🕔Nov 19, 2007

In the winter of 1973, I was as restless as a million other kids my age. Instead of going back to university, I drove with four friends in a little pickup and camper from Vancouver down the west coast through Oregon and California to Mexico. When we reached San Blas, we crossed over to Guadalajara, Mexico City, Vera Cruz, and across the Yucatan to the Caribbean—conch shells and body surfing—before returning north. I had just turned 19. I landed on Hornby Island, where I spent the next several months trying to find a new way to live.

Pour 3 C boiling water over 1.5 T salt and ½ C honey. Add ½ C sunflower seeds, ½ C flax seeds and a handful of rolled oats. You can also add milk powder if you like. Let soak for 15 minutes.

I boarded with Frances, a friend’s mother, a potter. You walked into her long ramshackle house through her studio, past her wheel and kilns, past a tiny bathroom, under the stairs and into the kitchen, where pots and pans and sieves and graters and ladles and spatulas and a hundred implements I didn’t recognize dangled from the low ceiling. Beyond that was a long table where half the island sat to talk love, death and politics, and eat her wonderful cooking. Especially her bread.

Add 3 C water (you can use potato water if you have some handy) to cool the mixture to blood heat; stir in 1.5 T regular yeast and let the mixture sit another 10 minutes.

From a spot near Frances’s house, you could see across Malaspina Strait to the mountains rising behind the town I grew up in. Just a couple of hours away. My grandmother made beautiful buns, my mother baked pies and cooked a succulent roast, but we never ate whole-wheat flour, saw a clove of garlic, or knew what a zucchini was. In our extended family we seemed to move from house to house eating one of three meals: ham, turkey or roast beef.

Stir in 4 C of whole wheat flour; beat 100 times with a whisk or wooden spoon. Continue adding flour, mostly whole wheat, but a little unbleached if you like, or a little rye, about 8 C more until the dough is no longer too sticky to knead.

I learned to spin wool there, and still store my knitting needles in a bag made from grey wool tufted with blond dog hair from Frances’s little mutt. I learned to live in my own cabin, use an outhouse, tend a garden, and concoct a meal out of strange ingredients: grains, oil, nuts, fresh herbs, and shellfish.

Sprinkle a clean surface with flour: a table, counter, or a scoured stump. Knead the bread, adding flour as necessary until the gluten starts to break down—usually after about 10 minutes—and the dough glistens. If you do this often enough, you’ll know when the texture is just right.

Frances lent me an old bike to ride across to the other side of the island where I tended bar, delivered mail, and waited tables through the damp winter, the spring storms and the swarms of summer tourists and residents. Until I was finally ready to leave. Much as I loved it, Hornby Island did not feel like home.

Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until double—about an hour. Punch down. Let rise again, if you have time. Punch down again and cut the ball into four quarters. Knead each quarter round and let them rest while you grease four good-sized loaf pans. Shape into loaves, place in the pans, cover and let rise about 20 minutes to half an hour.

Looking for something entirely different, I moved to Ottawa and Carleton University’s School of Journalism. Neither the city nor the terrain snagged my heart, and I lived for my visits to BC. After finishing school I moved north, first to Terrace and then to Smithers, planning to stay for a year. Like many others, I stayed, finding unexpected pleasure in living in a landscape a little tougher, a little more remote. I lost touch with Frances and Hornby Island. The island has, people tell me, changed immeasurably.

While the dough is still springy, heat the oven to 350 degrees F. and bake for about 30-40 minutes. When the loaves look ready, turn one out of its pan. The bottom should be lightly browned, and a tap on its side should sound hollow.

I learned how to live in a small community away from family. I learned how gathering food, growing food, preparing food and sharing food brings diverse people together. Shari Ulrich wrote a song about “the one before the one and only”—Hornby Island was that for me. Its community and, more particularly, Frances’s kitchen prepared me. It gave me the eyes to see what I needed to see. And the recipe for this good bread.

Turn the loaves out of the pans and let cool on a rack. But not too much. Slice one while it’s still warm, slather with butter and honey, and eat. Preferably in good company. Be sure to give at least one loaf away.