Archive for the ‘Food and Drink’ Category

Well bred raspberries

August 5, 2015

by Janet Nicol

British Columbia raspberries are grown the world around but our west coast climate means our farmers grow some of the best. In fact, BC produces 80 percent of all raspberries in Canada, so it only seems right to eat locally and learn everything there is to know about this luscious cousin of the strawberry.

So begins an article on everything you want to know about raspberries, based on interviews with Alf Krause of Krause Berry Farm in Langley and Tom Baumann, a professor at the University of the Fraser Valley involved in a highly successful fruit breeding program.

The full story is available in Edible Vancouver magazine, high summer 2015 issue and on line at –


Sipping the Universe – the comfort of tea

October 3, 2013


The world’s most popular beverage after water, tea is a comfort drink–whether enjoyed in a Vancouver tea house on a rainy winter day or within the cool stone walls of a cafe on a hot afternoon in Zanzibar.

So concludes an article I have written in the Autumn, 2013 issue of Edible Vancouver magazine about camellia sinensis, as the evergreen tea plant is named. Much about tea is described, including the experimental Teafarm on Vancouver Island and tea shops in BC, past and present.

-Janet Nicol

The complete article, with photos, is featured on-line at the “Edible Communities” website.
The link is

Tender is the heart

June 19, 2012

Tender is the Heart

by Janet Nicol

The ancient Greeks—and then the Romans—cultivated this strange-looking thistle, origins unknown, after somehow discovering an edible heart buried beneath layers of prickly leaves. They considered this delicacy to be an aphrodisiac, and an element of romance persists these many centuries later.

So begins an article in this summer’s issue of Edible Vancouver on everything you will want to know about artichokes. I interview the Ploughs, a deligent farming couple who own Glen Valley Farms. They harvest luscious artichokes, with the help of their grown children, in August through to November, and share their crop at various farmer’s markets in Vancouver.

Full story at

Edible Vancouver, Summer 2012

Groves in the Gulf

June 18, 2010

Olives on our Warm, Dry Islands
by Janet Nicol

Pender Island is a long way from the Mediterranean, yet luscious black olives grow at Waterlea Farm. Owner Andrew Butt has 100 trees, and in a few more seasons, he plans to produce olive oil. There’s no doubt he took a chance, planting saplings from California in soil this far north. Yet this pioneering enterprise flourishes nine years later, all because of the unique dry weather locale off the Georgia Strait.

My interest in olive groves is more than an urban foodie’s curiosity. If my Lebanese grandfather, Mikhail Mansour, had not immigrated to Canada from a hillside village about 100 kilometres south of Beirut, he would likely have spent the rest of his life pruning, harvesting and pressing olives. All over Lebanon, olive oil graces the family table, drizzled over plates of hummus and lebany, a type of yogurt cheese. The Lebanese appreciate the regional distinctions of their oils as much as other Mediterranean cultures do theirs.

Last year Butt’s harvest yielded 200 jars of black olives. He brines and dry-salts his produce, and to date has been sharing the preserves with family and friends. In two years he plans to market extra virgin olive oil from the fruit of his trees. With the buy-local movement afoot, urban chefs can’t wait to purchase this one-of-a-kind Made in Canada product.

It was while picnicking among the olive groves of Tuscany that he became inspired to grow his own. The Waterlea Farm species of olive trees, Leccino and Frantoio, are Italian, and the only type surviving this far north, Butt says. The Gulf Islands may have the only micro-climate in Canada allowing for the growth of olive trees. Even residents of Osoyoos, Canada’s only desert, are out of luck. “I thought of this location, too,” Butt says. “But the winters there are too cold.” He was concerned two winters ago, when Pender Islanders endured five consecutive days of -12ºC temperatures. “My trees suffered frost, but I pruned back the dead wood in spring and the trees were smothered in blossoms.”

The silvery-leafed olive trees, known to live for centuries, stand 12 feet high (over three and a half metres) in perfect rows on sloping land that leads to the ocean. “The grove is southwest facing,” Butt says. “The water has a moderating effect on the temperature, with full sun all day.” The slope allows for decent drainage, and fertilizing the soil with kelp from nearby beaches helps the trees withstand early frosts. “You need to prune them into a vase shape. This lets the sun in through the top of the tree.”

The grove is fenced, to prevent the pesky island deer from feasting on the trees’ leaves. And these leaves have value; they make a tea known for its healthful qualities.

“The olives are harvested when they are three-quarters ripened. This results in a peppery olive oil taste, which is how the Italians like it.” Picking the olives is labour-intensive. “It requires a small team. We rake the branches and the olives fall into the nets below.”

