What is it about lighthouses that captivates so many of us? I didn’t even know how crazy I was about lighthouses until one year I was going up the California coast with my sister and her husband, to visit their oldest son and his wife in Vallejo, stationed near San Francisco. Whenever Becky or I spotted a lighthouse we went bonkers over it (much to her husband’s chagrin and dismay) although I think there was only one, the lighthouse in Monterey Bay, south of San Francisco, that we were able to visit and explore. This was sometime in the 1980s. From then on, Becky and I became devout lighthouse fans.
Did you know there are about a thousand lighthouses in the United States? Not to mention the hundreds of lighthouses throughout the entire world (13,700 according to the lighthouse directory). Some are open to visitors; some have been privately purchased and lived in—presumably by others just as gaga over lighthouses as we are. Some are in ruins and greatly in need of restoration, such as the Point Abino Lighthouse on Lake Erie, Ontario, established in 1917. My girlfriend Sharon took me there when I visited her in 2009 at her home in Niagara Falls, Ontario. You can reserve tickets to visit the Point Abino lighthouse and then a short tram takes visitors through a private road to reach the lighthouse. They are working on raising money to restore the lighthouse which looks quite majestic from the outside but is damp and mostly in ruins inside. Visitors cannot go over the private road unless on the tram.
Well, getting back to that trip up the west coast with my sister and her husband–that car trip was the “aha!” moment for my sister and me. We began to visit lighthouses whenever and wherever possible and both of us began collecting lighthouse “stuff”—some of my lighthouse things are well-made sculptures made by companies such as Danbury Mint. I have a cherished collection of lighthouse ornaments that fill a 4-foot high tree at Christmas, and a large collection of light house postcards and photographs that need to be sorted and mounted but aren’t yet. I was taking photography classes at that time, so photographing the lighthouses I was able to visit became a new hobby. I am most fond of the B&W photographs of the lighthouse on Monterey Bay peninsula that Bob and I visited one year; some of these are framed and on a wall in my bedroom. Another favorite was the lighthouse down in San Diego, Old Point Loma lighthouse, that I photographed my brother Jim walking towards the structure, away from me, when he and I visited the lighthouse one year. I entered the photograph in a Light House society contest – and did not win anything, but a few years later found my lighthouse photograph in an issue of the Light House society. I wrote to complain and was told to prove it was mine. I sent them a copy of the proof sheet on which it appeared and they acknowledged that it was my photograph and they would not use it again without giving me credit for it. I didn’t object to its being printed – I just wanted credit for it. I have that one framed and on my wall as well – in addition, my younger sister did a pencil drawing of that photograph, which is also now framed and on the wall.
Well, this is how I got into lighthouses. The love, the sudden passion for something like a lighthouse was baffling to both my older sister and me. We were both born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio where the largest body of water is the Ohio River working its way south. In turn, our lighthouse photographs piqued our Aunt Dolly’s interest and she, an artist, began painting them after we gave her a lot of our lighthouse photographs. Consequently, I have a number of her lighthouse paintings on my walls.
The Lighthouse Directory provides information and links for more than 15,900 of the world’s lighthouses. This website keeps lighthouse fans informed of important facts, such as the Canadian coast Guard is planning to transfer thirty four Prince Edward Island lighthouses to community groups—and Virginia’s Wolf Trap Lighthouse is for sale for “only” $249, 500, while in Aquinnah, Massachusetts, voters have voted to acquire the endangered Gay Head Lighthouse—and a new LED light has been installed in my beloved Point Loma Light in San Diego, California.
I’ll tell you a curious story; one year my sister Becky and I were in Michigan visiting our mother who was in a nursing home, and we decided to try to see as many lighthouses as possible, while driving around Lake Michigan. I had a map showing the general location of the sites. According to one lighthouse historian, there were as many as 247 lighthouses in Michigan, but now less than 100 are in good condition. My information was sketchy—we didn’t know exactly where many of the lighthouses were located, and we didn’t know which ones were open to the public or were privately owned. But off we went, driving around Lake Michigan. I think we managed to see seven or eight lighthouses. Some were really off the beaten path—but here’s the curiosity – no matter how far off the main road, no matter what the weather (it was raining buckets when we found Point Betsie) – when we finally found the elusive lighthouse – there were always cars parked here and there and tourists busy taking pictures of the lighthouse. We laughed a lot about this (and probably should have asked people where they were headed next and did they know how to find it?).
And then, when we reached Holland, Michigan, and called our brother Jim, to tell him we would be back at his place the next day, he decided to drive over and meet us. Well, we didn’t know exactly where Big Red, the Holland lighthouse, was located. So we asked three or four employees in the restaurant we visited for breakfast, if they knew how to get to Big Red. No one knew. We laughed uproariously over this. One employee was new to the area. Another wasn’t interested. And so on. Jim took the wheel and we drove around until we found Big Red. I thought of that roadtrip as the Where’s Waldo of Lighthouses.
