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A Good and Delicious Life

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Oh, my aching muscles...

By Lorene Edwards Forkner

Did you know that the juicy stems and colorful blossoms of tuberous begonias have a lemony flavor? Tart and refreshing, apparently they’re pretty good in daiquiris. Or that olive oil infused with the young tips of Grand Fir results in a condiment that sings with the very essence of the forest; dark phenol-green and delicious drizzled over fresh bread or swirled into a creamy soup. Hungry yet?

It was on a restorative getaway last fall that I sampled these curious tastes and savored several meals I will dream of for the rest of my life. Not too overtly quaint or gingham-precious, Sooke Harbour House is a luxurious inn located on the southwest tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Situated on a bluff above the northern waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca on its way to the Pacific, its beautiful lodgings are filled with cozy furnishings, natural stone and polished wood surfaces worn with a patina of time. Large windows hung with bleached linens open to the sound and smell of the waters below. Blessed with an unusually benign climate, Sooke Harbour House is famed for its prolific edible gardens and culinary tradition. Today it is hip to be Green (capital G), yet innkeepers Frederique and Sinclair Philip were sourcing fresh, local, organic and sustainable food long before it became the buzz of today’s conscious eaters. To dine from their daily changing menu is to fully inhabit and partake of what the season, the ocean and local farmers have to offer.

On a tour of the extensive grounds conducted by the Philip’s daughter who was raised at the inn and now tends the many gardens, we pinched, tasted and sampled our way through robust herb beds. Calendula, dianthus, begonias and nasturtiums mingled with roses and berry brambles, all skirted with sprawling patches of delicious wild strawberries. The enormous soft, brilliantly chartreuse fuzzy leaves of fruit sage begged to be pinched and petted while rough hedges of lavender and rosemary as well as the largest lemon verbenas I have ever seen bore the sculpted impact of strong winds and the salty spray from the nearby shore. Horticultural Latin comes alive when you remember that Rosmarinus means “dew of the sea.” Hardy kiwis, passionfruit vines and grapes clambered up the sides of the inn, swathing its covered porches and deck rails in delicious fruitful drapes. Needless to say, the resident hummingbirds and honey bees were in a terrestrial heaven.

The next day I wrangled some time with Byron Cook, head gardener at Sooke Harbour House for 19 years, who assured me that all was not peaceable in this remarkably delicious kingdom. Local deer, driven from their usual habitat by development, regularly eat their way through the gardens to the utter dismay of its hardworking staff. A young orchard is carefully fenced against their depredations and the tell-tale wisps of green plants nibbled to the ground are evidence of this constant clash of wills.

Everyone knows the old saw: The way to a (wo)man’s heart is through her/his stomach. I would venture to say that many a horticultural passion began in the backyard vegetable patch; I know this is certainly true for me. Somehow I went from picking peas and staking tomatoes to experimenting with ornamental grasses and collecting capricious tender pelargoniums. What began as an economic efficiency somehow morphed into an obsession where no price was too dear to put down for an especially choice perennial. It is only recently that I have come full circle back to the vegetable patch. Sure enough, it began with a meal, a lovely pasta with tender fava beans, spring onions, white wine and thyme—OK, and bacon.

Diminishing resources, sustainability and figuring one’s personal “carbon footprint” are trendy ecological topics scrutinized in the popular press, bandied about at cocktail parties, and passionately analyzed wherever conservationists gather. Local is the new organic, small is the new big, and sustainable is the new black (or navy or red…). I am convinced that a local, sustainable and delicious life is available not just to those with the money to dine at the latest restaurant featuring this week’s harvest, garnished with the tiniest of embryo greens and chic spice foam. Local is in our backyards, on grocery shelves and at neighborhood farmer’s markets. Small is our neighbor’s p-patch, our container of salad greens, and our local chef preparing food from small regional family farms. Delicious is home-grown strawberries still warm from the afternoon sun popped in your mouth one after the other.

These days, newly repurposed from a career in retail horticulture with a flexible schedule built primarily around words and drawings, I’m looking forward to the coming season with a fresh interest in food. My weekly errands take me to farmer’s markets, I hound my chef friends about their favorite recipes, and once again, I am in the midst of a garden renovation designed to accommodate a (much) larger vegetable plot. 

Moving beyond the “grow-your-own” mentality of past generations, contemporary food shed awareness challenges the environmental, social and economic impact of a global food system. Ours is not a black and white world but thankfully one of endless shades, tints and flavors. Constant nuance and different points of perspective lend richness and multiplicity, and yes, complexity to living our life with eyes wide open, hearts on our sleeve and our hand on our wallet. This coming year I plan to cultivate an appetite for what is good and wholesome for the planet and my plate, yum!  NWGN

Lorene Edwards Forkner is a newly minted Seattle writer and garden designer. Follow her seasonal adventures at Plantedathome.com.

 

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