“They first appear as a small, ripe green fruit, but as they progress, they become black olives, favoured for most recipes,” Butt says. They lack the tartness of a green olive, have a sweeter, more full flavour and a softer texture. “I pickle them before they are completely black. They make tasty table olives. I also cure them with salt, so they appear wrinkled—also very tasty.”

Each tree will typically yield three to four litres of olive oil, and Butt plans to market the bottles locally once he has purchased a mechanized press. He is proceeding cautiously before committing to the costly equipment. “The modern press makes excellent oil and reduces the cost of labour. The machine will chop the olives and a press mechanism will separate the debris and oil.”

It is this first cold pressing of olives that qualifies the oil as extra virgin. Once the oil is extracted from a mechanized press, Butt says it is simply a matter of turning on a tap, and the decanted oil pours straight into a bottle.

A good olive oil smells fresh and fruity, not rancid. Personal preference also plays a role; some oils have a peppery taste, leaving a bite in the back of the throat, while others are smoother in flavour.

Olive fever is spreading through the islands; Butt has now inspired six residents on Saturna who visited Waterlea Farm. Enthusiastic about what they saw, the group decided to take advantage of the hotter, drier, more exposed slopes of Saturna, and purchased saplings last spring. “We brought in 180 olive trees from California, and sold 110 trees to Saturna property owners,” says Juliet Kershaw, one of the six. “We look forward to communal brining of olives picked from across the island and communal olive-pressing for oil—whenever that may be.”

The rest of us can only await this golden oil with anticipation, truly a unique addition to the 100-Mile Diet.

Janet Nicol is a Vancouver-based freelance writer and history teacher, whose split heritage is reflected in her indecisive switching between olive oil- and butter-based cooking.

Reprinted from Edible Vancouver magazine, Summer 2010

Artisan butter in BC

May 1, 2010


Artisan butter makes meals tastier

by Janet Nicol

When it comes to fresh butter, only a few artisan brands qualify for the 100 mile diet for Vancouverites. Consumers will be surprised to learn most products on supermarket shelves are made from cream churned in Calgary–or even further afield.

An exception is cultured butter churned at the Farm House in Agassiz. Its fresh-tasting ingredients include cream from Guernsey and Brown Swiss cows grazing on corn and grass in BC’s lush Fraser Valley.

Twice a week co-owner, Debra Amrein-Boyes churns cream into butter. Using a Swiss mold, this master cheesemaker makes an imprint of an eidelweiss on each 200 gram brick and wraps them with gold-coloured foil. Look for the Swiss flower on the package label too, alongside the Farm House name.

You can visit the retail outlet located on the family-run farm to purchase this unsalted butter, but it is also available in Vancouver. The cheese shop “Les Amis du Fromage” sells Farmhouse butter for $7.99 at three retail locations –1752 West 2nd Avenue, 845 East Hastings and 518 Park Royal South in West Vancouver. Whole Foods in West Vancouver has the product on their shelf too.

Alice Spurrell, co-owner of “Les Amis du Fromage” can vouch for the popularity of the product. “Lots of local chefs buy it,” she says. “And we have many repeat customers. They like to use it as a table butter for toast or on a muffin.”

Spurrell says the rich taste and freshness of Farm House butter is obvious, when compared to other brands. “The French like to put a small amount of fresh butter on a cheese plate,” she also suggests. “They spread the butter on a baguette, then add a slice of cheese on top and the taste is delicious.”

Her cheese shop stocks a steady supply of Farm House butter but customers should still check before coming in. “It is a special item,” Spurrell says. “Sometimes the demand is higher too. We had a run on the product when chefs were using the butter during the Olympics.”

Among the local restaurant chefs stocking up is Bishop’s restaurant, on the city’s west side.

“We have been using Farm House butter for as long as I’ve
been at Bishop’s,” says executive chef Andrea Carlson. “It is used as the table butter. It has a sweet, fresh flavour and colour that varies throughout the season as the cows graze on different plants. I am a huge fan of Farm House and all of their products and I’m delighted that they have been able to supply us with their highly coveted butter.”

A visit to the Farm House, only a five minute drive from the village of Agassiz, reveals a picturesque property, the residence and outbuildings just off the main road. Parking is available in front of the store, and inside are an array of local food and gift products, with a fridge stocked with cheeses, milk, fresh eggs and cheesecake. The young female clerk at the till welcomes customers with tasting samples of Farm House cheddars and bries. A viewing window faces the cheese-making work room comprised of modern stainless steel equipment. Customers can watch Amrien-Boyes and other employees making her artisan foods, including butter.

“Farm House butter has a deep natural colour which can vary with the season and what the cows are eating,” Amrien-Boyes says in an interview at the hallway in back of her shop.

“The pasteurized cream is separated from the milk,” she explains as she dons a hairnet, “and innoculated with lactic bacteria culture. During the process of ripening the cream, this creates flavour compounds that give our butter that rich European-style flavour.”

