British Columbia from Scratch: A New Local Cookbook That Is As Practical As It Is Beautiful

With the desire to share our love of cookbooks and highlight what sets them apart, we decided to include cookbook reviews on this blog. But, with so many amazing cookbooks on the market, where to begin?

Enter our favourite bookstore Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks. For those of you who have never been, this is the perfect mecca for all who love cooking and cookbooks. Barbara-jo McIntosh and her staff are a wealth of information, and as equally impressive as the rows of cookbooks on the shelves are the many in-store events that feature chefs, cookbook authors, and recently released cookbooks.

It was through Barbara-jo’s regular newsletter that we learned about a new cookbook being released this December: British Columbia from Scratch by local chef and cooking instructor Denise Marchessault and photographer Caroline West. Barbara-jo was hosting a free in-store event to launch the cookbook and Denise would be on-site to share stories and cook a few of her recipes. We signed up, each bought a copy of the book, and I started to do my homework.

Organized by season, British Columbia from Scratch takes the reader on a guided tour throughout our vast province, both visually with stunning photography and through compelling stories and recipes about food made and grown in BC. Denise sums it up perfectly: “This book is celebration of BC through a cook’s palate and a photographer’s lens.” She and Caroline created a cookbook that was “as practical as it is beautiful.” I read the book cover to cover, tried five different recipes and was hooked.

The stories and pictures make the recipes inviting and possible. There were so many that I wanted to try and felt I could confidently make. Equally as important though, is that Denise and Caroline made me want to experience the pleasure of hunting and gathering the ingredients locally.

Once I finally decided on the recipes I wanted to cook, I made my list and headed out to the Vancouver Farmers Market at Nat Bailey Stadium. Vendors had come in from all across BC. My first stop was with Sawmill Bay Shellfish from Vancouver Island. Their fresh, medium size BBQ oysters would be perfect for the Crispy Oysters recipe. Although I could have bought the oysters already shucked, the purist in me wanted to do that myself. In hindsight, I should have bought them shucked as I learned that it doesn’t make any difference when cooking them. They are just as fresh, but less work.

The recipe was straight forward, but make sure to read through the instructions before starting as the oysters need to chill for an hour once prepped. (With the time that it took me to shuck them and clean up my mess, I was glad that I didn’t start this process hungry.) I followed the recipe step by step and was thrilled with the final result. The fried oysters were indeed crispy and succulent. The spicy mayo was the perfect dipping sauce as the creaminess and subtle bite complimented the crunch – although I must confess I didn’t make the mayonnaise from scratch.

Next was the Buttermilk Roasted Chicken recipe. I wanted to use the best buttermilk and purchased it from The Farmhouse Natural Cheeses stall at the market. I was a bit skeptical about the marinade and spice rub; garlic and fresh ginger seemed an odd mix with the buttermilk…followed by ground coriander and cumin in the flour mixture. But in the end the nutty earthiness of the cumin along with the pepperiness of the ginger made this my new favourite go-to chicken recipe. It is equally good fresh out of the oven as it is cold the next day.

I also made the Mushroom Tart which I loved and am looking forward to bringing it as an appetizer to my next potluck dinner. I also made the Jalapeño and Cilantro Coleslaw and ended with the Flour Tortillas, which were surprisingly easy and fun to make.

British Columbia from Scratch is the perfect addition to any cookbook collection for novice and seasoned cooks alike. It also makes for a wonderful gift that shows off all of what makes BC wonderful.

The book is a true collaborative effort. Everything works together perfectly. The intentional words come alive with thoughtful and vibrant images and impeccable food styling with vintage linens and tableware. Their mutual respect for each others work came through on every page as did their passion for the process. This was a strong partnership and friendship…which resonated well with me as Natasha and I share a similar working relationship. She is all about the aesthetics and I love telling the stories.

In her introduction, Denise Marchessault says that “every cookbook has a story” and I am glad that Denise and Caroline have shared theirs with us. They set out to discover BC, season by season and took us along for the ride. Although beautifully told, their story ends on a sad note. Not long after the book was published, Caroline West past away. Her incredible legacy lives on in many different ways, including through this beautiful book that showcases collaboration and friendship at its finest. I am so grateful that I was able to experience BC through Caroline’s eyes.

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