exists) – you will be thankful during the middle of the day

Tip # 12  Always carry water, a cooler for ice (you will be thankful for this one) or you might buy fresh eggs from a local farmer.

Tip # 13   Have a checklist
  
Tip # 14   Important: Bring First Aid and sanitizers, garbage bags, flashlights, insect repellants, sun block lotion, hats and sunglasses, cameras if you cannot use your cell phones.  BTW often there are no cell phone service.

Hiking boots would be great if you plan to do trails – they will lessen the chances of a sprain.

Tip # 15  I carry pillows and blankets to max comfort.  And I buy awesome desserts at a specialty bakery as a treat later.  I just don’t want to eat hot dogs and burgers.  I want my carrot cake and cinnamon buns.

Tip # 16  Bring a pile of old newspapers – to cover dusty or moist picnic benches and tables; as padding for damp ground to pitch your tent on, and for general clean-up.  Then you can guilt-free throw or even use the dried paper as kindle for a camp fire.

Tip #  17  Chargers, chargers that can be plug on to your car charger.  It is a bummer when you get low bat on any of your mobile devices, if you can use it.

Tip # 18   Cash: many camps are on an honor system – they ask you seal your payment in a provided envelope, then dropped into a safe box.  Also most bathrooms have coin-operated showers.  No looney – no hot water.  Brrrrrrr!

Tip # 19  Slippers or flip flops, no matter how cold.  Those public bathrooms can be dirty since they are only cleaned 2x a day.  You don’t want to live in perpetuity with itchy toe valleys.

Tip # 20  Most provincial campsites have only johns, no showers – so if this is a must ask when checking in or do your research.                                                                                                                
Tip # 21  Other than the sandwich or cereals breakfast, I suggest only one camp meal a day - ideally supper where a smoking grill gives an I-am-really -camping ambience.  If you can eat out for lunch - a worry-free variety and you don’t want to be cooking in heat anyway.   Great way to meet locals if they are friendly. 

Almost all campgrounds in North America do not have shared kitchens unlike in New Zealand or Australia where campers can cook on real stoves and ovens, store their name-labeled goodies in refrigerators,  Cooking utensils, plates, cutleries, even dishwashing soap are provided.

Tip # 22   Always drive with a full or at least half-full tank.  Gas stations are far and in-between on many roads.  Gas prices go down in Abbotsford and Hope.  Generally the farther you are from Vancouver – the cheaper the gas.  Last week it was a $1.27 per liter in Vancouver.  It was a $1.16 per liter in Lytton and a $1.19 per liter in Yale $1.20 in Hope.

Tip #  23   Safety and security – when your kids are swimming or playing – somebody Must Always be watching!  Do not rely on lifeguards.  BTW this is BC so even during summers the water can be freezing.

Tip # 24  Always leave your campsites clean – do a thorough inspection (ask the kids to help you) so as not to miss tent pins, or other stuff.

Tip # 25   Try to be back home early enough so you can “decamp”, decompress and be rested, put everything in place, and be refreshed for the following work or school day.

Tip # 26 should really be earlier in this list.   Before leaving home Unplug everything and make sure the kitchen sink is clean and the garbage is out.  You will be very sorry upon return if you don’t do this.

But you know what,  when all is said and done, all you really need is your sleeping bag or a blanket, and cash/credit or debit card.  Just snooze in your car, buy ready-to-eat in the supermarket or have it to go and you’ll survive.