A Taste of Haida Gwaii
Food Gathering and Feasting
at the Edge of the World
By Susan Musgrave
340 pages, $34.95 softcover
There are cookbooks to use, cookbooks to peruse, or cookbooks to dip into, but rare is the cookbook you would read from front to back. A Taste of Haida Gwaii is that volume.
A lifetime of wry observation, poetry, memories and images has gone into Susan Musgrave’s first cookbook, set mostly on the northern Graham Island of Haida Gawaii, in Masset, where Musgrave lives and operates the Copper Beech Guest House.
A leisurely, literary text combines travelogue, history, personal anecdotes, Haida culture, unique menus and all manner of flora and fauna in a cleverly designed book containing 90 recipes and numerous illustrations including glorious photographs and cartoonish drawings by Dejahlee Busch.
“I can’t say I was cut out to be an innkeeper. I feel uncomfortable most of the time, charging anyone for a place to lay their head,” writes Musgrave, an inventive chef and brilliant hostess. Her statement is buttressed with a quote from Hebrews 13.2 about “entertaining strangers.”
A reminiscence of Matt Cohen introduces kelp, its uses and the preparation of seaweed. “He had never seen kelp before (Matt hailed from Ontario) and was fascinated by something I had always taken for granted . . . Kelp and seaweed had always floated through the lines of my poetry—so much so that one English academic described me as having emerged from “the kelp school of poetry.”
Musgrave’s father features in a reminiscence about fishing. “Dad used to climb into the dinghy and row up Sansum Narrows between Salt Spring Island, where my great-grandfather had settled at Musgrave Landing . . . catch a couple of grilse for breakfast and fry them to a shade just past well done, filling the cabin with an oily fishy smoke, which made it hard for me to choke down my Coco Puffs. (For a definition of grilse see one of Musgrave’s entertaining footnotes.)
A section on Haida Gawaii berries makes reference to During My Time: Florence Edenshaw Davidson, A Haida Woman in which Davidson recollects how her mother picked berries and kept them fresh in a bentwood box. Musgrave follows up with instructions for making salmonberry jelly.
“Coitus Interruptus” is the heading over a section on Dungeness crabs, best gathered, says Musgrave on North Beach, in the summer months, at a “minus tide,” although a low tide will do. The title refers to the technique used to net the crabs. “You nudge them in flagrante delicto out of the sand and scoop them up in your net. The male will cling to the smaller, luckier female, so now you have to separate them and toss the male into your tote, where he will soon be joined by other angry male whoppers who are just as unhappy at having been parted, involuntarily, from their squeeze of the day.”
Reading stories such as “Never Overcook an Octopus,” asides on unlikely topics (edible gold leaf), a compendium of edible wild mushrooms of Haida Gawaii and recipes such as “Thimbleberry Elderflower Liqueur Coulis,” one begins to suspect that Musgrave is drawing us to her island home through the ancient lure of good food and good company.
Above: Crabbing on Haida Gawaii. Photos by Michelle Furbacher, Lynda Osborne and Peter Sloan