The Summer Nightshades: Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplants and Potatoes

I’m not sure we’re on the right road, I worry, as we work our way higher and higher along the narrow winding road. My brain is definitely in summer mode, feeling almost as foggy as the weather we’re driving through. Instead of my usual organized strategy of printing up a google map with precise door-to-door instructions, this particular Sunday morning I’ve left the house without a map, telling myself I’d find some information or a brochure on the ferry. No such luck – I must remember in future that the ferry to Salt Spring does not house a wall of brochures. I bump into a familiar face (an EAT photographer) headed home for a visit with her parents, but she’s also unsure of the farm’s exact location.

The helpful soul at the information centre in Ganges looks up the address for me, but as the road winds on I am growing increasingly concerned that I might be on the wrong track. Suddenly, from the depths of my memory the words “Perched high on Mount Maxwell(…) sits Foxglove Farm” float to the surface and confidence is restored. I’m not sure exactly where I’ve read those words, but sure enough, we finally spot the weatherworn sign that tells us we’ve arrived, just in time for our Field to Plate workshop.

“Why are they called ‘nightshades’?” someone asks, as we tour the impeccably maintained farm, admiring varieties of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes included in the plant family, each in their various stages of growth. No one is quite sure where the name comes from, and when I get home I am surprised to learn that there is no entry on it in the Larousse Gastronomique, though my dictionary tells me that the word stems from Old English, with reference to the dark colour and poisonous properties of the berries common to many of the plants in the family.

Munn starts with a gorgeous gazpacho consommé, blitzing the tomatoes with an immersion blender (“what are you doing to my tomatoes?” objects Ableman with a laugh).

Nothing poisonous on our menu, though these plants do have their own particular quirks. Michael Ableman takes us through his fields, sharing some of these challenges with us. He’s lost the three crops of corn he planted this year due to the unpredictable weather, but some of his challenges are brought on himself. He makes reference to a certain hubris he exhibits, pushing the limits of what is considered possible in these growing conditions, for example, planting potatoes later than neighbouring farms because he doesn’t see any sense in harvesting potatoes at the same time as everyone else. This can achieve either pleasingly anachronistic results – new potatoes and fingerlings harvested in autumn, or huge losses if an early frost hits. Luckily, most of his gambles pay off, as is visible in the splendid display (and regular line-ups) at the Foxglove booth at the Salt Spring farmer’s market.

This year’s cool spring and late start to summer mean that of all the nightshades grown on the farm, only the tomatoes are truly at their prime in time for this class, so guest Chef Laurie Munn from Café Brio has shifted the focus of his afternoon menu to showcase the colourful plant to its full extent. He’s come to the right place for tomatoes – there are at least twenty different varieties being grown here, from the addictive “Sun Gold” to “Tangerine Tomato”, “Pink Beauty” and “Black Prince”.

Munn starts with a gorgeous gazpacho consommé, blitzing the tomatoes with an immersion blender (“what are you doing to my tomatoes?” objects Ableman with a laugh), then straining the mixture through cheesecloth to achieve a delicate pink consommé that packs the full flavour punch of a chunky gazpacho.  Topped with smoked albacore tuna and an heirloom tomato salad, the chilled soup provides a refreshing start to our three-course meal. The kitchen has a definite rustic charm (the oven door needs to be propped shut with a chair), which is reassuring for the home cook; Munn demonstrates that the gourmet kitchen is not at all necessary to pull off an exquisite meal. In fact, these circumstances prove even more conducive to providing ultimate flavour, with Ableman running out to pick the missing cucumbers, and passing around different heirloom tomatoes to tide us over when our stomachs begin to rumble.

The field to plate workshops offered at Foxglove provide an experience that is truly satisfying to all the senses. You get to experience firsthand the connection between the field and the plate, with the finest ingredients prepared by the some of the finest chefs from our region. You also get to witness the important relationship between farmer and chef, gain a renewed appreciation for exactly how much work goes into the food we eat, and learn a few new skills to apply in the garden or the kitchen – all this in a staggeringly beautiful location.

To learn more about the workshops and other programs on offer at Foxglove, click here.

By Rebecca Baugniet


photos, clockwise from upper left: Chef Laurie Munn pours out the Gazpacho Consommé, rows of greens growing at Foxglove, Michael Ableman, dry-farmed tomatoes growing at Foxglove. All photos by Rebecca Baugniet

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