Review: Cooking Tips for Desperate Fishwives by Margot Fedoruk

My Quick Take: I enjoyed reading this memoir that hits close to home for me. The recipes included throughout were a wonderful addition, and I loved cooking from the book!

Many thanks to Heritage House Publishing for a gifted copy of the book in exchange for my unbiased review.


Margot Fedoruk is a writer living on Gabriola Island in BC. She is also a soap maker! Reading the book, I discovered that she’s always been an avid reader, participating in local book clubs for years, but writing is a somewhat recent pursuit. With Cooking Tips for Desperate Fishwives, she’s crafted a truly enjoyable memoir.

The book is peppered with recipes that are meaningful to her life, and they truly complement the narrative. If you’re curious about picking this book up, I’d say go ahead because of the stories she tells…but also for the food!

I liked this book a lot. I was trying to put my finger on exactly why I liked it so much, and I came down to the fact that it is relatable. Let me explain. The author’s life is both not like mine, and like mine at the same time. Make sense? No? Okay, let me explain some more.

Her memoir is of a girl born and raised in Winnipeg. As an adult she moved to the West Coast of BC, met her partner Rick, and they moved to Gabriola Island, one of BC’s Gulf Islands, and raised a family. He’s a sea urchin diver and away for long stretches of time, which proves challenging.
“There are times when Rick is gone, and my emotions ache at the base of my throat–like the sharp spines of a fish. I wish for a goddess of storms; a benevolent woman listening to the prayers to take mercy on desperate fishwives, who peers down from the clouds with a compassionate face…She is the saint of desperate fishwives, non-denominational, wise, all-knowing, and a good cook to boot.”
Her life has been remarkably different from mine. I sense she’s more adventurous. She moved across the country, she’s worked tree planting, and lived an almost homesteading lifestyle. She had vastly different family dynamics than me. She’s got grit and determination. I have grit and determination too, but of a different sort. I’ve had a stable upbringing, stayed mostly in one place (my biggest move was from Victoria to Vancouver BC), and I worked hard but remained a city girl, craving and building stability. Very different.

But her life is like mine too. Her narrative is grounded in a similar place, a Canadian middle class upbringing. We both worked hard for what we decided to make of our lives, even if they took different paths. There were so many touchstones while reading that made me connected to her story: driving out to Sooke and Port Renfrew, spending time on West Coast beaches hunting in tide pools, riding the BC Ferries. I pick blackberries obsessively and freeze them for winter smoothies, just as she does. “...I wore the protective gear of a person going to war–war against the thorns, the wasps, the bees, the thistles, the rising cost of our family grocery bill.” (I would add spiders…!) Yes, I too know the blackberry patch well and have many scratched arms and ruined shirts to prove it.

The newness of each discovery for her here in BC grounded me in my own sense of place. I am so at home on the West Coast. One fantastic episode in her book occurs as she and her friend are driving out to Port Renfrew and they hear the sound of a great “swack,” a thumping noise. They pull over and investigate. What could it be? It’s the sound of ocean waves hitting the rocks. It’s a sound I know intimately. It was a point of connection to the author as I read.

So the book is relatable in this way: She has an “ordinary” life. She’s not a celebrity or a major political figure writing their best-selling memoir. Our lives are dissimilar but at the same time tremendously similar, so I feel connected to her story through her writing. If her life is interesting–and it is, very much so!–then all our lives are interesting. It made my narrative interesting too. I found myself contemplating some of my own origin stories as I read her book. Her writing feels expansive in that way, and inclusive.

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to cook a few recipes from her book. There’s something marvellous about being allowed a glimpse of someone else’s personal recipe collection; it feels like a privileged way to get to know them better.

I started with Aunt Marie’s Gingersnap Cookies, one of Rick’s favourite recipes passed down from his aunt. The author used to make them and send them to Prince Rupert, where he was away diving. They were easy to make and super delicious. Everyone raved about these cookies. Using salted butter and a larger than expected amount of ground cloves made these perfect, I think!

Next I made Easy Curried Chickpeas with Rice. This appeals to me as I had everything on hand. It’s one of those dishes that I can whip up for dinner quickly. That said, I’ve never thought to mix in the rice with the curry into more of a casserole-like entree. It uses a curry paste like Patak’s…which I always have in the door of my fridge. It was great! This is bordering on the edge of what I think of as hard-core vegetarian food, so I wasn’t sure if my hubby would like it or not, but he really did! The author includes instructions to, “top with sweet apple slices, and sprinkle with sunflower seeds so that everyone knows you are a hippy.” I did, and it was the best!

Finally I decided to go all out and make the first recipe in the book, Killer Lasagna. There are a lot of steps, and it took an afternoon of on and off cooking, but I decided to just enjoy the process and take my time. And what a reward! This is indeed a killer lasagna. “Making this meal is an act of love,” the author notes, and I agree. We savoured the tomato-y garlic goodness here, and we’ll have leftovers for a week!

I’m going to save the Deep Dish Blackberry Pie with Shortbread Crust for the lazy August days when I pick pails of wild blackberries once again; and I’m not sure I’ll ever be brave enough to try Sea Urchin Fettuccini with BC Spot Prawns. There are so many good recipes to try.

This book was an engaging and wonderfully relatable memoir that spoke to me of a life being well-lived on the BC West Coast. It did double duty as a fantastic cookbook. Seriously, what more could I ask for? I highly recommend picking this one up.