There I was, in a tucked away corner of Save-On Foods, looking for inspiration for my dish. Ironically, this company that constantly advertises about being “BC grown” only has a small shelf of local food somewhere out of sight in the back that the produce guy forgot about. But there it was, not the food that I was looking for, but the inspiration. Regionally grown and milled flour and oats. Who knew we grew wheat in B.C.? With this, the possibilities for my plate were endless.
So there I was in class the next day, faced with the choice of which course my meal would be. My ideal course, dinner, was unavailable but I was unphased. My find of flour meant I could bake a pie. Besides, the dessert section was pretty slim anyway.
Then as I walked out of the building, it hit me. It hit me harder than any punch or thrown ball ever could. What hit me was comparable to a tidal wave of panic followed by a flood of anxiety. Where would I get sugar? Sugar cane isn’t grown in B.C.! (Leff et al. 2004) My initial confidence was carried out like being caught in the undertow.
Lucky for me, sweetness is something that white settlers of North America have been looking for since we got here, so my problem was not unique. Johnny Appleseed distributed the apple throughout North America with great speed establishing orchards along the way at a rate slightly slower than Starbucks did with their coffee shops (Diamond 2010). In the 19th century, apples represented the sweetness that settlers were looking for. Although they used Johnny Appleseed’s apples to make cider, and I would be using them to make a crumble, our desire was still the same. The desire for sweetness (Pollan 2002).
Apples originated somewhere in Western China or Kazakhstan (Hancook 2004). So even though apples aren’t native, they have been an efficient import. One can take a seed and, if used correctly, turn it into an orchard. Talk about a low carbon footprint! So now apples are grown in the Thompson-Okanagan. In fact, apples are grown quite prominently here.
I have a more intimate relationship with apples than most. I spent one seemingly endless summer working at an orchard in Kelowna. Nothing else gives a face to my food quite like an apple. Sometimes, when eating B.C. grown apples, I think about how they might have come from that same orchard I worked on. I’ll fantasize about Carl, the mangy looking guy I worked with, talking about where he thought our boss Dan’s weed was grown as he might be picking my apple.
“He’s gotta grow man! The guy is way too chill. It takes one to know one and that guy is a POTHEAD!” I could see him saying as he put the apple he just picked into his sack.
These apples didn’t only give me sweetness, they also gave me hope. However, if I were to make a crumble I needed a little more sweetness to appease the sugar saturated palate that people have today. The story of how I got this added sweetness was a fluke. It came from an eccentric boss named Sara.
Sara wears many hats at the school here. I know her as the coordinator of an athletic tutoring program at the school, but she’s involved in much more. I had known Sara since the start of the year and she was quick to mention her chickens and how they were allowed to walk about the house. I found this quite odd, but interesting and obviously many questions followed. So when I was in my sweetness conundrum I felt like she would be a good person to talk to. Along the way she revealed something more I did not know about her.
“Well we kept bees this summer!” she said.
“In fact we’ve got one more jar of honey left, and you can have it.” Clearly, she wears many hats outside of school too, all the way from soccer mom to amateur beekeeper. Sara would not accept payment from me, only an interesting factoid from me about how bees relocate their nests when their colonies get too big. I found it fitting that the sweetness in my dish would come from such a sweet person.
Well, there I was making my crumble, thinking. I was thinking about how I got this recipe. It was my mother’s recipe. She would make it on most special dinners, usually with rhubarb from our garden. So as often does, this food will come with more than nourishment, it comes with nostalgia. It comes with the memories of past birthdays and holidays. It comes with stories both ancient and new. It even comes with faces too.
The oats and flour come with the story of civilization. One of the first domesticated crops in the Fertile Crescent these seeds have made and broken empires (Diamond 1999; Hancook 2004). The apples come with the story of travelling the new frontier with Johnny Appleseed (Pollan 2002; Diamond 2010). More recently, the apples carry my stories from that long summer at the orchard and all the faces associated with it. The oats and flour tell the story of my excitement and discovery. The honey acts as a glue, keeping all the little pieces together.
Now here I am. Eating my crumble at the end of a memorable meal with members of my community. Community. The word has a double meaning here. Ecologically, a community is all the species living in the same place at the same time. So I’m not only sharing this meal with the people of my community, but the plants and animals as well. What a beautiful thought. The plants and animals of this region are just as big a part of the community as we are, and tonight they are included and recognized as such. They say it takes a village to raise a child. I say, it takes a community to make a dish.
The plants in my dish are no more native to the Thompson-Okanagan than I am. But now, through one way or another, we’ve all made our way here and it is home. We all share this place together. If we support each other, then together, one dish at a time, we might shade out the invasive species that is the supermarket. At the very least, we can get our local food more than a shelf at the supermarket.
When a local athlete makes it big, we all get excited. The community buzzes with pride of their homegrown star. We love when members of our community thrive! We can grow this same excitement about the plants and animals of our community too. Our local plants and animals can do much more for the community than shoot a puck or dribble a ball. They feed and nourish us. I think it’s their time to thrive now.
Diamond D. 2010. Origins of Pioneer Apple Orchards in the American West: Random Seeding versus Artisan Horticulture. Agricultural History. 84(4): 423-450.
Diamond J. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The fates of human societies. 1999. New York (NY). Norton Paperback. p. 131-156.
Hancook JF. Plant Evolution and the Origin of Crop Species. 2004. Cambridge (MA) CABI Publishing. p. 183-227.
Leff B, Ramankutty N, Foley JA. 2004. Geographic distribution of major crops across the world. Global Biogeochemical Cycles. 18(1).
Pollan, M. The botany of desire: A plant’s-eye view of the world. 2002. Toronto (ON). Random House Trade Paperbacks. p. 4-58.