The most notable thing about this photo is not that the pepper plant is dying – this is not an uncommon occurrence with houseplants under my care. And it is December, the month of low light in the North.
The most notable thing about this photo is that there is a pepper! In December, in the Yukon!
And this pepper was grown from a local seed!
As I ate local farmer, Grant Dowdell’s, delicious red peppers way back in the summer of 2017, I saved some of the seeds and stored them in an envelope over the winter. I didn’t get around to planting them until midsummer 2018, so the pepper plant was just starting to flower in the Fall when it was time to shut down the greenhouse. Rather than give up, I moved the pepper plant indoors. And, low and behold, a pepper grew!
I was inspired by Dawsonite, Meg Walker, who last winter managed to get a pepper plant to flower and produce little peppers in her windowsill – quite a feat this far North.
I am very proud of this little red pepper. It reminds me of both the resilience and the importance of a simple seed – the starting point in the food chain.
There are many aspects to becoming more food self-sufficient in our own communities. The cornerstone is our ability to save and re-grow our own seeds.
In an era where technology is considering the production of ‘sterile seeds,’ my red pepper reminds me how devastating that concept would be. If we can’t save our own seed, what hope is there for global food security?
On a recent trip to Portugal my companions and I discovered vegetable jams; they played a role on every breakfast buffet table at our hotels and B&Bs, and sometimes at dinner too. The morning offerings almost always included tomato jam, or carrot jam, or interesting (and delicious) combinations like zucchini and walnut jam. At our first dinner at a tiny restaurant in Porto we enjoyed an appetizer of a deep-fried cheese croquette drizzled with warm pumpkin jam. It was divine.
In winter, when fresh tomatoes in season are no longer available, canned, whole plum tomatoes are the best possible substitute. Fine Cooking explains why.
For a person like our friend Suzanne Crocker, who canned a whole lotta tomatoes last year and is now looking at a pantry of several dozen one-litre jars and wondering just how much spaghetti sauce the family will stand, tomato jam suddenly looks very appealing.
We have always heard that tomatoes are not really vegetables, but fruits. Well it turns out that tomatoes are actually berries, as are peppers, kiwis, eggplants, bananas and watermelons. So, if your cranberry yield was small in this poor berry year, consider the tomato as a substitute in your favourite berry-based jam.
For future reference and in anticipation of a great tomato harvest next year, the recipe for tomato jam includes amounts for both fresh and canned tomatoes. I like this recipe, adapted from portugueserecipes.ca, because it’s so simple and most closely replicates the jam we enjoyed in Portugal. But if you’re interested in something more complex, there are many recipes to explore among the usual channels that use cumin, hot peppers, lemon juice and other ingredients.
Serve tomato jam on toast or a locally-made bagel with cream cheese or butter, with scrambled eggs, on charcuterie plates, on moose burgers or to accompany roasted meats. The jam is so versatile it flits back and forth between sweet and savoury with ease.
A tomato still warm from the sun and just plucked from the vine, eaten in the hand without salt or basil or any other addition, is one of the gardener’s greatest seasonal pleasures. At the first bite you understand that yes, this is more fruit than vegetable; a ripe tomato is as sweet and juicy as any peach or plum.
Now, in early November, it’s hard to find such a tomato in these latitudes. But until very recently the next best thing, a local, greenhouse-grown tomato from Yukon Gardens, was available at Wyke’s Independent Grocer in Whitehorse, around the corner from where I live.
In the second week of October I had just arrived back from Portugal with tomatoes on my mind. In Portugal in September the tomatoes were ripe and plentiful, so plentiful they cooked them down for hours into a sweet, spicy jam we ate at breakfast with fresh bread and creamy butter. We ate fresh tomatoes in our picnic lunches with hard cheeses and dry salamis, and at dinner we had cooked tomatoes in fish stew and in one of the many variations of Carne de Porco a Alentejana (Traditional Pork and Clams from Alentejo) we relished in taverns along the Fisherman’s Way.
