Stacy gets ready to dig into fresh apple fritters.

Oh, to be in Toronto right now, where the temperatures are in the 80s (okay, the 30s, if you’re a stickler for Celsius and clueless about Fahrenheit). Here, we’ve been caught in the grip of devil rain for a week, with no end in sight. It’s downright depressing and I worry about all the veggie seedlings – rainbow chard, sugar snap peas, bush beans, beets, carrots, squashes, mizuna and other greens – that may drown if this doesn’t stop. And the heritage tomato plants are still in their cold frame, looking healthy and sturdy but quickly outgrowing their pots and sure to turn blue if taken out of their comfy little shelter in this weather.

I’m ready for happier thoughts though, which is why when I heard about Toronto’s current heat wave, I was reminded of our visit there in late April (no heat waves then, but nice weather nonetheless). Our favourite eastern rellies, Stacy and Dean, took me on a road trip to St. Jacob’s Farmers Market in the heart of Mennonite country. It’s in the Waterloo-Kitchener area about an hour’s drive from the big city.

Outside the main market buildings, numerous vendors were selling fresh fruits and vegetables, most of them imports as the growing season was just starting. I did see fresh wild garlic – or ramps, as they are called locally – and lots of  local maple syrup. In summer, I’m told, there’s a huge selection of local fruits and vegetables available there, but truth be told, we had come for a more wicked treat: the market’s famous fresh apple fritters. (more…)


Bill Jones in the Deerholme Farm kitchen

Want a taste of the good life? It’s only a ferry ride away.

Consider: Baked Cortes Island oysters with locally foraged morel and leek gratin. Seared Qualicum scallops over  pork belly and stinging-nettle casserole. Flat bread with spectacular B.C. spot prawns and handmade cheese spread. Grass-fed beef-tenderloin carpaccio with roast garlic and Saltspring’s Moonstruck blue cheese.

The above dishes are on the cooking-class menus in the coming months at Deerholme Farm Cooking School in Vancouver Island’s fabled Cowichan Valley. Most — if not all — the foods cooked and served in the 1918 heritage farm’s updated kitchen are from nearby farms, fishers, cheesemakers, and bakers.

Jones checks out planting beds at Deerholme.

The greens and other veggies are from Deerholme’s own planting beds, just a stone’s throw from the kitchen. And the eggs that might make their way into the desserts and other dishes are from several varieties of heirloom chickens that happily cluck, scratch and pick away at any bug or worm silly enough to cross their paths at Deerholme.

“My favourite is the Ameraucana which lays those beautiful blue-green eggs. They also . . . have thicker, deep yellow-orange yolks — great for making custards and ice cream,” says Deerholme owner Bill Jones.

Aside from its heritage status, the kitchen also boasts wall ovens and a sink from the late James Barber’s Urban Peasant set. Barber was a neighbour and good friend of Jones, who spent three years restoring and updating the kitchen before he began holding cooking classes in 2005.

Jones, a French-trained chef, author of nine cookbooks, avid wild mushroom hunter, and wild plant expert is a champion of local and sustainable food sources. Jones fled the urban landscape of Vancouver 10 years ago to further pursue his passion for growing, foraging for and cooking fabulous food.

He is part of a vibrant food community in Cowichan that has helped turn it into a wonderful food and wine destination. His classes are mostly demonstration – with lots of sampling, so bring an appetite – but there are several hands-on classes too, one on dungeness crab (March 27)  and the other on wild salmon (June 5). A wild-foods class (April 24) includes a trek through nearby forests to hunt for morels.

Classes, which can accommodate up to 15 people, run from noon to 5 p.m., and cost $90 for most sessions (hands-on and specialty classes cost more). Here’s a list of what’s coming up this spring:

March 20, Island Spring Seafood, including salmon, scallops, octopus, oysters and crab — all from local waters.

April 17, Morel Mushrooms find their way into tarts, alongside pate, on salads and stuffed with several other delectables. It promises to be a good year for this prized mushroom, says Jones.

May 22, Asparagus and Spot Prawns, two of B.C.’s best spring-time foods, done five different ways. Spot prawns, sweet and wonderfully succulent, were once caught and immediately shipped offshore to eager palates in places like Japan. Today, thanks to a concerted effort by a number of B.C.’s top chefs, the prawns are made available to locals as well. It’s food for the gods.

June 19, Pasture-raised Meats, including chicken, beef, pork, duck and lamb. Taste the difference and learn how to bring out their best flavours.

More details at 250 748-7450, or check out, or email