A Taste of Haida Gwaii:
Food Gathering and Feasting at the Edge of the World

by Susan Musgrave

Whitecap Books, 2015. ISBN 978-1-770-50216-1.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 12/06/2016

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment; Nonfiction: Food/Cooking/Kitchen

Susan Musgrave has a wonderfully droll sense of humour, is a novelist and fine poet and runs Copper Beach House in Masset on Graham Island, the largest of the islands of Haida Gwaii. All of these aspects of her wit and wisdom have gone into the making of this gorgeous book—a feisty feast of all things Haida Gwaii.

For those who don't know, Haida Gwaii is described as a "remote archipelago" off the northern coast of British Columbia, Canada. There are thirty-four words for "salmon" in the Haida language, and they're included along with stories about Haida culture.

Musgrave bought Copper Beech House from David Phillips in 2010. Many famous people have visited through the years including Pierre and Margaret Trudeau in the mid-seventies. (Pierre Trudeau was the 15th Prime Minister of Canada and his son Justin is Canada's current Prime Minister.) A recipe for Mussels Trudeau is included as well as Beets Margaret Atwood.

Besides cooking the food featured in the recipes and menus in the book, Musgrave did the "food styling" and took many of the photographs. Another of the photographers was Michelle Furbacher, art director at Whitecap. I can only imagine how much fun she had getting to eat the foods she photographed: Potatoes Haida Gwecchio for instance, and Copper Beech House Clam Chowder.

And as A Taste of Haida Gwaii is about food gathering as well as feasting, Musgrave does that too. She has arranged the wild foods she gathers in order of their appearance—"from seaweed and elderflowers in the spring to chanterelles and other wild mushrooms in the fall, with one exception. For easier reference I have grouped the Berries of Haida Gwaii in one section, starting with salmonberries in spring and ending with cranberries in fall," she writes in her chapter, "Food Gathering All Rear Round."

As Musgrave says in the section on picking and pickling Sea Asparagus, also called "beach asparagus: "[Food gathering] gets you out of the house, out of the kitchen, and you come home with a whole new appreciation for being outdoors—with a purpose!"

The journey through the book is a delightful one with tales of "rogues" Musgrave has known; stories from her early years; and "Asides," one of which is entitled "Cilantro." There are those who hate cilantro and they can't help it she learned. They may be "genetically predisposed." Still, the word "cilantrophobia" is a great one.

Some of Musgrave's poetry is featured and her prose is lyrical too. In the section on "Wild Roses or Nootka Roses," she writes: "I have intoxicating memories of driving down to the Village of Old Massett on a fiercely windy but warm afternoon in June, and plucking wild rose petals, soft as the kisses of moths, while the bouldery clouds blew by overhead and ravens spoke in tongues from the trees."

My partner and I plan to visit Copper Beech House in the future and experience, for a short time, the type of life Susan Musgrave has enjoyed for several decades. She plans her "activities around the incoming and outgoing tides, the rising and setting sun."

Susan Musgrave has published close to thirty books. She has been nominated and won awards for writing in five different categories: poetry, fiction, non-fiction, children's books and for her work as an editor. In the fall of 2014, she was awarded the Matt Cohen Award in Celebration of a Writing Life from the Writers' Trust. Musgrave teaches poetry in the University of British Columbia's Optional Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing and has lived on Haida Gwaii since the early 19070s. Visit her website.

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