#893 Schell’s wine and food tour
The BC Wine Lover’s Cookbook: Recipes & Stories from Wineries Across British Columbia
by Jennifer Schell, foreword by John Schreiner
Toronto: Penguin Random House (Appetite by Random House), 2020
$35.00 / 9780525610366
Reviewed by Harvey De Roo
There’s something special about wine country and its people, and what better guide than Jennifer Schell, former editor of Food and Wine Trails Magazine, award-winning author of the cookbook series, The Butcher, The Baker, The Wine and Cheese Maker, owner of a garagiste winery in the Okanagan, and cofounder/producer of the Garagiste North Wine Festival, hailed by the London Financial Times as one of the top wine festivals in the world. To her new book, The BC Wine Lover’s Cookbook, she brings her rich involvement with the wineries of BC, offering an enticing tour of the enterprise, the people on the ground, the wines they make, the foods they love. The recipes all come from the vintners themselves, people who know their food as well as their wine. Food that is often local; BC is famous for its small farms, its love of fresh produce and humanely raised meat animals. Combine this with the wines and you get a wonderful sense of homegrown on your dinner table.
A book like this makes you glad you live in British Columbia. BC is magic — a province with vast rural regions with alluring names, like the Caribou, the Kootenays, the Okanagan, Similkameen Valley, Cowichan Valley, Shuswap, Lillooet, the Gulf Islands. A land of sea and mountains with a rich variety of microclimates, all of which seem particularly hospitable to wine. From the established Okanagan areas to the newer Lillooet wine country, there flourishes the great rustic enterprise of BC: its world-class wine industry. From the sixties onwards it has grown from a handful of producers to over 370! Dotted throughout the province are inviting wineries, many sporting elegant bistros, perched high on hillsides, looking down on lakes and sea, or stretched along the foot of parched mountains, dressing them in skirts of green. Landscapes rugged, huge, and ancient, congenially civilized by people passionate about a most civilizing craft.
The book is handsome, with an inviting shot on the cover of a vineyard with a plain wooden table and chairs set for two in a foreground overlooking a lower slope and, in the distance, a valley and lake and far mountains. Beautiful BC. It takes us across the province, east to west, from the Okanagan to Lillooet (there’s a charming hand-drawn map in the Introduction), visiting each region and micro-region and giving a sampling of the local vineyards. There are five major groupings, listed in the table of contents at the beginning of the book: Okanagan Central; Okanagan South; Oliver, Osoyoos, and Similkameen Valley; Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, and Gulf Islands; Lillooet, Thompson Valley, Shuswap, and Kootenays. A lot of wine country in a sprawling province.
Each grouping begins with a stunning two-page photo of a representative vineyard and a brief introduction. Then its own table of contents indicating micro-regions and vineyards. Finally, each vineyard — 53 in all — is allotted four pages: a full-page photo of the vineyard and its owners; a page on their history; a full-page photo of the food; and, on the facing page, the recipe. The photos are vibrant, and give a gratifying sense of the people and the food they produce. Each recipe, accompanied by a suggested wine pairing, is attractively set out.
Following the recipes is a four-page section of suggested menus, tying these feasts to the seasonal activities of wine-making, and providing the author’s idea of what foods go together (always interesting to compare with your own). Next comes a generous selection of wine tours, eight altogether, each of two days’ duration and taking in two to five wineries a day, including a recommended eatery. There’s nothing more satisfying than a good wine tour — driving through the countryside, enjoying fine wines and foods, meeting affable people enthusiastic about their product. Jennifer’s tours sound tantalizing, she gets you itching to head out on the road. They’re organized by region and variety of wine: one for northern wineries and one for Vancouver Island pinot noirs; the rest focus on the Okanagan — a tour each for sparkling wines, pinot noirs, reds, chardonnays, Rieslings, and rosés. All with a short introduction on the nature of the wine and a brief description of each winery. Seventeen of these wineries did not appear in the recipe section, thus adding to the number in the book. Adding even more is the next section, a list including 26 wineries not mentioned previously. Things come to a close with 13 recommended garagiste wineries. Garagiste: I love that term, deriving from the Bordeaux region of France, where it’s used of shoestring operations, working ‘out of a garage’ (sometimes meant literally), where fine wines can be produced nonetheless.
