Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Cape Breton: A Forager Finds Home

As John Lennon wrote in his song about his son, "life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." In Earlene Busch's case, it happened when she ordered a curly maple bedroom set made in Cape Breton by a local craftsman.

An inveterate forager and Colorado native, she flew out to pick up her purchase and fell in love with the island's beauty and the profusion of native plants and mushrooms she found while hiking its woods. Her decision to move lock, stock and bedroom set to the island was further reinforced by her disgust at the political turn in the States when Newt Gingrich and the Republicans swept into power in the mid-90s.

After looking around for land, she came across a 100-acre property overlooking the North River and St. Anne's Harbour that had woods loaded with native mushrooms as well as a spring that could supply water. On the crest of the hill she built an inn modeled on a traditional Cape Breton barn and used wood salvaged from an original barn on the property, naming it the Chanterelle Inn after her favorite mushrooms.

Our room was at the top of the stairs on the second floor, a large, comfy, wood-lined room with Oriental carpets, a queen bed and private bath with a big window looking out over green hillsides. We took a few minutes to clean up and went down to the big screened-in dining deck to have a glass of local wine and unwind before dinner.

As you might expect, Earlene is dedicated to local foods, especially those she forages herself, and she seeks out organic growers on the island to supply her restaurant. Dinner started with a salad of roasted beets and island blueberries, a combination that I'd never had before. The robust sweetness of the beets was perfectly offset by the intense flavor of the local berries that had been brought in by a friend of Earlene's that morning.

Next was a to-die-for creamy wild mushroom and fiddlehead soup, followed by an applewood-smoked chicken with fresh corn on the cob and sautéed garden greens. The local shiraz poured with it was terrific, and sitting on the deck made us feel like we were having a private picnic.

Hummingbirds were buzzing around having their breakfast as we sat down for ours the next morning. Strong coffee, with a spread that included Earlene's homemade granola with island cranberries and cream, soft-boiled eggs, toast and an apple compote made from trees on the property gave me plenty to load up on before heading out on a kayaking trip with North River Kayak Tours that morning, to be followed by a mushroom foraging expedition with Earlene that afternoon.

After paddling the pristine waters of the North River estuary for a couple of hours with a diverse group from Britain, Japan, Toronto and the States, I came back ready for a good tramp in the woods. And Earlene knows her woods like the back of her hand: this time of year meant going to the best spots for chanterelles, which grow in the sphagnum moss under spruce trees, unlike our Northwest chanties that prefer the duff beneath Doug fir. She also pointed out the various amanitas and other outliers that popped up randomly on our walk, and the ones she couldn't quite identify she took back to look up later.

It was tough to tear ourselves away after that, but the all-powerful itinerary said we must…I would have happily stayed for days, talking politics and walking the hills with Earlene.

Read the other posts in this series: Arriving in Nova Scotia, The View, Redux, Talk about Good Stuff! and Stirrings of an Artisan Economy.

No comments: