Winter Weekend Wanderings

photo: Bob Duncan with snow on his kiwi fruit. Bistro Suisse in Sidney. credit: Rebecca Baugniet

Last Sunday, my aunt and I set off for North Saanich to attend the LifeCycles tour of Bob and Verna’s property (Fruit Trees and More Propagation Nursery). I was a little concerned when I picked up my aunt – she was wearing clogs on her feet. “I left my boots back in Ontario. I’ll be fine,” she said optimistically. I wondered to myself how common this predicament is – easterners who move to Victoria with the delusion that they are actually moving to Hawaii. (When we got hit with our first snowstorm in Victoria in December ’08, I discovered that my husband had left all our snow shovels in the basement of our old house in Montreal – a practical sort of housewarming gift for the new owners. All the local hardware stores had sold out, so he had to build a shovel from of an old hockey stick and some plywood. Red Green would have been proud. He still uses it when it snows, refusing to spend money on a shovel in Victoria.)

There was no snow on the ground in James Bay at that point, but my concern for my aunt’s comfort increased the further north we drove, into what Bob Duncan would later describe as the peninsula’s snow belt. So I was somewhat relieved to discover, after parking in the little snowdrift on the edge of Wain Road, that due to the inclement weather, the event had been cancelled. The Duncans’ son, Darren, was shoveling the driveway when we got there, and said that since I’d come all the way I could still have a look around. I admired the green lemons growing on a tree beside the house and thought more about people defying the weather in this region. A few minutes later, Bob emerged and graciously said he could give me a mini tour, but that he’d have to get back to winterizing very soon – he had his work cut out for him.

The first thing Bob pointed out were his kiwi fruit vines, covered in snow. He said this was the earliest he’d ever had snow since buying the property in the early ‘80’s – he’d never had snow on the kiwi plants while there were still leaves on the vines. The snow was sitting on the leaves, weighing down the structure, causing Bob visible concern. We briskly walked past another structure that had already collapsed. I began to realize what the Duncans were up against here, and wanted to let them resume the work of saving plants and harvesting fruit before it froze. As he walked me through the rows of what most consider as more tropical trees – persimmon, pomegranate, fig, olive, and citrus varieties, Bob explained that the trees themselves are hardy enough to survive the occasional cold spell – it’s the fruit that needs protecting from the sub-zero temperatures. This is done with the help of Christmas tree lights and a layer of Reemay. Under different circumstances, I would have liked to offer my assistance in their accelerated winterization activities, but I was carrying a two-month old baby and had to get back to my aunt with chilly feet, so I just thanked Bob for the walk and wished him luck and warmer weather.

It seemed like the perfect day for raclette, so we headed to the Bistro Suisse on Beacon Ave for a late lunch. On the way, we reminisced about the old raclette machine my grandmother used to have, and her difficulties tracking down the authentic cheese in rural Ontario. Once my mother found it for her at a Montreal fromagerie and brought it out by train. She got off in Cornwall clutching her bag and looking somewhat embarrassed – the smell from the cheese had permeated the entire car.

At Bistro Suisse, only pleasant aromas welcomed us. We arrived half an hour before closing time, so ordered quickly. This raclette was not of the DIY variety, but was brought to the table, perfectly melted and served with boiled potatoes, gherkins and pickled onions ($11). We also shared the silky Basler onion tart ($13), advertised on the menu as a “mouth-watering combination of bacon, onions and cream”. It lived up to its description (mouth-watering) even without evidence of any bacon in our slice. The side salad was a fine accompaniment, with the exception of a wedge of tasteless tomato. Flavourful local greenhouse-grown tomatoes are available year-round here, so I’m always a little baffled when I encounter this. Disappointing tomato aside, it was, as we’d hoped, the perfect lunch for a snowy day. If you are craving well-executed European comfort food, Bistro Suisse will more than satisfy. They were closing by the time we finished, or we would have stayed for dessert and coffee, so we went on our way, stopping in at the Sidney Bakery for a dozen old-fashioned doughnuts to bring home to the doughnut loving faction of my household.

This weekend is promising to be another good one for food adventures. You’ll find me at the Out of Hand Christmas fair, perusing the food stalls.  Twenty artisan food producers are participating this year, including Teafarm, Organic Fair chocolates, Tugwell Creek Honey and Meadery, True Grain Bread and more.

The Lifecycles Tour of Bob and Verna Duncan’s property has been postponed until spring. Details to follow closer to the event.

Fruit Trees and More

724 Wain Rd.

North Saanich, BC


Bistro Suisse

2470 Beacon Ave.

Sidney, BC


Open Daily for lunch 11am-2.30pm and dinner 5pm-closing


Sidney Bakery


2507 Beacon Ave.

Sidney, BC


Written By:

Rebecca Baugniet is a freelance food writer and editor living on Canada’s West Coast with her husband and their four children. The author of three published cookbooks, Rebecca has also written for EAT Magazine and for Montréal ...

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