We’re celebrating our birthday throughout the month of October! After all, why keep it to just one day? (If you’d like to give yourself a gift in celebration, check out our Anniversary Sale.) To kick off the festivities, we thought we’d share an update from our company’s founder, Shirley Collins. Shirley’s now retired, but she keeps herself pretty busy cooking, raising chickens and slowing down on Whidbey Island in Washington State.
Life on Whidbey
I can’t seem to stop cooking. At my age, no one would be surprised if I hung up my apron, but I can’t see a beautiful cauliflower without thinking how creamy and full of flavor it will be when it comes to my table. So I continue cooking every day because I can and because I want to.
Eight years ago my husband and I moved to Whidbey Island, a mostly rural island about an hour-and-a-half-hour ferry ride north of Seattle. We arrived with vague but high-minded thoughts of planting a vegetable garden and living a healthy life full of sunny days sitting around waiting for the cauliflower to grow.
We found a little farm with a vegetable garden and some apple trees that seemed just right. That was December 2005; by the time we packed up our house in Seattle it was the end of May 2006, and I couldn’t leave the city fast enough. We were already two months behind with planting the vegetables, the deer were watching the raspberry canes, and the birds were hanging out over the blueberries waiting for their yearly feast to begin.
We knew nothing of the thousand things you need to know when you buy five acres in the country. French food, yes. French drains, definitely not. We lacked elementary country training and coasted along on the comfort of a lovely home that had been perfectly maintained by the previous owners and what little luck we had coming to us. Oh, and the invaluable help of a funny handyman who realized right away that we would probably be seeing a lot of him.
The following spring, we got chickens. We took a friend’s advice and got two dozen peeps of mixed breeds. He cautioned us to “get a lot and don’t name them.” We doted on each until the first went to an eagle and then we realized that if we did not want to die of chicken heartbreak we were going to have to toughen up. So now we have forty, all hens. We gather between one and two dozen eggs a day during winter and three dozen plus during spring and summer.
As for right now, all the counters in my kitchen and laundry room are covered by sheet pans full of drying sugared grapefruit peel. We are making what must be the largest holding of candied grapefruit rind extant. I am trying to reproduce my Grandmother’s recipe for this delectable treat which she packed in a whole sugared grapefruit half. First she peeled and sliced the fruit, then cooked and candied it. Then she cooked the shell of the grapefruit, candied that and packed the slices into the shell.
Watching her is one of my most vivid memories of growing up in South Texas, where the pink grapefruit grew. I remember the good parts, the years when there was always as much grapefruit as one wanted, and standing by her at the stove watching and waiting for the peel to boil. The finished product was beautiful: A whole glazed grapefruit hollowed out and stuffed with strips of candied fruit, a little candied leaf on the lid, too.
I learned a lot by watching her producing these gems. She was so careful with the process which was many steps of cooking, drying, and sugaring. People ordered them months ahead of the season and she always had orders for more than she could produce. She packed them in a little coil of waxed paper and handed them over, proud and happy to have made such a beautiful thing. Applause was in order.
I can never thank her enough for showing me her love of her task. Cooking is not only about physical things like chopping and stirring. It is also about dreaming of food, imagining flavors and remembering good times. It keeps us in touch with growing things. It feeds our souls, warms our hearts and is a way to put a smile on faces of people we love. –Shirley