Foodies Go Nuts in the Fraser Valley

By Chris & Rick Millikan


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Skyrocketing travel expenses encourage avid adventurers like us to explore closer to home. So hearing of farming tours less than two hours from Vancouver, we investigate rural life around Agassiz-Harrison, browsing and nibbling our way through several glorious days; but first a detour into Harrison’s renowned World Championship of Sand Sculptures.

Sculptor Mark Chapman escorts us around splendid creations rising along the beach. “These aren’t just sandcastles,” he grins. “The world’s best sculptors create these figures; the medium happens to be sand!” Outlining technical aspects of this gritty art, Mark shows us his sketchbook, and lets us handle his unusual tools.

Sixty masterpieces encircle the lagoon: abstracts, Stephen Hawking, ancient Chinese warlords, drama and drag queens among undersea visions, fairytale palaces and grizzled prospectors with ornery mules. Exiting this outdoor exhibition, we notice artists spraying their gigantic works, preserving them for public enjoyment. And this explains how May’s Tournament of Champions sand sculptures gloriously remain on the other side of the lagoon.

Then, at Farm House Natural Cheeses in neighbouring Agassiz, Debra acquaints us with farm life, “Our whole family is involved in this work, from twice daily milkings, barn chores and fieldwork; I hand-make our natural cheeses.” 

Lively lady goats greet us bleating, sniffing inquisitively and even wanting to nibble our shirts. Over in the nursery, young kids of various sizes and ages eagerly approach us, anxious to lick salt from outstretched hands. And backstopped by majestic mountains, contented dairy cows feast on abundant green pastures.

“Our cows and goats produce creamy milk used in cheeses made right here,” Debra says. “And we raise our own animal feed, my husband’s out haymaking right now. To make great cheese, you need good milk!” This cheese-making process can be watched through a viewing window nearby; precisely blended fresh Brown Swiss, Guernsey and Holstein milk creates popular artisan cheeses.

Inside the bustling shop, many buy cultured butter, crème fraîche and bottled goat’s milk. Sampling Cheddar, Gouda, Brie, Camembert, famous Castle Blue and several varieties of goat cheese, we purchase our personal favourites.

A few kilometres away, we look at turn-of-the-century country life at Kilby Historic Site. Leading us toward some early gas pumps, a guide in period costume comments, “Mr. Kilby actually sold gasoline from here until 1977.” As she strolls up the weathered boardwalk she adds, “Harrison Mills was on a flood plain at the junction of Harrison and Fraser Rivers, so carpenters raised the buildings and constructed elevated walkways like this to connect the once-thriving community of 5,000 people.”

She points to the rail line from the old store’s veranda, “Once part of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s cross-Canada system, passengers stopped here until 1958.”
Stepping inside, we see a fully stocked merchandise gallery dating back to the 1920s. “Thomas and Eliza Kilby opened this magnificent general store in 1906; their son Acton and wife Jessie operated it until 1977,” smiles our guide. “At that time, general stores were fundamental to rural communities; places to shop, exchange news, and gossip.” The family lived in the back; their pantry, kitchen and dining area now restored. Up narrow, creaking stairs, we discover hotel rooms from 1908. I whisper, “They’re so tiny, sparingly furnished, not like our spacious suite at Harrison’s historic Resort!”

The animals, outbuildings and heritage gardens are reminiscent of the original homestead. Here, we sight a cocky Tom turkey strutting snowy feathers and wagging his scarlet wattle, and a loudly complaining gaggle of white geese. The 4H club now stocks it with animals like this for visitors to feed, pet and learn about farm life. Such livestock provided food and income to the Fraser Valley’s early settlers.

Savouring wedges of sweet homemade pie in the teashop, we’re told the flavourful apples come from the family’s orchard, planted in 1926. In the gift shop, a former home to workhorses, we reminisce over yo-yos and other handmade wooden toys, ultimately purchasing locally made jams and jellies. 

Returning to Harrison Resort, we leave worldly cares behind with heavenly massages in Healing Springs Spa: shiatsu for hubby, reflexology for me. Scrumptious Copper Room dinners highlighting fresh local ingredients complete our day.
Popping in at the Back Porch next morning, proprietors Dan and Lynda share their unique approach to country living: in Lynda’s pottery studio, striking blue and green stoneware fuse beauty and function while at Dan’s roastery, burlap sacks of organically grown coffee beans await daily flame roasting in his antique roaster, circa 1919. 

Flamboyant flowers and garden curiosities adorn the yard; weathered outbuildings display antiques and collectables. Russian and Music garlic grows in a huge family garden, just two of 25 varieties seasonally available. Jet-black, feather-legged heritage hens cluck for grain; goats graze in lush meadows. Stowing aromatic fresh-roasted Country Coyote, Rustic Rooster and Mellow Moose coffees, we head for Limbert Mountain Farm where owners Claude and Trudie welcome us with icy lavender lemonade.

As we walk, Trudie familiarizes us with the heritage property owned by the Bouchards since 1902. “Great-grandpa was a winemaker; Grandma, a cheese maker. Our ancestors cleared the hillside, planting fruit, vegetables, walnut and chestnut trees, which still stand. Great-grandpa’s grapes produced the valley’s finest wines, still used for wines and juice. Today, we live in their 1912 farmhouse, and for 30 years have organically grown crops in much the same way they did then.”
Wandering extensive hillside gardens, we touch and sniff herbs of every description. “We cultivate, harvest and process over 75 varieties of fresh herbs, and heirloom tomatoes,” Trudie beams. “Here, we live our beliefs and, three years ago, turned our lifestyle into a business.”

In the heritage-style barn, we find Claude decked out in a spotless white chef’s uniform, preparing a tearoom lunch: blueberry balsamic cocktails to start, followed by crisp salads with yellow pear and red heirloom tomatoes, purple dragon carrots, mixed greens, red pepper - infused with Trudie’s organic herbs -and savoury pesto crostini; after that, melt-in-your-mouth beef chana masala over quinoa. From behind the counter of his sparkling commercial kitchen, Claude grins, “Our food is the freshest of seasonal produce, gathered locally. Everything’s from scratch, never the same menu twice!” Blackberry-peach pie polishes off our spectacular meal.

Over in the country store, their Simply Fine Foods line includes teas, pickles and vinegars; we add herbal chocolate and jars of basil pesto to booty already stowed in our trunk. Our agri-explorations wrap up on the edge of Agassiz at Canadian Hazelnut, where a sign inside the shop says: “Welcome to the Nuthouse!” Going nutty over cinnamon, coconut, sugared and barbecue-flavoured hazelnut samples, owner Pentii grins, “We’re all about hazelnuts here. My family grows, processes and sells exclusive nut products: fresh, roasted, candied, chocolate bark; organic and conventional nuts, flour, protein powder and hazelnut oils.” He shows us the gigantic roaster, cold-press and storage areas.

Pentii’s 60 acres grow over 10,000 trees. Out in the shady orchard, he points out blossoms bursting with large brown nuts. “They’ll soon mature and fall; then we’ll power rake them from the ground. Agassiz is the centre of Canada’s hazelnut production; we plan to market more to Canadians, who consume over five million pounds annually.”

Passion for family farming is alive and well in the Fraser Valley, a whole different world offering visitors a rich mix of things to see, do, smell and taste. Inspired to increase support of these small producers in nearby communities, we drive homeward munching cranberry spice hazelnuts - and contemplate those specialty goodies stashed in our trunk.


WHEN YOU GO:

Tourism Harrison- www.tourismharrison.com
Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa-
www.harrisonresort.com
Farm House Natural Cheeses-
www.farmhousecheeses.com
Kilby Historic Site-
www.kilby.ca
Limbert Mountain Farm-
www.limbertmountainfarm.com
Canadian Hazelnut- email
canadianhazelnut@telus.net

JULY 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER
JULY 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER ISLAND

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