David Phillips ran the Copper Beech Guest House on Haida Gwaii for 20 years, changing it from a “dollar-a-night-flop-house” into a cottage style bed & breakfast that’s been visited by tourists, artists and politicians. In 2010 he turned the hotel over to his friend, Canadian author and teacher Susan Musgrave. She has lived on the island chain of Haida Gwaii since the early 1970s and recently became the Marriage Commissioner of the area. When asked for her qualification for this position she joked, “I’ve been married three times. Third time lucky because he’s spent most of our 25-year marriage in prison.”
Musgrave has now published her first cookbook, A Taste of Haida Gwaii; Food Gathering and Feasting at the Edge of the World. Well, sort of cookbook. And sort of travel guide, memoir, and manifesto proclaiming, “we’re kind of weird here and we like it.”
Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, is an archipelago off the North Coast of British Columbia. Its temperate rainforests and rugged shorelines give the area a stunning natural beauty. Every description of the place reads like a brochure for Paradise.
In Taste of Haida Gwaii, Susan Musgrave describes the beauty and simplicity of her chosen home with great fondness. There’s an emphasis on foraging from land and sea on the islands. There is a resourcefulness one needs to live and cook in a place where shopping is done at the co-op and the Thrift Shop (where she occasionally buys back her own belongings left forgotten at other people’s homes).
Every recipe here seems to be part of a larger narrative. Whether it’s about life on the island, the author’s childhood, or an unusual character from the rogue’s gallery of Haida Gwaii, the food is only part of the picture.
I loved the idea of the Moon Over Naikoon, an off-grid, everything-from-scratch bakery that moves into a bus over the winter months so the locals can still have their daily fix. It has no set menu, serving whatever the staff feel like baking that day. This recipe for Chocolate Chip Shortbread was inspired by Naikoon’s coveted shortbread, which is no longer served because it got too popular. They do things a little differently on Haida Gwaii.
Musgrave’s recipes are sometimes short on measurements but are always entertaining. I admire a cook who admits she can’t make the perfect looking omelette but insists you should try this one anyway just because it tastes so good. Which is my excuse for suggesting a recipe with no picture. But seriously, it’s a Crab, Chanterelle, Caramelized Onion and Goat’s Cheese Omelette. Who cares what it looks like? It’s decadent and delicious.
Instead of stylized food photos, the book is loaded with pictures of amazing landscapes, colourful local characters, Haida artwork, thrift shop decorations and, oddly, dogs belonging to the author’s friends.
The hardest part of reviewing this book was trying to put it down long enough to type. I’d buy it just for Chapter Three, which is mostly devoted to the author’s famous Sourdough Bread. Actually, the hardest part was trying to resist the urge to book a vacation to the amazing Canadian treasure of Haida Gwaii.
Tracy Turlin is a freelance writer and dog groomer in London. Reach her at email@example.com
A Taste of Haida Gwaii; Food Gathering and Feasting at the Edge of the World, Susan Musgrave, © 2015 is published by Whitecap Books. All rights reserved. Recipe and photographs are courtesy of Whitecap Books
Chocolate Chip Shortbread
Makes 35–40 cookies
What self-respecting cookbook doesn’t include at least one cookie recipe? If I had my way I would live on cookies alone. Good vegetables go bad; meat, ﬁsh and chicken rot. But in my house, at least, there is no such thing as an inedible cookie.
Even though Wendy Riley doesn’t make shortbread anymore because it was too popular, I decided I owed it to those who have never had the thrilling satisfaction of pressing one between their lips, to share in the ecstasy. Just spreading the love around. (Remember, joy is there, in everything, and even when we can’t see it.)
This isn’t her exact recipe, because I know she used part whole-wheat ﬂour and, I think, cane sugar, in the interest of making these at least pretend to be healthy. But Wendy was the inspiration behind this recipe.
1 ¾ cups (410 mL) cake flour
1 cup (240 mL) semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
¾ cup (180 mL) unsalted butter at room temperature
½ cup (120 mL) icing sugar
2 tsp (10 mL) cold water
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2 In a small bowl, stir flour with chocolate chips.
3 In a large bowl, using an electric beater, beat butter until smooth, then gradually beat in sugar until fluffy, about 2–3 minutes. Beat in water, vanilla and salt.
4 Using a wooden spoon, gradually stir in the flour mixture.
5 Shape into 1–inch (2.5 cm) balls and place on baking sheets. Bake, a sheet at a time, until edges are light and golden, 15–20 minutes. Cool completely on a rack.