A farm in the Yukon

A field education — literally

May 29, 2008

You are... Margaret Webb, author of the book Apples to Oysters: A Food Lover’s Tour of Canadian Farms (MargaretWebb.com).

Describe your cooking: “Farmer-friendly cooking. My book takes readers on 12 food adventures, visiting a new wave of farmers across Canada who are putting the taste and quality back into the foods we eat. I write about farmers who farm like chefs — with passion, on an intimate scale, and with love. I myself cook like a farmer — simply, with the best possible ingredients. I let the quality of the ingredients — the farmer’s work — lead the dance.”

Where did you train?: “My mom walked with a cane after being struck by polio in her twenties, but that didn’t stop her from ‘farming’ a football-field-sized garden on our family farm; she planted and weeded by pulling herself along the rows on the seat of her pants. I served as her legs, carrying her harvest to the house. But because Mom wanted veggies picked at their magic moment of ripeness, she sent me running to the garden just before supper to pick asparagus that had shot up in that day’s sunshine. She would put the pot on to boil corn, then send me running to pick sweet corn. Funny, two of my favourite pastimes now are cooking and running half-marathons.”

We might also find you dining out at... “Bishop’s. John Bishop had his restaurant on the 100-Mile Diet before any of us realized we were losing our local farmers. He proudly claims his farmer heritage — I love that. And the food is honest, intensely flavourful, and quintessentially B.C.”

Your dream dinner date (spouses and family don’t count): “The salons hosted by Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein at their 27 rue de Fleurs apartment in Paris. Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Picasso would drop by to learn about literature and art from Stein. Toklas, an amazing cook and a hysterically funny food writer, would teach me a thing or two about food and writing. And if I didn’t understand something at first, Gertrude would repeat it.”

Last night’s dinner: “Pickerel, on Via Rail. I was travelling home from Winnipeg, on my Eating Canada by Train book tour. I sat beside a professor who kept asking me questions about farming that he had all the answers to. The Mission Hill Reserve Chardonnay was tasty, though.”

If you had a date with the electric chair, your last meal order would be... “A feast provided by the Canadian farmers I wrote about, washed down with Henry of Pelham Reserve Riesling and Baco Noir: two raw PEI Colville Bay oysters; one grilled Nova Scotia farmed scallop with the gonad attached; mixed greens from my Yukon vegetable farmers; an Alberta Diamond Willow organic New York strip loin; followed by Quebec Riopelle and Tomme de Grosse-Île cheese and Henry of Pelham Riesling icewine. Then, hopefully, my farmers would come to rescue me.”

You’d gag if you ate... “Raw onions. My dad loved raw Spanish onion sandwiches. I loved my dad, but I didn’t love his breath.”

You’d take a long flight in economy class for that one meal in... “Spain, for the Ibérico ham, with the farmers who raise them. I would like to raise heritage pigs someday, and I want to learn from the masters.”

Culinary confessions: “I served my partner undercooked chicken one night. She was sick for four days.”

Menu suggestion for a hassle-free, sit-down dinner party for six: “Potato salad, boiled lobster, a baguette, a good triple-cream cheese, an Ontario Riesling.”

Five must-have ingredients in your kitchen: “Fresh garlic, old cheddar, kosher flake salt, homemade chicken stock, my partner to cook with.”