On our first shopping trip back in Whitehorse there were the Yukon Garden tomatoes, so ripe they were almost bursting their skins. We came home with a few kilos because I really wanted to try that jam, and I really wanted a bread and tomato salad, whose origins are not Portuguese but Tuscan. I had a large bag of sourdough croutons in the freezer leftover from a catering job, and I had visions of chunks of toasted bread soaked in tomato juice and the rich, green olive oil given to us in Portugal by Maria, a family friend. Maria’s oil is pressed from her own olives, and over the years she has brought members of my family many bottles, and we love it. She decanted ours into an empty cognac bottle and we carried it home wrapped in a beach towel and stuffed into one of our knapsacks. It survived the journey.
We ate bread and tomato salad the first night at home. It was everything I had anticipated-the bread both soft and crunchy in its bath of oil and and tomato juices, the tomatoes bright and sweet, the onion sharp, and the cilantro fresh and cool.
The reason I’m allowed to share the recipe here, with First We Eaters, is because every salad ingredient, if not local in October (except the tomatoes), was available in August at the Fireweed Market—tomatoes, cilantro, purple onion. The bread we make at home from a starter brought to Alaska by a German family 100 years ago.
Now that Suzanne’s year of eating only locally has ended, and a few items from abroad are creeping into her diet, we agreed that the olive oil got special dispensation. It was local to us when we were staying in Maria’s house and besides, I’ve known Maria since I was 12 and she was 21, and so what’s local to her is local to me, by association. That’s sound logic, right?
I now add a new exotic flavour that can be grown in the North – shiso leaves!
Until this year I had never even heard of shiso. I am now a huge fan, thanks to Carol Ann Gingras of Whitehorse, who introduced me to this herb and sent me some of her Yukon-grown plants.
One thing that I missed early on during my of eating local were spices from the Far East – cinnamon, cumin, cloves, nutmeg …
Birch syrup and ground juniper berries helped to fill that void, but now I have a new favourite – shiso – to add some Asian spice to a Yukon local diet.
Shiso leaves taste exotic! To me, it is the taste of cumin combined with a hint of cardomon. For others it has been described as a combination of spearmint, basil, anise and cinnamon.
Shiso (pronounced she-so), Perillafrutescens, is an Asian herb – used commonly in Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and China – and a member of the mint family. It was introduced to North America in the late 1800’s but only introduced to me in 2018! Although it flourishes in the southeaster USA, I would never have guessed how well it thrives during a Yukon summer.
Its large leaves can be used to scoop up food or as a wrap for fish, meat and sushi. The fresh leaves, sliced in thin strips to bring out the flavour, can be added to soups, stir-fry, rice, scrambled eggs, salads, even fruit – almost anything, really. The leaves can be air-dried or frozen to use during the winter. Dried, the leaves can also be used as a flavourful tea. The leaves are high in calcium and iron.
Apparently shiso buds and sprouts are also delicious and the seeds can be toasted and crushed and sprinkled on fish.
If you plant shiso in pots, let the plants go to seed and bring them inside before the first frost, then the plants will self-seed for spring.
Here’s hoping my shiso plants will self-seed so they can become a regular part of my on-going Dawson local diet!
A vertical agriculture facility is in the planning stages with the goal of having it built in Carcross this fall. This innovative project will be the first of its kind in the Yukon.
Tami Grantham, Natural Resources Coordinator with the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, says: “What attracted us to this technology is the ability to grow greens year-round. It’s a goal and a mission for the government of Carcross-Tagish First Nation to become food-secure.”
Construction would be managed through a new corporation created as a partnership between the Carcross-Tagish First Nation and Northstar Agriculture of which the First Nation will be 51 per cent owner.
The system will recirculate water from a fish tank through a vegetable grow bed. Nutrients from the fish waste feed the plants, and the plants filter the water to keep the fish healthy. In normal aquaculture, excretions from the animals being raised can accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity. In an aquaponic system, water from an aquaculture system is fed to a hydroponic system where the by-products are broken down by bacteria into nitrates, which are utilized by the plants as nutrients, and the water is then recirculated back to the aquaculture system.
