Appetite at Large: Copying the Oldtimers

Everything tastes better at Pete and Mary’s. Beets have bite, tomatoes ooze with tart juice, and the chocolate cake is moist and thick with flavour.

“It’s because of our oven,” Mary Beattie says modestly, gesturing to the handsome, old-fashioned wood-burning oven that sits in the midst of their sun-drenched cabin.

But I know better. Everything tastes better at Pete and Mary’s not just because of the oven, not just because Mary is a skilled cook, and not just because most of their ingredients are either foraged, grown, or hunted locally.

It is because when you combine these three factors, flavour is potent and expertly handled. And most importantly, everything tastes better when you’re having a good time.

How I wish Pete and Mary’s were a local mom-and-pop restaurant I could recommend to you.

Everything tastes better when you’re having a good time PHOTO: Katie Zydbel

If it were, I could be a regular customer, dropping in daily, and all my friends could taste what I mean when I say there is something indulgently delightful (sweet, sour, and somehow tanniny, like an earthy Malbec) about Mary’s blackcurrant cordial.

But alas, it’s no café—just their home kitchen that friends like me have the great fortune to be invited into occasionally.

Pete and Mary Beattie have spent decades honing the skills of comfortable Yukon survival. For many years they made their home in the bush, living off the land with no vehicle and no road to connect them to civilization.

After their daughter was born, they moved to a rustic house in Mayo, residing there until her Grade 10 class, with a roll call of two, tipped the scale in favour of the more populous metropolis of Whitehorse. This was in 1989.

Years of spartan living, combatting the elements and providing for themselves in wild places, have given the Beatties an encyclopedic knowledge of the land and how to live off it.

When speaking with them, I often find myself wishing the conversation could be recorded so that I could consult it later as a reference guide.

They know how to hang, smoke and butcher a moose so that it can feed you for a year. They know how to coax tomato plants into abundance and raise a lush, productive garden (“the whole secret to gardening is manure,” Mary attests).

They know the most economical time to stock up on bulk supplies and when to hunt wild game so that it tastes its most flavourful.

More than knowing how to survive, though, they truly know how to thrive.

Pete and Mary regularly throw musical potluck jubilees and Mary’s artwork explodes with vivid coloursand scenes that depict joie de vivre in the daily work and play of life.

Speaking with them is a pleasure because of their colourful stories flavoured with practical know-how.

Another piece of advice they gave: play outside.

“You need sunshine psychologically, even for two and a half hours in December,” says Mary.

“All the hippies wanted to do new, ground-breaking things,” adds Pete, reflecting on their early days in the Yukon.

But he and Mary tried a different tack; why not emulate what Yukoners had been doing for years to eat, drink, and live well for years?

“Just copy the oldtimers,” Pete tells me.

Considering the lunch of mouth-watering preserves, tender moose burgers, and luscious chocolate cake, as well as the gusto and joy of the company, I think I will do just that.

Katie Zdybel is a teacher and writer whose articles have appeared in numerous print and online publications.

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