Photo © Hans Tammemagi
by Hans Tammemagi
At Fort Langley, the former Hudson’s Bay trading post where British Columbia was proclaimed a colony in 1858, your taste buds can take a journey into the culinary past. In the 1800s, the Fort was not only a strategic bastion, but it was also a major provider of food for the region. The Fort’s enormous 2,000-acre farm supplied produce and meat for its own residents and for five other upriver forts. Farm food as well as salmon and cranberries were also traded to Native people, Russian-American posts in Alaska, and gold miners.
Today, Nette Plant keeps those traditions alive by tending a demonstration garden inside the Fort where she organically grows potatoes, beans, borage, raspberries, peas, oats, rye, wheat and more, like they did in yesteryear. Using heirloom seeds, the produce is genetically the same as it was when the fort thrived. Five chickens run among the plants. The Fort also keeps four sheep, one goat, and three bunnies. Plant says, “My favorites are potatoes: the Peruvian purple fingerlings, the old-stock blues and Caribous. They’re some of the oldest on the planet and have different colors and shapes. When cooked, they have a special purity and creaminess.” She uses borage flowers and potatoes to add color to salads.
Dishes based on historic recipes are offered at the Full Barrel Café (from May to October) in the Fort and during special events. Janice Uebelhardt is in charge of the kitchen and works diligently to ensure her food is truly representative of the frontier days. Hot dogs and hamburgers are banned from the menu! During Brigade Days approximately 100 people dressed as voyageurs, trappers, Natives and traders sit down to hearty meals of roast beef with a full root vegetable roast just like in the old days. At the Vive le Voyageur Festival in January, dishes include tortière, pet de souer (French-Canadian pastry cakes covered with butter and brown sugar), and, by popular contemporary demand, poutine, which is not a traditional dish.
One challenge Uebelhardt faces is that tastes change with the times. Although she still prepares tripe, tongue and liver, which once were popular, they are no longer in fashion. “I love to cook salmon,” says Uebelhardt. “There are so many ways it can be prepared.” Other favorites are bannock, muddy river mushroom soup and scones, often with cranberries. One of the biggest favorites is Maple Baked Beans. On some days, she’s ladled out over 500 servings.
For more information about visiting the Fort Langley National Historic Site, go to hellobc.com/fort-langley.aspx.