A thought occurred to me when I began typing this—I think the first time I gave some serious thought to lighthouses as being structures in which someone might actually live was when I first read CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN many decades ago. Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, two of the twelve Gilbreth children, wrote Cheaper by the Dozen and the sequel BELLES ON THEIR TOES; the family packed up and went to the coast each summer–where they owned and occupied an old lighthouse.
Well, long before I started collecting lighthouses, I became interested in cookie jars and cookbooks. I think of it as a twofer if you collect cookie jars and find cookie jars shaped like lighthouses, or you collect cookbooks and find cookbooks dedicated to one or more lighthouses. How cool is that?
This is what I have been working my way up to announcing – cookbooks about lighthouses.
Books about lighthouses are plentiful, now. (Not so much years ago), but it seems like interest in lighthouses has grown by leaps and bounds. If I have any disappointment in lighthouse books, it’s that so many of them are coffee-table size which makes it a bit difficult for someone like me to write about each one with the limited space on my computer desk.
What has surprised me most are the cookbooks with a lighthouse theme. So, I would like to share a few of these with you. Then, perhaps in a separate post, I can delve into books about the lighthouses I have books about.
One of the first that came to my attention is THE LIGHTHOUSE COOKBOOK by Anita Stewart. This book was published in 1988 by Harbour Publishing Co LTD, in British Columbia. The dedication page offers “For all the families who keep British Columbia’s lights shining. And for my own, who kept the home fires burning”.
The introduction to THE LIGHTHOUSE COOKBOOK is illuminating in more ways than one. Ms. Stewart writes “…This book offers a glimpse of a Canadian way of life and its foodways which, despite the protesting chores, may eventually be lost. Although the ‘demanning’ process has been stalled, it has not been stopped altogether. Many of the lights are going, some in this book are gone.
The lightstations of British Columbia are unique to North America. With the exceptions of a few lights protecting the rugged coast of Newfoundland, all the others across the nation are situated so that the keepers drive to them, work their shift and return home to their families. The Americans have automated all their lights so that the role of the keepers has been reduced to mainly grass-cutting chores…”
Stewart explains, “In September, 1986, I was on a assignment for Canadian Living at Steveston’s Fisherman’s Market. Among the crowds of the busy fishing dock, I met Mike Glass, a photographer from Saltspring Island who was there to take location shots….”
Anita and the photographer hit it off right away. They talked about Canada and Mike Glass told her he was about to set off on a nation-wide photographic odyssey and she was drugged by the beauty of the Pacific coast. It was during that brief meeting that he told her the saga of the lightkeepers, and how, at that moment, they were fighting for their existence. Anita says without Mike this book would never have been written.
In May, 1987, Anita was to board CCGS (George R. Pearkes) or so she thought. Her baggage did! Anita was shuttled to the helicopter pad where a veteran chopped pilot and his engineer were waiting. They were to visit Race Rocks before landing on the ship. “Landing on the ships??” she exclaims. She says it’s hard to act cool when you’ve never flown over the ocean at less than 20,000 feet much less never had the dubious privilege of flying in a helicopter. “But we survived,” she writes, “dipsey-doodling above Race and finally without a shiver, onto the deck of the Pearkes while she pounded through swells and hobby-horsed on their crests….” She says it was her first hair-raising encounter with the Coast Guard and it wouldn’t be her last. Describing herself as “a meek, mild mannered housewife” she became adept at swinging over the ride of a rolling icebreaker, down rope ladders and onto rollercoasting work boats.
Anita says it was during that trip, which circumnavigated Vancouver Island, and later that year on the CCGS Martha L. Black in the northern district of Prince Rupert, that she visited the last of the twenty-eight lightstations (sic) that are represented in this book. She landed on most of the southern stations via Messerschmidt helicopter. In the north she made the trips ashore in a work boat that was pushing a 17,000 liter fuel barge or in a gutsy little zodiac. “Wearing a bright orange survival suit,” she writes, “and rubber boots that always seemed to gurgle with sea water, I was welcomed with open arms, steaming mugs of coffee and plates of cookies, squares and cakes. Never in all my travels as a foodie, have I encountered such a consistently excellent group of cooks as on the lightstations of British Columbia…”
She explains that once a month food arrives. “Sometimes it’s dropped by helicopter, but most often it is loaded into deep work boats and sloshed ashore by the crew. Winches and pulleys help to sling the monthly supplies, sometimes sodden, onto the cement pads where, as quickly as possible, they are stored safely away. The grocery bills range from $400 to $700 per month and most stations have a storeroom that has a few months’ supplies ahead, in case of emergency. Flour and many other staples are purchased from the wholesaler in bulk, to be dumped into big plastic storage buckets.
