“I was wondering if you two would be interested in going on some sort of small getaway—maybe two nights on a gulf island, or Salt Spring? Just something small where we could go to a café/do a little hike/play Scrabble/I could have a West Coast experience before heading East,” read Clare’s email late last August.
Faster than you can say “Yeah!” Magellan and I started looking for a place to spend a few nights with our granddaughter Clare before she flew off to King’s College in Halifax. It was Clare who found La Peetch, a two-bedroom cottage on Salt Spring with “a modest ‘Julia Child’-style kitchen” available for the two nights she had in mind.
In 1963, Julia Child and her husband Paul began building a country house in Provence near Plascassier, a quiet refuge where they could relax from the pressure-cooker success of her first book Mastering the Art of French Cooking two years earlier and her TV show “The French Chef.” (“…the telemaelstrom,” Julia called it.) They named the house La Pitchoune, “The Little Thing,” but they and their friends called it “La Peetch.” (“…nowhere was I more productive than in our little kitchen at La Peetch,” wrote Julia.)
Five decades later, Helen, a gourmet cook and devoted fan of Julia Child, built a rental cottage with her husband Murray on Salt Spring Island. Channeling Julia in its design and furnishings, Helen named it La Peetch.
The cottage displays the élan of French country décor with white-paneled walls and ceilings, linen cushions and matelassé bed covers, wrought iron and rooster decorations, a butcher-block counter and copper pots. Julia presides on the bookshelf, which beckons with volumes of her cookbooks, biographies and epicurean hardbacks by chefs she influenced (like Alice Waters). “There’s even a book called Julia’s Cats,” Clare said as she browsed the titles.
À la Julia Child’s La Peetch, Helen’s also has a bountiful garden. Cherry tomatoes, string beans, chives, parsley, rosemary, flowers… Murray told us to help ourselves to all we wanted (Helen was away)—and I planned to take him up on that.
Perhaps Julia’s “presence” and renowned zest for life inadvertently influenced our activities. We stuffed ourselves with steaming hunks of rosemary bread from the wood-fired brick oven on Forest Ridge Road. (“How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like kleenex?” Julie asked.) Nibbled goat cheese from Salt Spring Island Cheese. Devoured lemon-ginger scones from “Bite Me” for breakfast. Hiked around Ruckle Farm, where we bought a head of garlic. Checked out the renowned Saturday Market where our sole purchase was lemonade. Enjoyed affogatos at Fernwood Café. Browsed the many bookstores. Laughed over dinner at House Piccolo restaurant at Clare’s stories of high school.
For dinner the second night, we decided to channel Julia in the French kitchen. Sitting on the white slip-cushioned sofa, Clare and I thumbed through a few cookbooks looking at recipes. “This one looks good,” she said pointing to an essence-of-summer photo of a fruit cobbler—juicy baked nectarines, blueberries and blackberries topped by sweet-cream biscuits. (“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream,” Julia said.) A recipe by Alice Waters inspired by Julie Child. “Great. You can always trust a recipe by Alice,” I said to Clare. “Let’s make it for dessert.”
We bought French fingerling potatoes at Stowel Lake Farm, fresh salmon at the Fish Market and snapped beans from “our” garden. (“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces— just good food from fresh ingredients,” Julia wrote.) Chopping nectarines and rolling biscuit dough we prepared our dessert for the oven, making it our own by snipping a handful of basil from the garden and adding it to the fruit mélange. (“I think careful cooking is love, don’t you?” Julia asked, rhetorically of course.) Sweet, warm smells filled La Peetch as we waited for dessert to bake, finishing the last of our wine (French), turning the pages of our books and talking about the year that was and the year to come. “Well done Julia and Alice,” Magellan said, spooning out second helpings of the syrupy fruit and warm biscuits.
All too soon, la petite vacance at La Peetch came to an end. All too soon, Clare was on her way to Canada’s oldest university. All too soon, the last page in another chapter in our lives as grandparents was fermé, a new and exciting one ouvert for Clare.
And now, Clare’s first term at King’s is almost over. For the last month, every morning at breakfast Magellan counts down the days until she comes home for Christmas break. “Only three more,” he said today. Meanwhile, I’m busy chewing on what to cook for her. Will she want my “classic macaroni”? Magellan’s bbq’d rib roast? Chocolate rosemary-caramel nut bars? Ottolenghi’s Christmas trifle or BBC’s Christmas pudding?
Tonight I may evoke La Peetch and remake that fruit cobbler, perhaps with a seasonal combination of fruit like pears, quince and pomegranate arils. And relish in Julia’s inspiration: “The pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite—toujours bon appétit!
