Saturday, July 03, 2010

A season of plenty on Quadra Island

We just spent a week on Quadra Island, at Bold Point Farm. We went last year, and I packed lightly intending to buy food on the island. We were sorely disappointed by the selection in the stores and unable to source any more local food than what we found on the farm (lovely vegetables, eggs and mutton). So this year I packed a cooler full of veggies, chicken and beef from our local farms. And of course, Murphy's Law being what it is, a lot of it came back with us.

June on Quadra is a lot different than August (when we went last year). The cool spring/summer this year meant the shellfish harvesting season was extended, and we took full advantage of it. Oh, the oysters! Beaches literally covered with oyster-farm escapees, the meaty, buttery Japanese oysters favoured for their size and flavour. Clams so plentiful it took only minutes to fill a bucket with more than enough for a good-sized chowder. If we'd been so inclined we could have done mussels as well, but shellfish are so rich that we found it hard to keep eating them.

So we moved on to fin fish. Stirling, with his amazing shore-fishing prowess, was able to score us a rockfish, a pile perch and a ling cod. Most of the latter is in the freezer, it was too big to eat there so I filleted it and put the fillets in the freezer, and we ate just the head and back steamed for lunch on our last day there. The rockfish we did chinese-style, and the perch we had as pan-fried fillets. Pile perch tastes a lot like grayling, only with fewer bones. Yum! The crazy thing was, we caught the perch off a dock at Granite Bay - we'd seen them schooling under the boats - and when we hauled it up we said "wow, that's a chubby fish." But when Stirling administered a quick dispatching knife to the back of its head, the fish suddenly spewed 20 or so baby fish onto the dock! It was the strangest thing I've ever seen. We had a sudden rush of guilt - but then realized that the babies were slipping through the grated deck into the water, and swimming away, adeptly if not happily. A closer look at the fish revealed that the exit point (what would that bit be called on a fish?) was reddened and swollen, indicating that she was certainly close to birthing if not already in the process, so the babies were mature. It was a learning experience for all of us, and we still felt a bit bad, but what was done was done. Now we know that all sea-going perch are viviparous (thanks, Kindle wikipedia access) and in future we'll check for excess chubbiness before dispatching them.

It wasn't just protein lying around for the munching on Quadra. The strange weather this spring - warm early, then cool and wet - produced the most phenomenal salmonberry crop I've ever seen. Every branch on every bush was loaded with berries. A walk down the drive at the farm took five times as long as normal because it was impossible to walk past so many berries and not eat them. All of us must have eaten near our weight in salmonberries over the week, and we picked close to 10 lbs for jam and syrup as well. We could have picked much more, but there were other things to do. There was a good crop of huckleberries as well, but they are more tart, smaller, and more fiddly to pick than salmonberries so we just snacked on them apart from the one breakfast of huckleberry pancakes I made.

Overall, a fun trip. I think we ate something we caught or picked ourselves at every meal. It was a hunter-gatherer's paradise.