Dear readers and tea lovers everywhere,
Welcome to a regular feature of our blog,
‘Afternoon tea with ….
people of note’….
Today, we’re taking afternoon tea with Pat Crocker, Culinary Herbalist. Pat coined the term Culinary Herbalist to explain succinctly her love of herbs, food, and the goodness that comes out of the earth.She is one of Canada’s best-known grower, photographer, teacher, and writer about food and herbs. Pat’s most recent cookbook is Coconut 24/7. More than recipes, it’s the most complete book about coconut you’ll find – starting with a little health background to everything you want to know about the coconut and its multiple forms – milk, cream, sugar, flour, oil and vinegar – yes coconut vinegar – who knew? Moreover, the ingredients in this cookbook are all natural; nothing is processed; nothing is refined – only natural goodness.
Pat has a another cookbook, co-authored with Nettie Cronish, called Flex Appeal, which will be out next month.
Our tea this afternoon is Pat’s personal blend of bergamot, sweet cicely, rosemary and additional flavours from her herb garden. The tea steeps for a fulsome five minutes to allow the various aromas to co-mingle. Her Ladyship (that would be me!) is pouring: two exquisite antique teacups are filled and our conversation begins.
How did your affection for the earth and her herbal bounty begin?
I knew from the age of 13 that I was going to be a home economist. I became a high school home ec teacher and this led me to a degree in Food, Nutrition, Consumer and Family Studies.
What triggered the transition from teacher to Culinary Herbalist?
All the while I was teaching high school, I was very involved with home economists and with the business of home ec. I met many independent home economists and there came a time when I was ready for a change. So I took a one-year leave of absence from teaching and became a hands-on, roll-up my sleeves, food freelancer. I did some very interesting things during the sabbatical – I developed recipes, did food photography, wrote about food.
But I did not become a Culinary Herbalist right away.
What came next?
Well, I founded and ran Crocker International Communications Inc. and specialized in food and consumer accounts.
You sold you very successful agency and moved the country. Why?
It was a lifestyle change and with the change of lifestyle came a change in focus – this tends to happen when you get married and have a baby! My husband and I moved to the country and I started to look for meaningful home occupations.
So that was your transition to Culinary Herbalist?
It was a way to reinvent myself while staying close to my home ec roots. I researched herbs, went to a lot of workshops, volunteered, and became president of the Toronto Herbalists.
You also became a ‘somebody’ in the herbalist universe!
I am past president of the Ontario Herbalists’ Association and both the Toronto and the Ontario Home Economics Associations. I am also active in the Herb Society of America, the International Herb Association, and several other ‘good food’ organizations.
Why did you coin the term Culinary Herbalist?
Back then, I quickly realized herbs were noted mostly for medicinal benefits. I was promoting herbs for more than well-being. Cooking with herbs, enhancing the flavour of food with herbs was pretty revolutionary! In the 1980’s, cooking with herbs was way ahead of the curve.
You have used your knowledge as a Culinary Herbalist to do more than grow and cook with herbs.
Yes; cookbooks were a natural extension (Pat has 15 cookbooks to her credit); I also led learning herbs walks; taught and I started to photograph herbs and that grew into photographing gardens. I still write and teach.
The first book you published has just been re-released.
Yes, the Healing Herbs Cookbook has just been re-published. I am delighted to see a new generation of young people become keen on herbs. I believe young people must discover for themselves the goodness of herbs.
How do you celebrate big moments?
For the major holidays of the year, I love to prepare dishes from scratch and then have a celebratory meal with family and friends.
How do you like to spend a summer day?
In the garden, particularly in my own herb garden which I’ve planted in the shape of the letter P.
If I could meet any historic character, who would it be?
Your fondest childhood memory?
Making brownies alone.
Your best ever adventure?
It would have to be the spice market in Istanbul.
Best lesson you’ve taken from a mistake?
Not to over use tarragon – I absolutely ruined a chicken Kiev.
Best surprise you’ve ever had?
The wonder of my daughter; and the fact she can identify all herbs by taste.
The most awe-inspiring place you’ve ever visited?
I’m just back from the Grand Canyon with my daughter. You can’t help but be inspired by the Grand Canyon.
What is you style inspiration?
My inner eye; and because I am a cook, I can photograph herbs and gardens from a totally different perspective.
Your favourite painter?
I would say all the Impressionist, and my husband, Gary McLaughlin, is an illustrator and fine artist.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
I was in England last year, and I was advised the driver always sits (drives) in the middle in the road!
Quickest mood boost?
A mug of mint tea.
What is you workout routine?
We rescued a puppy, so walking an hour a day.
Favourite Canadian city?
Two, actually – Toronto and Vancouver.
We’ve sipped a second cup of tea, our conversation is closing and Pat’s off to tend her garden.
We love macaroons. Never realized how easy they are to prepare, and made with coconut sugar, wholesome. Watch for these macaroons in our fall afternoon tea menus. You will find this recipe on page 189 of Coconut 24/7.
Pat Crocker’s Macaroons
2 egg whites
1/2 cup coconut sugar crystals
2 cups medium grated coconut, fresh or dried
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F; line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a bowl, using a fork, beat the egg whites for about 20 seconds or until frothy. Beat in the coconut sugar crystals.
Stir in the grated coconut, one cup at a time, mixing with the fork in between batches to make sure there are no dry spots in the mixture.
Using a tablespoon and pressing each scoop against the side of the bowl to compact it, drop mounds of coconut batter onto the prepared baking sheet; flatten slightly with the fork.
Bake for 10 to minutes or until the base of the macaroons is golden; transfer to cooling rack and cool.