The vertical part of this type of farming will be in the form of stacked layers that could be up to 10 meters high, in order to maximize production, contained in a warehouse-style space.
Not only would this mean a possibility for fresh local produce and lower food prices in the community, but also the promise of food security, as this system allows year-round growing of vegetables in a sustainable way.
The fish raised would be Tilapia, which is common in farming systems. Vegetables grown would include kale, spinach, and perhaps even strawberries and other vine crops.
Claus Vogel is growing celery from celery!
This is a great way to get more veggie from the bottom of a veggie that you would usually cut off anyway. Take the base from a stalk of celery, rinse it off, and put it in a shallow cup of warm water on a window sill. Change the water daily and keep an eye on it to see if any regrowth begins. You’ll see remarkable results in days and if you want, you can transplant the celery outdoors and have a great harvest at the end of the growing season.
Apparently this also works with romaine lettuce and green onions, and veggies similar to celery like fennel and celeriac. Louise Piché was successful at re-growing ginger from a piece of store bought ginger root, and some adventurous people have even re-grown pineapples from the tops!
Anyone else had any success with re-growing veggies?
In a beautiful article by Up Here Magazine, France Benoit opens the gate to her home and farm “Le Refuge“, which she has lovingly built and tended to for the past 25 years. On this property, by the shores of Madeline Lake in Yellowknife, France grows a variety of vegetables to feed herself as well as to sell in the local farmer’s market, of which she is a founding member.
One way to have celery year round from the garden is to grow celeriac root. Weird looking but quite flavorful, celeriac root is edible raw or cooked, and tastes similar to the stalks of common celery.
It grows well in the North, keeps well in cold storage all winter, and apparently can have a shelf life of approximately six to eight months if stored properly. You can serve it roasted, stewed, blanched, or mashed, or added to your favorite stews or casseroles. Peel it and chop it and use it in place of fresh celery in cooking. Excellent combined with potatoes when cooking mashed potatoes!
Another tasty, although not so pretty vegetable that grows well in the Yukon is the root called salsify. Don’t let the hairy dark exterior intimidate you. Peel it, and it tastes similar to a very sweet parsnip, and you can eat it raw or you can cook it as you would cook most root vegetables.
Salsify might not be easily found in the average grocery store, but it actually grows wild in many places in the world, especially the Americas.
But not everything is under the ground: the flowers from the salsify root are gorgeous to look at, and also edible! The shoots can be used like asparagus, either raw or cooked, and the flowers can be added to salads.
If there is something exotic you wish to grow in the North, ask Louise Piché of Rock Creek, Dawson City, Yukon. Louise is a well known gardener in Dawson and a frequent ribbon winner at Dawson’s annual Discovery Days Horticultural Fair. She loves experimenting with new and colorful varieties. She has successfully grown peanuts and ground cherries (aka golden berries) as well as asparagus, giant pumpkins and buckwheat.
Louise has generously shared her ‘tried and true’ cultivars that grow well in Rock Creek, which you can view on our seed page. This year she is experimenting with ginger, turmeric, artichokes and pink potatoes.
And one of the biggest obstacles they have found is that the local soil lacks nutrients. Commercial soil works fine, but it is costly and it needs to be flown in, which impacts the sustainability of the project.
Many northern Canadian communities do not have the luxury of the rich soil found in southern Yukon. This is the case for the fly-in community of Arviat, (population 2,800) – the second largest community in Nunavut.
In 2014 Arviat built a greenhouse beside the school to see if they could grow their own vegetables with local soil and local fertilizer. And they have been very successful!
Yup! Suzanne has been munching on sweet & crunchy carrots from Kokopellie Farm all January. “They taste like they are freshly picked only even sweeter!” offers Suzanne.
Otto Muehlbach, whose farm is in Sunnydale (Dawson), has designed a large root cellar to store carrots, potatoes, cabbage, beets, and other root veggies all winter long. The trick seems to be 2-4 degrees C and keeping the humidity and condensation low. If you can find a way to get to Sunnydale, Otto’s fresh root vegetables are sold from his house on Saturdays between 2 and 5 pm as long as it is warmer than -30C.