Eric Akis: This one’s for you, Gary Hynes

Late owner/publisher of Victoria's Eat magazine was a champion of Nova Scotia's hodge podge summer dish

Eric Akis

When things have been the same for a long while, you’re in denial when they change. That feeling happened to me late last month when visiting Moss Street Market.

When arriving, I wondered if I might see my friend Gary Hynes there, as I sometimes would on a summer Saturday. Then reality hit and I knew I would not find him happily shopping for produce, because he had passed away July 4, after battling a serious illness.

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At that moment I felt great sadness. But soon after, teary, I felt happy to have known a man who achieved a lot and did it with style, grace and a whole lot of Canadian humility.

For 19 years, Gary was the owner/publisher of Victoria’s Eat magazine, which has a large and loyal following and covers the Island’s food and drink scene and more. He prepared himself for that role by having past careers in music and in restaurants, in places such as Montreal and Toronto, and by garnering extensive wine knowledge along the way.

For a number of years, he also owned the award-winning Cooper’s Inn and Restaurant in Shelburne, Nova Scotia. It was a place where Gary cooked, and his co-owner wife, Cynthia, ran the front of house. In 1994, the couple moved to Victoria. And not long after, Gary obtained a journalism diploma from Camosun College.

During a recent and warm discussion at my home with their son, Colin, I learned that on some of those July days I would see Gary at the market, it’s likely he was looking for ingredients to make one of his favourite dishes, hodge podge.

Hodge podge can mean a combination of any number of things, but in Nova Scotia kitchens, where Gary learned to make it, it refers to a traditional, simple, but tasty, summer vegetable dish served with butter and cream (and/or milk).

“As far back as I can remember, he would make it once or twice a summer, when the first of season vegetables came out. It’s something that can be easily made with what’s at hand,” Colin said.

Colin said his dad never used a recipe when making it.

“He was a self-taught, by-feel cook. But a few years ago, [my wife] Sue and I started asking him to write down some recipes that he was doing, the ones he — and we — really liked,” Colin said.

Gary obliged and wrote down his way of making hodge podge, which, in Nova Scotia, can vary from cook to cook. His method involves separately boiling a range of vegetables until just tender, and then quickly cooling them. When ready to serve the dish, the vegetables are warmed in the water they were cooked in, now a vegetable-flavoured stock, that he flavoured with cream, butter, salt and lots of pepper.

When Colin arrived for our chat, he found me preparing Gary’s hodge podge and said it looked right; it had the right balance between the colour of the cream and vegetables.

“Once everything gets that really vibrant look to it, that’s when Dad would pull it off the stove,” Colin said.

Colin said his dad would elegantly serve the hodge podge mounded, in attractive, large bowls.

“You would kind of baste the vegetables as you went along, eating them with the delicious liquid that would pool in the bottom of bowl,” Colin said.

Colin said that, although his dad did write down his recipe for hodge podge, he would still switch things up and make it differently each time depending on what vegetables looked good at the market. Colin also added that he thinks the dish is a metaphor for how he liked to run the magazine.

“He did Eat very much like he made hodge podge. There was structure to it, but you can really play with in that structure,” Colin said. “I think that is why he really liked the dish, because it jived with his personality, the way he liked to be.”

One of the ways Gary Hynes liked to be was to let other people, writers and photographers, shine and show their talent in Eat magazine, while he stood back, out of the spotlight.

His former life as a musician played a role in that.

“He really enjoyed being the conductor, the rhythm section, keeping everyone together, that is when he was happiest.” Colin said. “He meant a lot to a lot of people. He was the kind of person who believed in giving people chances, giving people that lift they needed to get started, even when they had not proven themselves yet.”

Gary Hynes’s support of and contribution to the B.C. culinary world has been immense. You get a true sense of that when you read the many lovely comments people have left on the Eat magazine Facebook page facebook.com/EATmagazine.

I’m really going to miss seeing my friend at the market. But now, thanks to his son Colin sharing his hodge podge recipe, I’ll be able to fondly remember him every summer when I make a beautiful batch of it, Gary Hynes-style.

Note: Gary Hynes will continue his lifelong goal of helping others become the best they can be in culinary and music disciplines through scholarships provided by The Gary Hynes Foundation. Donations can be made at vancouverfoundation.ca/Hynes.

Gary Hynes-style Nova Scotia Hodge Podge

Colin Hynes shared his dad’s method for making this traditional Nova Scotia summer vegetable dish.

Gary Hynes would switch up the ingredients used, depending on what vegetables were available at the market. You can do the same when making this recipe.

Makes: four generous servings

1 large carrot, halved lengthwise, and then sliced, widthwise (see Note 1)

12 whole, baby new potatoes, or 6 small white potatoes, halved or quartered

4 to 6 small summer turnips, halved lengthwise (see Note 2)

150 grams green beans, trimmed

1 medium green bell pepper, halved, seeded and sliced

2 medium patty pan squash (about 3 inches wide), each cut into 6 wedges

12 small broccoli florets

18 sugar snap peas, trimmed, or to taste

1/2 cup shelled fresh green peas

• fresh chanterelle mushrooms (if available), to taste

1 cup whipping cream

2 to 3 Tbsp butter, or to taste

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a pot on top of the stove bring some water to the boil, enough to just cover a couple of handfuls of vegetables (see note from Eric Akis).

Start with the carrots and boil until just tender. Remove with a slotted spoon and put them in an ice bath to stop them cooking and to retain their colour. Remove from the ice bath when cooled and set aside. Keep the water in the pot boiling continuously.

Repeat with the remaining vegetables in the order of the ingredients listed above (do not throw out the water with each vegetable).

When all the vegetables have been cooked, reduce the water (now a vegetable stock) to one cup. Add the cream and butter; season with salt and pepper. Put the vegetables in the pot and heat until warm. Serve with thick slabs of homemade brown bread.

Note 1: Small whole carrots, with a bit of their green tops still attached, and cut in half lengthwise, could replace the large carrot called for in this recipe.

Note 2: Summer turnips are small, thin-skinned, young turnips sold in small bunches at farm markets.

Note from Eric Akis: When I made this recipe for today’s column, I used a nine-inch wide, six-inch tall pot, filled it two thirds with water, and brought that to a boil to cook the vegetables. If desired, you could use a wider skillet to heat up the cream and butter, and then add the cooked, cold vegetables to it and warm them through.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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