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Ian Brown Eats Canada

A day without lobster in Nova Scotia Add to ...

Walford père is 70 now, and on wife number five. Walford mère, John's birth mother, has been married four times herself. It was a complicated story, interrupted only by samples of mouth-wowing jellies.

Once a single room on a single acre, the store now sits on five acres brimming with lavender and rosemary and thyme and other fruits and flowers that go into the 100 jars of jelly and jam made in the small production kitchen each day. They make them in batches of five. A woman wearing a kerchief was in the garden, cutting thyme; another was cleaning basil in the kitchen. The jellies and jams go for $10 a jar.

There were sculptures in the garden, and a spiral maze made from flowers and plants, and a sign over a gate to nowhere that read: Nosce Te Ipsum, which means know thyself. After a near-collapse brought on by the surfeit of choice - basil wine? quince rosemary? orange chive? grape basil? - I bought a ginger lime thyme jelly and a cherry anise hyssop jam. "This is why Beverly's only been married once," Mr. Walford said as I made to leave, opening his arms, "because she spends all her time working in the garden."

The moment I stepped out among the neat rows of scented perennials, I remembered the jar of Tangled Garden jelly my wife gave my mother every Christmas before she died - a token of respect for the old girl's skill as a gardener and cook. She preferred the spicy ones.

Crustaceans and cash

I'm not saying I didn't think about lobster on my day without lobster. There's a lot to think about. There are 41 different lobster fishing zones in Atlantic Canada, and 10,000 licence-holding captains - a lot of stakeholders, not one of whom trusts many of the others. There's no quota on lobster, beyond a minimum allowable size and a few "intake rules" regarding breeders, and the annual catch has jumped like a wild salmon, from 44,000 metric tons in 2007 to 58,000 metric tons last year. That's a 30-per-cent increase. This year will be another record.

But revenues have dropped 20 per cent since 2006 - the inevitable result of an oversupply of lobster, a worldwide recession and a rising Canadian dollar. To make matters worse, Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada, told me one afternoon, "it's absolutely guaranteed when the price goes down that your average fisherman will try to catch more."

It's not that I dislike lobster, either. I adore it. I've eaten it all my life. I've trapped it for a summer job. Unlike most human beings, I actually know how to eat a lobster properly without asking for advice.

The shore price for lobster peaked at $6.50 a pound in 2002, and is now down to $4. That means one thing if you're a Newfoundlander lobstering with your wife for two or three months a year to land 2,000 pounds and round out your income. It means another if you're working Area 34 off the southern tip of Nova Scotia for six months in a million-dollar boat that goes out two days at a stretch and lands 12,000 pounds of lobster a day. Insiders will tell you that you can find cocaine at a moment's notice in towns with big lobster fleets - Digby, Yarmouth, even Sydney on Cape Breton.

The Alps to Acadie

The Swiss group was waiting down the road at Domaine de Grand Pré, the province's oldest winery. The words Nova Scotia and wine are still not commonly uttered together, with good reason: French vintners lived in Acadian settlements as far back as 1636, but they haven't been around for 225 years, since the Acadians were expelled. The number of fine Nova Scotian wines is small enough to prove it.

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