La Peetch Nectarine & Berry Cobbler
For the Fruit
- 5 cups nectarines pitted and cut into 1/4-inch slices
- 2 cups blackberries
- 2 cups blueberries
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup flour
- Zest and juice of one lemon
- Handful of fresh basil torn into small pieces
- Pinch of salt
For the Sweet-Cream Biscuits
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tbsp sugar + another tablespoon for sprinkling the biscuit tops
- 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter melted and cooled a bit
- 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp whipping cream
- 1/4 cup milk
- Heat the oven to 400°F.
- Put the fruit in a 9" by 12" gratin pan that's about 3" deep. Mix the sugar, flour and salt in a bowl, add to the fruit and stir. Add the lemon zest and juice, and basil and stir again.
- Put in the oven and bake for 8 minutes.
- In the meantime, combine the flour, 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Stir in the butter, whipping cream and milk and blend until the mixture is just combined.
- Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/2" thickness. Pierce the dough with a fork at 1/2" intervals. Cut into ten 2 1/4" circles. Arrange the biscuits evenly on top of the fruit. Brush the tops of the biscuits with the remaining 2 tbsp whipping cream and sprinkle with a tablespoon of sugar.
- Put the pan back in the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes until the biscuits are nicely browned and the fruit is bubbling.
Barbara Jo’s Books to Cooks In 2006, Magellan’s Christmas present to me was “Eating Between the Leaves,” a series of literary dinners inspired by epicurean books at Barbara-Jo’s shop. Her bookshop is like no other in the world—a national treasure—and Eating Between the Leaves continues to sustain cooks and readers.
Bite Me! Everything here is worth many bites. Don’t miss the goat cheese ice cream sandwiched between ginger cookies.
On two floors with new and used books on “covering everything from outer space to inner peace” Black Sheep Books is a must-see.
Brett, Brian. Trauma Farm, A Rebel History of Rural Life. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2009. A Barbara-Jo pick for “Eating Between the Leaves,” this passionate memoir about a farm on Salt Spring is best described by the poet Patrick Lane: “Brian Brett rants and raves, bringing us his own version of guns and roses in the guise of wisdom and wit.”
Child, Julia, with Alex Prud’homme. My Life in France. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. This was one of the books we enjoyed at Eating Between the Leaves. In it, Julia’s voice rings loud and clear in every passionate story of her epicurean life.
On the quiet side of the island, the tagline for the Fernwood Café, “Follow your inner Quail,” gives you an idea of its creative spirit.
Magellan and I have bought great seafood here on several occasions.
Since 1992, House Piccolo has been serving Scandanavian-inspired food. (Tenuous connection but Julia and Paul lived in Oslo. Her description of Norwegian beds makes you laugh: “covered by a single down coverlet, which is as hot as a baker’s oven but only big enough to cover half of one’s body.”)
La Peetch on Salt Spring was available for us at the last minute because 2015 was its first year on the rental market. Next year I’m predicting it will be fully booked before the island’s lavender starts blooming.
Coincidentally, Julia Child’s La Peetch has just come on the market in France. For €800,000 the cottage, about twice the size as La Peetch SS, can be your private summer getaway. Here’s a photo of Julia’s kitchen.
Nickson, Elizabeth. Eco-Fascists: How Radical Conservationists Are Destroying Our Natural Heritage. New York: Broadside Books, 2012. Thinking of buying and renovating on Salt Spring? Read Elizabeth’s book first for a taste of her experience attempting to do this intertwined with her investigative reporting of the follies of the environmental movement in Western North America.
Hiking options, a working farm (highland cattle and wild turkeys) and fresh produce are all part of Ruckle Heritage Farm, the oldest working farm in BC that’s still owned by the original family.
Don’t let the closed gate at Stowel Lake Farm stop you—that’s just to keep the animals in. (Thanks for that tip Helen.)
If you need a book to curl up with at La Peetch, Salt Spring Books at 104 McPhillips Ave has a selection of the latest fiction and non-fiction.
Salt Springs Island Bread Co. has delicious wood-fired bread.
Salt Spring Island Cheese Company now has a little restaurant as well as cheeses, condiments and picnic fixings.
Our favourite coffee house on the island.
Thrive Lifestyle is a zen-like store with clothing for women and babies, coffee mugs and cards with sayings like “In the waves of change we find our true direction.”
Waters, Alice. In the Green Kitchen. New York: Clarkson/Porter Publications, 2010. A classic, like all of her cookbooks.