More West Coast Culinary Adventures

“Why don’t we meet up in Campbell River and we can provision together?” my older brother suggested via text, a few weeks before we were set to board a plane.

Provision. I rolled the word around in my mind, delighting in its quaint practicality, loving how Josh tossed it out there so casually, while I had never even heard of this noun being used as a verb. Provisions: supplies such as food and drinks, especially for a journey. Provision: rounding up and buying those supplies.

We were planning on how to feed our family of twenty during a reunion (and a wedding) on a remote British Columbia Island called Cortes. Josh is used to provisioning: for a hunting trip, a camping expedition, a mountain bike race across the Yukon. I supposed I provision all the time, too, stocking the pantry, visiting farm stands, putting up produce.

Still, this was different. Because Cortes is two ferry rides away from a city, grocery staples on the island are nearly doubled in price. We’d want to get our oatmeal and peanut butter before coming, but source plenty of local produce and seafood. As it turned out, we did very well on the latter, and this is the full report of such culinary adventures.

Mansons Landing, Cortes Island, BC || Simple Bites

“Stop stepping on the tortilla chips! You’re sitting on the burger buns! Mind the bag of apples.” Our rental van was squashed to the hilt with seven bodies and seven hundred dollars worth of groceries (and let’s be honest, alcohol) all the way to Whaletown Bay.

On a scorching Sunday afternoon we arrived at our enormous rental house and I immediately set to shovelling the two refrigerators full of our dairy supplies (all the butter for the cake!) and more.

The ten cousins swarmed the Smelt Bay property and then the house, staking claim to rooms, and then beds, like a pack of kids at summer camp. This was a bit like summer camp, actually, especially because we spent nearly every minute out of doors. Cortes is a absolute gem of an island with endless beaches to comb and old-growth forests to explore.

There’s no question about it: we were going to be working up an appetite every day.

Low tide clamming on Cortes Island, BC || Simple Bites

Our wild foraging began at low tide in Manson’s Lagoon. Rumours of Little Neck clams were well founded when we spied locals harvesting the delicate shellfish by the bucket.

Fresh dug clams on Cortes Island, BC || Simple Bites

In ankle-deep salt water, we raked through the soft mud with our bare hands – each scoop yielding 7 or 8 little clams. Even the three-year-olds dug up fistfuls and plunked them into the pail.

The abundance was astonishing and exhilarating. In no time we had all we needed and more.

Clams in broth || Simple Bites

We covered the live clams in cool tap water, added a little cornmeal and let them sit for 24 hours. Funnily enough, when they take in the water with the cornmeal, they spit out the cornmeal – and all their sand, too. When we steamed them later, with a little onion and white wine, they were tender and delicious, with no sand at all. An utter feast.

Catching crabs on Cortes Island, BC || Simple Bites

Somehow my resourceful sister in law, Laura, tracked us down a few crab traps, and in one afternoon  we caught enough for appetizers at dinner. The children had a tremendous thrill with the whole project, as anything with a touch of danger (i.e snapping claws) has a huge appeal for young boys and girls.

Fresh caught crabs cooked || Simple Bites

I boiled up the Red Rock crabs, made a quick garlic butter, and then spent a happy evening cracking the legs and offering tidbits to anyone within reach. Delicious! Mateo is now a big fan of fresh crab.

Oyster bed on Cortes Island || Simple Bites

I was in the kitchen, working on a cake, when Laura texted me the above photo and said “Bring a bucket. We found oysters!”

I nearly ran out the door with my apron on.

Low tide on Sutil Point uncovered an enormous oyster bed. As in, so large, we thought it was a small rock island, until we got closer. We needed shoes to be able to traverse the oyster bed, sleeping under a foot or so of water, but once we were able to step on them without slicing our feet, all the oysters one could ever desire were within reach. I’ve hardly seen anything so exciting in my entire culinary career. Talk about OysterFest.

Fresh oysters on the half shell || Simple Bites

I utterly adore raw oysters in the half shell, and so do all the adults in my Wimbush family. Danny lugged a large bucket home and I scrubbed them under cool running water. Then it was time for a shucking party.

Back in my culinary days, I used to shuck some 50-80 oysters a night, and under all the pressures of a professional kitchen. Now, in a sunny rental kitchen overlooking the same bay where the oysters were grown, I could take my time. And of course my brother-in-law would keep pouring me shots of tequila!

We filled a roasting pan with ice and oysters. I topped them with a small spoon of my sister Haidi’s homemade salsa, a slice of shallot, a drop of olive oil and finished with a squeeze of lime (and a splash of tequila for some). They were ice cold, velvety soft and tasted exactly like summer vacation should.

Fresh-caught fish on Cortes Island || Simple Bites

We all adore fresh fish (who doesn’t?) and so one morning the guys took to the open ocean with hope of catching our dinner. Armed with baskets and cash, we girls headed to the farmer’s market at Manson’s Hall to buy salad greens and vegetables to serve alongside.

The small island market was easily the most happening place on all of Cortes. Haidi and I arrived with a pack of kids and a coffee from the Natural Foods Co-op in hand. My other sister, Miranda, held a bag of hot doughnuts under my nose and the aroma of deep fried sugar triggered an instant, fierce craving.

The market stand for Linnaea Farm was packed with people three deep and the produce was disappearing fast. I elbowed my way in (very much UN-like a Cortesian, so I was informed by Haidi) and purchased four bags of green beans, three bundles of carrots, cherry tomatoes, baby butter lettuce and four beautiful cucumbers.

Just then my phone buzzed with a text from Josh: “We have fish for dinner!”

Prepared salmon for grill || Simple Bites

A modest Pink salmon and a Rock Bass was our grilled dinner that night, stretched to feed all twenty of us with a gigantic green salad, fresh steamed green beans, and grilled focaccia from the Co-Op organic bakery with no less than twenty heads of roasted garlic. Sumptuous.

Aimee pancake flipping

It wasn’t all clams and oysters. Breakfast was often a vat of oatmeal, served up with brown sugar, fresh blackberries and cream. We had a couple of epic pancake mornings (above) and even more drawn out bacon & egg brunches. Four dozen eggs disappeared like nothing, as did copious pots of coffee.

Dinner in the garden | Simple Bites

We liked to team up on meals, such as when Josh grilled his memorable beer can chicken one night, and my mother arrived with her famous moussaka (above). The feast was rounded off with an exceedingly large apple-blackberry crumble made by my sister.

Kids pasta

And there were plenty of plain kid-friendly meals, too, like this simple pasta bolognese with cheese. Oddly enough, those kids were always hungry again an hour after we fed them.

Squirrel Cover Take out on Cortes Island || Simple Bites

And if the second largest tree (yep) on the island falls on the hydro lines and power goes out for two full days, well there is always epic Flying Squirrel take-out at Squirrel Cove. Fish tacos, wild salmon burgers and even poutine for the little Quebecers missing home. Ahem.

Photo cred: Darshan Alexander Photography

Photo cred: Darshan Alexander Photography

Just like our last reunion in Mexico, and the previous one before that in Montreal, delicious local food was a big part of our family gathering. But more than merely eating, we love to spend time in the kitchen together. It’s where we tend to congregate, whether standing at the stove flipping pancakes or scrubbing oysters at the sink. My siblings and I have always connected through cooking; reminiscing, confiding, yes, even arguing.

I’m so fortunate to be close to Haidi, Josh and Miranda, to have that love and support, always.

Until next time!

*Big thanks to Darshan and Alexander for the image of the Wimbush siblings.*

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Wow, all of that looks amazing, and I loved the wedding cake!!

  2. OK, so you know that people are reading this article and thinking “I’d love to do that with my extended family!” I predict a season of full bookings for the rental places on Cortes!

  3. Oh Aimee, your holiday sounds magical! I miss Vancouver Island and little Gulf Islands so much. We never did so much foraging in our 10 year there as you did in a few days but annual blackberry picking was a ritual even when kids were babies and all they did was eating what we picked! Imagine our surprise when we discovered a whole bunch of blackberry bushes in London just a couple of days ago. Lots and lots of pies.

  4. This sounds like a dream vacation. What a wonderful experience for the kids to be so involved in their food’s journey to the table! Also, an amazing opportunity to spend quality time with extended family. Thank you for sharing!

  5. I’m sure there were some non-magical parts because it’s real life but your whole trip sounds magical and exactly what people dream of when spending time with family. Siblings that are friends and share so many common values are indeed gifts.

  6. Thanks for this lovely post. I only just got around to reading it (in November) and it brought a smile to my face. Now I want to go to Cortes Island!!!

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