With limited freezer space—indeed, freezers have only been available for the past twenty years or so—the families of the lights have to be pioneers in the truest sense. They are left to their own devices. And those who are resourceful survive in a wonderful way—freshly baked breads, home-grown vegetables, the ultimate in just-harvested shellfish, wild game, and an incomparable chance to touch the earth…”
Stewart goes onto say that lightkeeping is much, much more and provides examples from lightkeepers she became acquainted with. “Lightkeeping,” she writes, “is the commitment to build a good life—the magnificent stone greenhouse at Ivory Island, a microphone listening for the undersea singing of whales at Boat Bluff. It’s the peregrine falcons of Langara and the hummingbirds of Scarlett Point. All of which is completely new to me and demonstrates how much there is to learn about light houses and how little I know. Stewart adds that it’s also a life of danger and darkness, lost at sea bulletins and tsunami warnings. She warns that weeks creep by without a break from the relentless pounding of rain and the winter surf. Gale follows hard on gale. The skies ooze, she writes. Fishing boats go down, search and rescue operations begin. Coast Guard and keepers work together to pull survivors to shore, salvage the wrecks and constantly monitor the area for other incidents.
Anita concludes the Introduction by writing, “I hope my book brings to you, the reader, a sense of what lightkeeping today is all about Here is one last image: at Estevan, the sweeping buttresses of the magnificent lighthouse, the most beautiful on the coast, stood between me and the blood-red sunset streaking the late spring sky. Gardens of sturdy, gem-like flowers spread at my feet. The rocky short seemed to be lovingly stretched by the sea breezes for miles in both directions. My hair blew in the winds of the beautiful cool evening. The clean scent of the ocean filled my lungs. But the reverie was broken by a conversation about the washed-in wreckage that had been seen down on the rocky beach, what boat the battered hull belonged to and when it might have gone down…”
Lightkeeping”, she finishes, “is a life of contrast, one of utter extremes.”
The book begins with a chapter of HEART-WARMING SOUPS AND BEVERAGES illustrated with a drawing of Point Atkinson. This chapter begins with a recipe for Lighthouse Borsch, provided by Elaine and Donald Graham of Point Atkinson. There is a brief profile of the Grahams in which Anita Stewart writes, “Although the Grahams hardly fit into the ‘isolate lightkeepers’ profile—their children attend school in West Vancouver and Point Atkinson is close to much of the best shopping in Canada—they were keepers for a number of years at both Lucy and Bonilla Islands.
They are perhaps best known for their role in fighting the automation of BC’s lightstations and for Donald’s two excellent histories of lightkeeping in British Columbia, KEEPERS OF THE LIGHT and LIGHTS OF THE INSIDE PASSAGE*. Those two volumes were my nightly reading aboard both the George R. Pearkes and the Martha L. Black.
When they left Regina and headed for British Columbia, on their way to a posting in Central America that never did materialize, they took with them the recipes of Ukrainian prairie cooks. This soup recipe was ‘invaluable during the winter months on lighthouses because root vegetables store so well.” (The recipe for Lighthouse Borsch follows.
*I have a copy of LIGHTS OF THE INSIDE PASSAGE and more information about this book will be provided later on in this post- sls
Incidentally, the recipe for Lighthouse Borsch would be a winner for Weight Watchers such as myself or for anyone watching their weight.
Also from the Grahams is a recipe for Basic Chicken Stock which I love. The Grahams advise that the stock can be made with an old stewing hen or from chicken parts that you have saved in the freezer. Elaine Graham confides that she always makes a huge batch and freezes jars of it to be used in cooking everything from soup to rice. (I often assume everyone knows that tip about collecting undesirable chicken parts until you have enough saved up to make stock—if not, then let me tell you, it’s easy to do—put the backs, necks, wings or giblets from chicken in a large plastic freezer bag. On a day when you aren’t too busy, throw the chicken parts into a pot – no need to thaw – and add onions, celery, including leaves, some diced carrots, whole black peppercorns, bay leaves and a handful of your favorite herbs such as parsley, basil, thyme, and fill the pot with water and let the whole thing cook over a low flame to simmer for 4 or 5 hours. Voila—you will have chicken stock.
Another recipe that I like is “Back of the Stove” Vegetable Soup contributed b Gwen and Doug Fraser, at Pine Island. Gwen writes, “I have never used frozen veggies. I get fresh vegetables from my garden…broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. I don’t measure. Oh, I use about half a head of cauliflower, several carrots, and as far as broccoli goes, it must be cup up into between 1 and 2 cups. It’s just one of those soups that get better in flavor the next day.” Gwen makes the soup with a pound and a half of ground beef, onion, stewed tomatoes, beef bouillon cubes, uncooked rice, salt, basil, pepper and “loads of fresh vegetables”.
END OF PART ONE