Harvest Feast and Fest
Sometimes the best place to find silence isn’t in the woods. Ironically, sometimes it is amongst great food and even greater friends. I found some fantastic social silence this September when I took part in Fernie’s first annual Harvest Feast & Fest.
I join a lively group of cooks, including chefs Barrie Elliot and Logan Gaede, on the Friday before the festival to prepare for the Harvest Feast. The entire event, meant to raise money for Wildsight – an organization that prides itself on sustainability and biodiversity protection – features an outdoor feast with locally sourced foods and live auction, followed by a day-long festival the next day.
Excited to jump into preparing a delicious meal for special guests, I get right to peeling the carrots and parsnip. And I peel, and peel. There is an entire milk crate filled with carrot and parsnip. As I work I can’t help but notice the organization and skill that Barrie and Logan, along with their help, have in the kitchen. They move at a rapid, precise pace while I, evidently slowly, peel.
I help slice more vegetables and ham from Fort Steel’s Cutter Ranch before heading home. The next morning, on September 19, I arrive at the kitchen and I’m amazed at what I see – platters stacked with fresh garden vegetables, the standard scalloped potato turned into a decadent gratin, bite-size desserts with the sweetest icing.
Edible wildflowers garnish each dish. It is a foodie haven and a delight to the eye.
Logan makes huckleberry BBQ sauce (huckleberries picked by Barrie this summer) for short ribs while Leigh slices honey cake made from the honey of Elk River Apiaries. I sneak a slice – or seven – and help with arranging plates of mini lamb Shepherd’s Pie.
How Barrie and her team have created such a delightful array of foods I have no idea. When I attend potlucks I usually heat up a block of Brie cheese and roasted garlic and consider it fancy. Or at least, I desperately need a recipe to read from when cooking anything else. The Harvest Feast's fare is far beyond anything I imagined.
There is deliciousness I cannot even pronounce.
We head to the Fernie Eco Garden to set up and guests immediately arrive. Having not served at a catered event for some time I feel a bit nervous, but the nerves quickly dissipate. There's something about seeing people's eyes light up at the sight of food that makes carrying around a dish of crostini with cheddar and sliced cherry (my favourite dish of the night) more fun than work.
Barrie stations herself at the BBQ cooking the short ribs, pork belly with apple cider gastrique and chicken with salsa verde. Every so often she says, "Hey Jess!" and hands me a bite of something new. Even the Croc Monsieur – what I deem a glorified grilled ham and cheese sandwich – is more than I could have imagined.
At the end of the night when the feasters have eaten we take a moment to sit and enjoy ourselves. Wildsight showcases a video that features Fern Marriott, the Fernie branch's main funder, and everyone celebrates this beautiful place. White lights hang from the trees and a light breeze blows.
"This is so beautiful," Lisa Ratchat says. "It makes me love Fernie even more."
We clean up and head home for the night. In the morning I wake up early and make two chocolate cream pies to enter into the festival's pie contest. My kitchen may be entirely outdated – until recently it even had carpet on the floor – but it feels like a little sanctuary for baking. I find a couple of purple clover flowers and garnish my pies with them before rushing to the festival at Prentice Park.
I sip a coffee from the Valley Social Co., peruse the vegetable entries and admire giant zucchini, potatoes and cauliflower. I can't help but think how even though this is a first-ever Harvest Feast & Fest, it feels like it's been a tradition for years. Local vendors sell apples, honey, hand-printed t-shirts and poutine. Everyone is simply happy.
Sometimes solitude isn't the only way to enjoy the silence at all and sometimes, you just don't need to.