Amrien-Boyes slips off her shoes and steps in to a large pair of rubber boots. She opens a door to the sanitized workroom where she makes her products and then steps in and out of a small tub of blue-coloured fluid.

“The cream is processed in this small electric churn,” she says, bending to lift the lid of a small stainless steel churn on the floor. Inside are blades attached to a revolving device. “I pour in 12 litres at a time, producing a rich creamy butter, with 84% fat,” Amrien-Boyes explains.

The Farm House product has a smoother consistency than most commercial butters made with industrial-size continuous churns. And her product has a slightly higher fat content (most have 80% fat), adding to the rich, creamy flavour. Most importantly for many consumers, Farm House butter has no artificial additives.

Amrein-Boyes’ husband tends to the 25 milking cows (as well as goats) grazing more than 35 acres of land. The couple’s four daughters—all grown up now– have spent many hours helping out, Amrein-Boyes says, and additional employees provide help with the many daily farm routines.

Inside her own kitchen, Amrein-Boyes says she uses her butter to make shortbread. “Spread a thick layer of butter on home-made bread,” she also recommends.

Consumers may also want to cut a brick in portions to share with family and friends or use promptly in baking projects, as this fresh butter only has a two-week shelf life.

Happy Days Goat Butter

Those with dairy allergies, or a craving for a more pungent taste, can travel to Chilliwack to buy the all-purpose Happy Days Goat Butter, purchased in a frozen tub at $9.49. (The original goat farm is in Salmon Arm, BC.) The butter contains pasteurized goat cream, cooled then churned. The butter kernels are washed with water to flush out milk protein and lactose, allowing longer product preservation. Consumers are advised to slice and thaw butter as needed.

The trend in the last twenty years has been to disband local creameries and centralise butter production. There are other challenges too. Julia Grace, an artisan cheesemaker at Moonstruck Organic Cheese on Saltspring Island, says she only makes butter for her own use.

“Butter-making regulations call for some very specific equipment so it does not make an easy sideline,” Grace says.

Many fine butters from other parts of Canada can be purchased in British Columbia stores. Stirling butter in Ontario has won international awards. Two imported butters from France, Beurre Echire and Beurre D’Isigny, are also available at “Les Amis du Fromage“ at $14.95 for 250 grams.

Still, as every person who has grown up on a farm will acknowledge, the fresh taste of locally churned butter is a treat to be savoured.

The Farm House is located at 5634 McCallum Road , Agassiz, BC V0M 1A1 Phone – (1) 604-796-8741

Happy Days Dairy/Heavenly Cheese store, is located at 7350 A Barrow Road, Chilliwack, BC. Its retail store is open Wednesday to Saturday, from noon to 5 pm – Phone – (1) 604-823-7241

Reprinted from Eat Vancouver magazine, May/June 2010

Butter in the West – More about best betters in western Canada in an article I wrote for Western Living (May, 2010 issue) at this link –

Authentic Delights

May 29, 2009

Authentic Delights

by Janet Nicol

When Jordan Bayazit left Turkey almost 30 years ago, the most important item in his suitcase was a candy recipe. Soon after settling in Vancouver in 1981, Bayazit starting making his homeland’s popular bite-sized treats. And now Turkish delights have made Bayazit a sweet success.

“I always loved Turkish delight,” Bayazit says in an interview at his warehouse in Surrey. “When I came here, the Turkish delight I found was bad. It was hard candy.”

And so Bayazit began making his own softer and fresher jelly-like candies, the kind you would find if you visited Turkey and asked for lokoum.

Bayazit’s company, Bayco Confectionery, produces 2,500 pounds of authentic Turkish delight every day, and ships the candies all over Canada and the United States. Even Disney, producers of the movie The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, fell under the spell of these sugar-powdered cubes. As a result, Bayco manufactures a Narnia-themed box.

Bayazit stands in front of a large computerized machine as he talks. Above, squares of Turkish delight are moving along a conveyor belt, down a tube and into plastic pouches. As the machine seals each pouch, Bayazit retrieves and stacks them.

The friend who gave Bayazit the recipe, a trained Turkish candy maker, warned him making the world’s oldest known candy, dating back to the Ottoman Empire, would not be simple. “It takes years to make well,” Bayazit says. “It took me three to four years to make it acceptable.”

Turkish delight was originally made from ingredients such as dates, honey, roses and jasmine and then bound together by gum Arabic. When sugar was introduced to Turkey in the 1700s, the candy’s flavour became sweeter and more popular. The Turkish people continue to serve the candies after meals to sweeten the breath and alongside coffee to take away its bitter taste.

But making Turkish delight wasn’t how Bayazit had planned his life. He had travelled to England as a young man to study, graduating in engineering.

