I met Diane last year at a BBGA’s baking class in Seattle and was instantly fascinated by what she told me: she lives on a farm outside Victoria on Vancouver Island, makes yogurt and cheese from the milk of her one cow and several goats and bakes bread year-round on Friday nights to sell at the nearby farmstand on Saturdays. She also grows many of the vegetables they eat at the farm (by “they” I mean her partner Ed who holds a full-time job as well and the occasional “wwoofer” who helps with the chores in exchange for room and board). She raises hens and sells their eggs. She also raises chickens for eating. What she cannot raise or grow, she likes to trade or swap for with another farmer or artisan so that she always knows where their food comes from. One eats very well at Diane’s table (she is an excellent cook) as we found out when she kindly invited us to come and visit.
Diane with Mark and Sharon Sinclair at the Back Home Bakery
(photo courtesy of Mark Sinclair, originally posted here)
Watching Diane at work, I was amazed to see -again because the opposite has been hammered in my brain by various books and instructors- that she never checks the temperature of anything (except her oven). She says: “What’s the point? It is what it is. I have no control over it”. She relies on her experience to judge when a dough is ready to be shaped or baked. As a baker, she considers herself lucky to be working in an old farmhouse (it was built in 1898) where the kitchen is always warm but where the other rooms are nice and cool, sometimes even cold. In the winter it is pretty easy: Fermentation and proofing both take place at a cool temperature in the dining room (which seldom gets used) and go on for twelve hours each. There is no need to get up in the middle of the night to bake. In summers, things get a bit hairier and she does get up very early!
Diane has been baking seriously for six years and selling her bread for five. She comes from a long tradition of baking women. Her maternal grandmother -who was German- always baked bread, mostly rye, and never let bread go to waste. Whatever wasn’t eaten got ground up and incorporated in the next batch of dough (I really love that idea). Her paternal grandmother hailed from Czechoslovakia and was also into baking, but mostly cakes and sweet pastries. I have seen Diane whip up a spongecake for guests she was expecting in the afternoon and, believe me, a fairy with a magic wand couldn’t have done it more effortlessly (at least that the way it looked like!). She says she uses less fat and sugar than her grandma did. Her cake certainly felt as light as the tip of an angel’s wing. And even though she does not make cakes for sale, she does bake and sell sweet breads and pastries (stollen, hot cross buns, poppy seed brioches, etc.) for specific holidays.
As a community activity planner, she plays an essential role in helping develop affordable and accessible programs for all citizens of the district: she meets with community associations to determine the kind of support they need and the best way to provide it; she puts them in touch with the right people; she spearheads projects such as garden-plots for seniors who love to garden but find it too physically demanding to do it on their own or community kitchens for at-risk people who have stopped cooking for themselves. When these activities involve the growing and/or the cooking and the sharing of food, so much the better. Diane is convinced that food is part of who we are and that eating together is a good way of building not only families but also communities. Inspiring others to cook is one of her great joys. Her oldest son bakes his own bread with a starter he made himself from scratch and that makes her happy although she says she would like it even better if he asked her for advice from time to time!
As a goat raiser, she attends meetings and shows (she was the president of Vancouver Island Goat Association for years) and even traveled once as far at Nashville for a goat conference where she got to meet like-minded people from all over Canada.
As a farmer, she grows her own vegetables and greens (with her partner Ed, she even assembled her own greenhouse, a task which she definitely doesn’t recommend as a relationship booster!), raises chickens and hens as well as a Jersey cow and several goats. She is not in the least sentimental about her animals: they are not raised as pets and while she acknowledges the strength of her connection to them, she doesn’t romanticize it or shed tears when they are sold for meat. But they have the best possible existence on the farm: she patiently bottle-feeds the baby goats when the mothers prove incompetent (which apparently happens more often that you’d think) and puts sweaters on them when the nights are cold; her cow has the run of the meadow and so do the goats; Zeva, the Sarplaninac livestock guardian dog, gets walked every day, rain or shine, even though she roams the grounds freely day and night, and everybody eats very well (including the chickens who get not only grain but all the table scraps and, ever hopeful, flock to the fence the minute anybody appears in the kitchen doorway).