Food Artisans of the Okanagan
by Jennifer Cockrall-King

TouchWood Editions, 2016. ISBN 978-1-771-51153-7.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 08/12/2016

Nonfiction: Travel/Adventure; Nonfiction: Food/Cooking/Kitchen

Jennnifer Cockrall-King is a food culture writer who writes with enthusiasm and expertise about the bakers, the beekeepers, the butchers and the farmers, foragers and fishmongers of the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.

The Okanagan is known as one of Canada's premier wine destinations and it's now the fastest-growing "foodie" destination. (Although winemakers are culinary artisans as the author points out, they're not included in this book as there are several excellent books about them.)

This is a beautiful, illustrated guide to the best locally crafted fare in the North, Central and South Okanagan as well as the Similkameen Valley. The spotlight is shone on the market gardeners, the chocolatiers, the vinegar makers and the bakers. There are also cidermakers, distillers, craft brewers and meadmakers.

The author trusted her taste buds in choosing the featured artisans. She took their photos in their usual settings which offer inviting introductions to the interviews accompanying them.

Each section has a map and a list of businesses featured in the area as well a list of farmers' markets.

I was glad to be introduced to artisans I haven't met and be reminded of those I have on several trips to the Okanagan. The book is a delight as is an actual trip to this particular area of British Columbia.

It makes me want to become a "foodie" as there is so much to be learned about multi-generational families, their particular cultures and the ways they cultivate, craft and cook the many offerings from the bounty available to us.

The North Okanagan, the traditional lands of the Okanagan First Nation, is home to grain, dairy, livestock and poultry farming. You'll find Planet Bee Honey Farm in Vernon and north of there, several cheesemakers in the Armstrong area.

The Central Okanagan features rolling hills of fruit orchards and vineyards. Kelowna is the "big city," built around a thriving culinary culture. My father lived the last ten years of his life in Kelowna and I remember picking cherries with him and picking up peaches from a roadside stand.

My partner and I visited Bliss Bakery Bistro in Peachland on the way to Kelowna (from the south) and Okanagan Lavender and Herb Farm in Kelowna. There you'll find indigo and pink waves of lavender fields, rose bushes, and "multi-sensory culinary herb gardens." Andrea and Dave McFadden have a retail shop where they sell plants as well as aromatherapy product distilled on the farm.

The South Okanagan and Similkameen are desert areas where farmers grow peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, melons and cantaloupes.

Naramata Bench in the south is one of Canada's best wine routes. Oliver and Osoyoos are multicultural agricultural communities where Portuguese, Italian, Punjabi, Mexican and Latin American farming families grow produce.

The sockeye salmon are returning to Osoyoos Lake "thanks to the patient and determined work of the Okanagan Nation Alliance and First Nations activists and community members."

Cockrall-King says they "didn't give up on restoring habitat and bringing salmon back to the interior [of British Columbia], just as it had been for centuries before."

Sockeye salmon was an "especially important food, trading, and cultural event for Syilx-speaking First Nations who flowed between the Okanagan territories south and north of the US border."

The Similkameen Valley is about one-twentieth the size of the Okanagan and has its own character including Cawston, "Organic Capital of Canada," and Keremeos, "Fruit Stand Capital of Canada."

At Farmersdotter Organics in Cawston, Yvonne Kosugi describes herself as a farmer's daughter of Swedish ancestry. She and her partner produce artisan breads, flavoured salts, jams and habanero pumpkin seed brittle.

The book, Food Artisans of the Okanagan, is a very rich journey to take at home and especially so if you tuck the guide under your arm and travel the routes described in it.

Jennifer Cockrall-King is a food culture writer and urban agriculture expert, splitting her time between Edmonton, Alberta and the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. She is the author of Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution (Prometheus Books, 2012). You can follow her writings about food and her research trips on her website.

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