“I have never worked as an engineer,” Bayazit says with a smile.

After returning to Turkey, Bayazit decided to emigrate permanently. Arriving first to England, Bayazit said his friends suggested he move to Vancouver. “‘You look like a Vancouverite. It’s the best place to live,’ they told me.”

Once in Canada, Bayazit explored the import-export business, but encountered obstacles. His luck changed when he couldn’t find any fresh Turkish delights to eat. That’s when he pulled out his friend’s recipe. He realized he could offer the Canadian market something no one else was.

And so began Bayazit’s niche candy business in 1984, albeit on a much smaller scale, in Richmond. He also made chocolates for about six years, but decided it was not profitable so returned to making only Turkish delights.

Bayazit moved to his larger space in Surrey four years ago and invested in new equipment, as his business continued to grow. The spotlessly clean high-ceilinged room has a dusting of powered sugar on the floor — and even in the bathroom. At the back, two stainless steel pots contain the magical ingredients. Along a side wall, blocks of candy move on a conveyor belt and are cut into cubes by a razor sharp guillotine, as a female employee wearing a hair net stands by. Another female employee carefully packages cubes by hand, layer upon layer, into a large box.

“It’s no secret,” Bayazit says of his recipe. “Sugar, cornstarch, water and cream of tartar.
“I also use rose essence and pure fruit flavours,” he adds.

Besides fruit-flavoured Turkish delights, such as raspberry, lemon, orange, strawberry, peach and blueberry, Bayazit also combines pistachios into the mix.

Bayazit proudly says most of the ingredients are purchased in Canada.

He has a Canadian and American distributor to handle his many customers. “I have almost as many orders in the States as I do in Canada,” he says.

In Vancouver, you can find his candy in bulk food outlets, Purdy’s Chocolates and some Middle Eastern grocers. You can also order Bayco’s Turkish delights from the company website

But Bayazit says he wants to keep the business small — and manageable. “You can’t find my business in the phone book,” he says. Even though Bayazit doesn’t advertise and has enough customers, he says he continuously looks at ways to improve the business. “These pouches are my idea, for example,” he says holding up a 300-gram resealable plastic bag. “Packaging candies in boxes is time-consuming and this is much faster. And the bags are recyclable, too.”

Fortunately, the current downturn in the economy hasn’t affected his business, adds Bayazit. “Candy is recession-proof,” says the husband and father of two adult children. “When times are hard, people want a simple reward.”

For Bayazit, it seems life in Canada is as delightful as his candies.

Reprinted from Canadian Immigrant magazine, May 2009

Premium Island Gins

May 28, 2009

Next of Gin

A new wave of distillers in the West
is mixing things up with small-batch,
handcrafted modern spirits

By Charlene Rooke and Janet Nicol

Think of everything you know about that most traditional of spirits: the citrusy goodness of a G&T on a summer day. The juniper scent of an icy martini. Now sip rose-scented Victoria from Vancouver Island or fiery 98-proof Junipero from San Francisco. And forget everything you thought you knew.
Western distillers are reinventing gin, both the London dry (crisp and refreshing) and old-fashioned Dutch genever (spicy and smooth) styles. New York cocktail guru David Wondrich has dubbed the result “new Western dry gin.” Ask for these at your favourite local lounge or liquor store.

Victoria Gin
Barking Dog Vineyard, Vancouver Island

WHAT’S IN IT – Ten organic or wild-gathered botanicals (like orris root, cubeb berries, rose petal), some local. Recipe co-creator (with Brian Murray) Ken Winchester says: “The secret ingredient is love.”
How it’s made – Winchester honed his distilling skills at Scotland’s Bruichladdich to create this “gin by a whisky lover.” (The current distiller is Peter Hunt.)

Tasting notes – Smooth, sweetish and dry (thanks to the herb angelica), with a soft, floral and perfumey nose and lots of citrus punch. If you like Hendrick’s Scottish gin, try this with Q organic tonic for a fresh spin.
Available from B.C. liquor stores,

Phrog Gin
Island Spirits Distillery, Hornby Island

WHAT’S IN IT – Fourteen berries, seeds, roots and spices (like angelica, lemongrass and licorice). Distiller John Grayson says it is distinct for its creation from fruit (not grain) sugars.
How it’s made – Vancouver Island glacier spring water is trucked to the distillery. The aim is to source all ingredients from the two islands. Grayson and business partners (including Peter Kimmerly, captain of the island ferry) spent four years tweaking the recipe.

Tasting notes – Silky smooth. Lightly distributed botanicals give the gin an aromatic character. If you like Straight vodka, drink this neat or with just a splash of spring water.—J.N.

Reprinted (in part) from Western Living, May, 2009