Wow. And just like that, it’s Autumn. In a matter of days everyone went from lounging at the beach to excitedly gossiping about snow at the Roundhouse, ski-movie premieres and the upcoming La Nina redux.
For our valley’s pioneer-era residents the end of summer was an equally momentous event, but for completely different reasons.
In Alta Lake’ early days, there were no grocery stores or farmer’s markets. Shipping fresh food up from Vancouver was expensive and unreliable, so Alta Lake residents procured as much food locally as possible.
Fresh vegetables were especially hard to import, so virtually everyone had a large garden. Today fresh local produce is treated like a delicacy; back then it was the norm. All summer long residents and visitors alike dined on greens mere yards from where they were plucked from the rich valley-bottom soil.
Needless to say, winter was a different story. To fend off culinary boredom (not to mention scurvy), locals spent much of the fall preparing produce to keep through the cold, deep winter.
Most year-round residents kept root cellars, something which our Pembertonian friends are familiar with. With no refrigerator, Parkhurst Mill housewife Eleanor Kitteringham depended on this vital household appliance to keep her family well fed:
There was a door cut in our floor in the kitchen, with a leather handle to lift an stairs going down under our house to put potatoes, carrots, cabbages, etc. in, as well as shelves for canned goods.
Demonstrating pioneer-era resourcefulness, Eleanor remarked how the root cellar “also made a great dark room to develop pictures in.”
Much of the canned and pickled goods were produced locally, preserving excess produce drawn from backyard gardens. The museum has a recorded interview with Myrtle Philip, describing her preferred techniques for making jams and jellies (these were made primarily with boxes of Okanagan-grown fruit).
Myrtle made jams from wild, local berries, crabapples, peaches and much more. It turns out Myrtle thought most people used too much sugar, and that she preferred jellies to jams (jellies have the seeds and pulp strained out using cheesecloth). The most remarkable aspect of the interview is that Myrtle was making apricot jam while the interview was being recorded in 1982, at the ripe old age of 91!
Today we take such things as fresh pineapples in February for granted. Back in the day, if you didn’t work for it, you didn’t get it. With the recent “locavorian” resurgence, however, people are becoming reconnected to the hard work and dedication needed to bring nature’s abundance to our dining room table.
With our region’s agricultural renaissance in full swing, there’s no excuse for missing out. The easiest way to sample fresh, organic produce (of course, all farming was organic before the twentieth-century advent of chemical fertilizers and pesticides) and of the glorious creations by our community’s many talented culinary artisans–many of whom employ traditional food-preparation techniques–is at the Whistler Farmer’s Market. The market will keep running every Sunday until October 9th. Don’t miss out!