Of Islands and Vegetable Peelers
It took a visit to British Columbia to find just the right one
I love my kitchen tools, and I hate when I misplace them. This happens after parties and occasionally after cooking classes, either here at the house or if I’ve taken my equipment to teach a class offsite.
I had a favorite vegetable peeler I bought when I lived in Los Angeles. It looked surprisingly like the old-fashioned potato peelers everyone used to have, long and stainless steel, but it differed in that it had a well-designed, fatter handle, which fit nicely in one’s palm. The blade was sharp, floating lightly above the vegetables you were peeling, taking just a thin bit of potato or carrot skin. You wouldn’t use this one to peel something heavy, like a butternut squash. This was a delicate, refined peeler.
I lost it at a cooking class I taught on a local farm, and it was never to be found again. What’s more, I couldn’t find a replacement. Not at any cookware stores in Santa Barbara, nor any place I visited; not at Surfas in Los Angeles, or in New York City, or at the enormous Sur La Table store when I visited Seattle.
A couple of summers ago Jim and I visited Salt Spring Island in British Columbia. This is a favorite destination, and we try to get up there every couple of years. We love the fresh air, the northwest climate, the friendly people, the fact that there are no stop lights on the island; we love eating the farm produce, and the best seafood from the local fish market (ask for the salmon candy), and we love visiting our friends Michael Ableman and Jeanne-Marie Herman who own Foxglove Farm where we stay. We hike, cook, kayak, and commune with Douglas fir, the Pacific Ocean, and wildlife.
While Salt Spring Island is a tiny place, its population a mere 10,000 people, you can find things on Salt Spring Island that are hard to find in other places. Ten years ago, before gluten-free and wheat-alternative baked goods like spelt bread were commonplace everywhere, you could find them on Salt Spring. Maybe Canadians are just hip, but I think Salt Spring Islanders are a special breed – ahead of their time.
Shopping at Salt Spring is fun, like going back in time and visiting an alternate universe. At Mouat’s, the old-timey houseware/hardware store, I found a brand-new version of the clothesline my Canadian Grandma used to have, the kind with a wheel that spins out the clothesline high above the ground.
The used-book store, Black Sheep Books, has treasured books I read as a child, and books I’ve never heard of that sound fascinating. The new-book store, Salt Spring Books, has Canadian fiction and cookbooks unlike anything at home – because the Canadian publishing industry publishes Canadian books by Canadian authors! You’d think Canada would be a lot like the US, but it’s not; it’s like Canada. They may speak English, (although it does sound a bit distinct – eh?), but you are definitely in a different country up there.
The island is also famous for its artists and craftspeople, and many artists have home studios where you can visit and purchase lovely handmade things, like baskets, jewelry, handmade tablecloths and pottery.
You’re packing your bags already, right?
So one day while island shopping, I walk into a kitchen store next to the ice cream parlor in Ganges, the main town on the island. The owner says hello, and then I say hello, and because I always ask this in every kitchen store I enter, I say, “I’m looking for a certain kind of peeler I used to have, and I can’t find it anywhere…”
“I have a fabulous peeler,” she says, leading me a couple of aisles over. “It’s from Sweden,” she adds.
Dear readers, it is my peeler. Who knew it was Swedish? The same fat, comfortable handle. The same lightweight, sharp floating blade, which does not take off too much of the peel.
My peeler, at long-last.
I am elated, and buy three of them: one for me, one for my best friend, Kim, a caterer, and one for the future. And since I’ve found the same peeler online, you can buy one too: you can get yours from the Vermont Country Store for 9.95. Athough it would be worth it to make a trip to Salt Spring Island and buy yours in person.