– Story by Angela Cowan Photography by Don Denton
With its fertile fields, year-round farming and passionate growers and makers, North Saanich is a veritable bread basket of agricultural abundance, and I had the incomparable treat to explore the region and put my taste buds to work at this year’s North Saanich Flavour Trails Festival.
Set up as a self-guided tour, the 2018 festival showcased 21 venues with food, drink, sweets, plants and more.
On a Sunday morning that had a slight chill in the air, my dad and I set out for our first stop of the day: Snowdon House, tucked down a long driveway off Mills Road. We were a few minutes early, which gave me a chance to chat to owner Laura Waters while we waited for the Douglas fir waffles to finish cooking. Wait, Douglas fir waffles?
“That’s the sustainable, renewable crop for this farm,” says Waters, gesturing to the some-2,500 Douglas firs at the back of the property that were originally meant to be Christmas trees. Plans changed, and the trees now supply their young green tips for batter mixes, vinegars, cocktail shrubs and more. “Once you get people to try it, they’re intrigued.”
The waffles arrive and are a delight: thick, rich batter with a tang of fir spice, topped with cream cheese, goat cheese and the Fir and Fire brie topper. We leave with the taste of fir on our tongues as we hurry to our next stop for a sheep shearing demonstration.
At Pasture Perfect Lamb and Country Wools, owner Lorea Tomsin catches a six-month-old ewe by the hind leg with the kind of dexterity and competence that makes it look effortless, although I know very well the skill involved. She angles the sheep’s head back against her leg and readies the sheers.
“I always call this women’s work, because everything is women’s work,” she says with a chuckle. The shears start whirring; long strips of wool fall away from the sheep’s belly. “Shearing is like a martial art. It’s all about the position,” she says, turning the sheep steadily over as the rest of the fleece comes off in one large piece. A few seconds later, a rather nude sheep leaps to her feet and bleats before jogging off to rejoin her flock.
While Tomsin continues chatting to the crowd about breeds and flock maintenance and sharing shearing stories worthy of James Herriot, I take a peek at the goodies on the nearby table. Socks, roving, spun wool, stuffed pillows all beckon and spark a growing excitement for autumn. And though I’m tempted by the cooler full of lamb sausages, and feeling watched by several pairs of black eyes through the fence, I leave the meat this time.
Over at Millstone Farm and Organics, I spy the laundry soap and wool balls that have been a fixture at the Sidney night market in past years. I already, in fact, have a set of wool dryer balls at home, but it’s their newest venture that interests me the most. Just inside their newly opened shop, a glassed-in room holds a larger-than-life wooden grain mill — a work of art in its own right.
Made by an award-winning family company in Austria, it’s constructed of Austrian pine, stainless steel and natural stones from the same region. Co-owner and miller Laurie Kelly researched mills for about five years before settling at last on the Osttiroler, widely regarded as the very best in the world.
Committed to an organic, gluten-free product, Millstone grinds flours from sorghum, millet, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat and more. We stay for a demonstration, watching as finely milled flour trickles slowly through a triple-sifting chamber, but we’re quickly drawn outside by the smell of buckwheat waffles.
Our next stop is Russell’s Nursery. I pause beneath a towering willow and breathe in the scents of the earth, of leaves, of the surrounding conifers. I swear heaven is a herb garden, and I’ve just found the next closest thing.
With people becoming more aware of where and how their food is grown, interest in gardening has also had an upswing in recent years, says co-owner Sue Tice, who has been participating in the Flavour Trails Festival almost since its beginning.
“It gives us a chance for new people to find us, and it supports the community,” she says, leading me to this year’s display, which celebrates the vast amount of food that can be grown on a small plot of land.
“And not only that, it can be beautiful,” she adds.
Container carrots and green bean trellises interlaced with flowering vines offer a gorgeous blend of greens and colours, and it’s to no one’s surprise that I end up carting home several potted herbs and a rather large dwarf Russian sage.
All this rural rambling has sparked both our appetites, so my dad and I cap off our tour at an old favourite: The Roost.
The bakery boasts the same favourites as always, but it’s a hearty meal we’re after, so dad and I wait to be seated in the dining side. The beef on the menu catches both of our eyes. It’s short rib stroganoff for him, and a short rib beef dip with au jus for me. As usual, as soon as the food arrives, our conversation takes a long pause.
The beef is meltingly tender, paired with red peppers, grilled onions and a chipotle aioli that adds just enough spice to bite. The au jus runs down my fingers and drips onto my plate as the huge sandwich steadily disappears. I glance at my dad; he’s leaning back with a hand on his belly, enormously satisfied with the stroganoff.
I’m feeling so incredibly food satisfied right now, I could easily go home and fall into my couch for an afternoon nap. But instead, I think I’ll root around in my garden and find a spot to plant my new Russian sage.
This year’s North Saanich Flavour Trails run August 16 to 18. Check out the website at flavourtrails.com for more details, a schedule and a map of participating locations.