Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach is set at the head of the Douglas Channel, in Kitamaat Village, “with its seven hundred Haisla people tucked in between the mountains and the ocean” (5).
“At the end of the village is our house,” explains narrator Lisamarie Hill. “Our kitchen looks out onto the water” (5).
The mountains and the ocean not only surround but also supply the Hill family’s kitchen with such riches as oolichan, made into grease; crabs, boiled; cockles and clams, put up into jars. Not to mention q°alh’m shoots with their taste of fresh green peas, ci’x°a or wild crabapples, Pipxs’m and sya’k°nalh blueberries, and soapberries or uh’s whipped into a foam.
Lisa is an indifferent cook in her home economics classes but a fast learner when it comes to cleaning and smoking sockeye salmon in the yard with her mother and grandmother.
It is a challenge for the literary cook to replicate any of the dishes in this novel. In some cases, the ingredients are endangered. Commercial fisheries for Oolichan, for instance, are closed. Or, they are particular to the west coast. Finally, they require a wealth of acquired knowledge and technique to forage for and prepare them.
Lisa had her grandmother, Ma-ma-moo. I had Mémère. So, in the interest of drawing from grandmotherly wisdom, I have made clams for you today. And I have steamed them in wine and served them with French fries because that was what my grandmother did.
Susan Musgrave’s A Taste of Haida Gwaii includes very helpful instructions on how to purge clams – with salt water if you please. Now I can successfully avoid the debacle that is sandy clam chowder.
And this, some few minutes after cooking . . .
Robinson, Eden. Monkey Beach. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2001.