So, the grand total of wineries in the book comes to 109. With 370 in the province, the author must have done a lot of soul searching over the ones left out, a difficulty she acknowledges in her introduction. Nonetheless, she manages to provide a balanced view, particularly of the places of origin of some of these wineries and their vintners. There are representations from Canada (including First Nations), America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. People from faraway places or just peripatetic, bringing knowledge and expertise from different soils, climate conditions, and grape varietals. And cuisines — tourtière from Québec, chiles rellenos from California, choucroute from Alsace, goulash from Hungary, Zwiebelkuchen (onion quiche) from Germany, Äelplermagronen (Alpine Mac and Cheese) from Switzerland, Bifanas (pork in a bun) from Portugal, Chicken Cacciatore from Italy, chicken Marbella from Morocco via New York and Okanagan Falls, Bibimbap from Korea, okonomiyaki from Japan, and on it goes, an amazing variety of traditions and countries of origin. Winemaking, this book makes you realize, is an international art, bringing a wealth of cultural experience to British Columbia.
The book makes for a delightful journey, though it somewhat thwarts any desire to zoom in on a particular kind of recipe, given its organization by region and wines rather than by food. Nor is there a table of contents by food type or indeed by recipe, though there is a useful index. I would have added an appendix/table of contents of the recipes.
I was tempted by many recipes for this review and look forward to encountering them in the future, but will have to make do with eight: Tibby’s Hungarian Harvest Goulash (Kalala Organic Estate Winery), Chicken Cacciatore with Semolina Polenta (La Frenz Winery), Charlie’s Äelplermagronen (Ruby Blues Winery), Janice’s Chicken Marbella (Meyer Family Vineyards), Oma’s Rouladen (Wild Goose Vineyards), Nighthawk Vineyards Cassoulet, Toor Family Black Lentil Dal (Desert Hills Estate Winery), and Unsworth Seafood Chowder (Unsworth Vineyards). As you can see, I am not being fair to the soups, salads, fondue, desserts, jams, or cookies, but with all these hearty hit-it-out-of-the-park entrees in front of me, what could I do?
Tibby’s Hungarian Harvest Goulash has all the ingredients you would want in such a dish — bacon, onion, garlic, tomatoes, paprika, caraway seeds, beef. I like the way Tibby spoils himself with the use of tenderloin tips rather than chuck stewing beef and I went that route myself. It made for a succulent and tender meat dish. I used a paprika that I suspect wasn’t as hot as Tibby’s preferred, but I felt ¼ cup of any kind of paprika should be ample. The dish called for water as its liquid, as opposed to a stock, but the flavour proved sufficient — pungent from the paprika, nutty from the caraway seeds, and with that smoky tang bacon always provides. A very tasty goulash, a definite keeper.
The Chicken Cacciatore with Semolina Polenta from La Frenz Winery was also excellent. This came as somewhat of a surprise, since the dish eschewed any herbs, relying only on salt and pepper for seasoning. No oregano, basil, or bay leaves, no parsley, rosemary, or thyme. But the dish was perfectly flavourful without such aid. Perhaps it was the generous amount of mushrooms (four cups) or the chicken stock. And onion and garlic, of course, lend savour to any dish. The polenta had a pleasant buttery taste and made a perfect bed, absorbing the flavours of the sauce admirably. A winner.
The Alpine Mac and Cheese, on the other hand, was a disaster, looking nothing like the picture in the book. I don’t know whether I did something wrong or some specified amount was off. All I know is that I ended up with mac and cheese sludge. The taste was good but the texture unacceptable.
The cooking occurs in two stages: first, diced bacon, sliced onion, and garlic, cooked for 30 minutes or so to caramelize the onion and crisp the bacon. You then remove this concoction and put in the pan the diced potatoes, penne, vegetable stock and cream and cook until the pasta has absorbed the liquid and is al dente. The problem was the penne was al dente long before it had absorbed the stock-cream mix. So I cooked it until the liquid was sufficiently reduced, by which time the penne was far overdone. You then add the onion-garlic-bacon mix and the gruyère and the consistency of the dish turns to mush.
I don’t know what the problem was, but I would do two things differently. First, I would dice the onion rather than slice it, so that its consistency would be looser, tending less to clump. Second, I would use less liquid. The recipe calls for two cups of vegetable stock and one of light cream for one cup of penne and two of diced potatoes. I would try cutting the stock by half and see what happens. I want my mac and cheese to look as appetizing as the one in the picture.
I don’t usually go for dishes that combine fruit and meat, though my daughter makes a mean Moroccan chicken with apricots. But I found the mix of figs, apricots, and prunes with the chicken, capers, and olives too intriguing to ignore. And six cloves of garlic sounded promising. Janice’s Chicken Marbella proved as remarkable as it sounds. It’s basically a trimming down of the famous recipe in The Silver Palate Cookbook — five lbs. of chicken thighs instead of four chickens, six cloves of garlic rather than a head. Also no brown sugar (one cup in Silver Palate) and no bay leaves (Silver Palate asks for six). But it didn’t seem to lack for this, proving absolutely scrumptious, with a rich interplay of flavours.
The Toor Family Black Lentil Dal was a must, Indian cookery being one of my favourites, with all those pungent spices and intensely flavoured vegetables. I first encountered this cuisine when, as a student in London back in the sixties, I followed the advice of an English friend who rightly disdained his country’s cooking: “Eat Indian.” I did and discovered a whole new gastronomic world.
I like the Toors’ attitude toward prep, eschewing measurements in favour of “feeling and love” (though Chef Khatri of the winery’s Black Sage Bistro came up with amounts for the book). Besides ginger, cumin, salt and turmeric, we are given the option of “additional spices of your choice.” Left to my own devices I would probably have used a garam masala but for the purposes of this review I went with one of the recommendations — chili powder. I also substituted French blue lentils, tasting much the same (the lady at Natureworks assured me) as the black lentils called for but unavailable thanks to Covid hoarding. Chef Khatri tells us we can vary the consistency by playing with cooking time, but I found I had to double the amount of water (eight cups rather than four) to get something other than a mass of dry lentils. Whether this is a matter of recipe amounts or temperature or the nature of the cooking vessels, things worked out fine and I ended up with a deeply flavourful dal with a quite different taste from the ones I make — and all the more delightful for it.
Oma’s Rouladen calls for a simple but winning combination of mustard, diced bacon and onions spread on rouladen, each rolled around a dill pickle, browned in olive oil, and immersed in beef stock and diced onion and baked for an hour. Served on a bed of spaetzle, its delicate flavours provide a comforting dish that will definitely find its way to our table again.
Nighthawk Vineyard Cassoulet. I love any kind of bean dish and the combination of beans with chicken thighs, pork belly, and chorizo sausage, along with diced onion, garlic, carrot, and celery proved a winner. It’s also a winner for being simple as cassoulets go. Compare the recipe in Julia Child, which goes on for three pages and demands a great deal of ingredients, work, and time, and you’re grateful for this streamlined version, with the task almost done for you. All you do is sauté the chicken in duck fat, then the vegetables, and immerse the whole in chicken stock and white wine and season with rosemary, thyme and bay leaf. So little effort for such a savoury dish. The secret lies in the long cooking time — 6 hours in a slow cooker set on high—yielding a delicious blend of flavours, the beans perfectly cooked. The ideal comfort food after a day’s toil in the fields.
Unsworth Seafood Chowder sounded tantalizing, with its generous selection of seafood (clams, mussels, salmon, cod, halibut), a liberal variety of vegetables (onions, carrots, celery, leek, potatoes, garlic), spiced with parsley, dill, and sage (a substitute for summer savoury, owing to the vagaries of supply). And it turned out as promised, a rich chowder, choc-a-block with tasty ingredients, its creaminess coming not just from three cups of cream but from a base that was thickened by pureeing, all making it one of the most satisfying seafood chowders I’ve ever tasted.
So there you have it, a book of easy to prepare dishes, from hearty entrees to soups, salads, desserts, jellies, and assorted delicacies — a wide variety of dishes reflecting a rich range of traditions. With a wonderful story to tell about the BC wine country and its people. A fair number of cookbooks reside on my kitchen shelves, not all of them consulted that often. The BC Wine Lover’s Cookbook, while a new arrival, looks set to wear around the edges.
Harvey De Roo was a professor of Old, Middle, and Early Modern English language and literature and Old Norse language and literature in the English Department at Simon Fraser University. In the eighties he was Editor of West Coast Review. Upon retirement, he taught opera history and appreciation in the SFU seniors programme at Harbour Centre. He was founding secretary of City Opera Vancouver and served on the board and Artistic Planning Committee for several years. He was the opera reviewer for Vancouver Classical Music (vanclassicalmusic.com) from 2014 to 2018 and lectures annually to the Vancouver Opera Club. A former resident of Vancouver’s West End and Fort Langley, he now lives on Salt Spring Island. Editor’s note: Harvey De Roo has also reviewed books by D.L. Acken and Emily Lycopolus, Bill Richardson, and Jana Roerick for The Ormsby Review.
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