Handcrafted in Cranbrook


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Rebecca Bollwitt for #RockiesExploring

When you're talking handmade, you can't get more hands-on than the artisans I met in Cranbrook who hail from India, Northern China, Marysville, Fort McMurray and the East Kootenays. They all have one thing in common: They saw a need in their community, so they decided to hone their skills and meet it.

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The first stop on my self-guided handmade tour was at the Cranbrook Farmers Market which runs every Saturday downtown from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. There you'll find Mama's Dumplings and by opening time there may already be a lineup to get these delicious bites.

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Owner Coco Seltz couldn't find Northern Chinese cuisine in Cranbrook, so she took it upon herself to share her grandmother's recipe with the community. She started out with a tent at the Cranbrook Farmers Market and within three years she saved enough to purchase the Mama's Dumplings food truck. What sets her cooking apart is her traditional use of a thicker dumpling wrapper and hearty ingredients, like pork, beef and carrot. I got to try my hand at making four different dumpling styles, each suited for its filling which could also sometimes be vegetarian. A bit of water on the wrapper, a spoonful of filling, a pinch, and a fold. Coco is so adept at folding this bundles of savoury goodness that she can crank out 100 in an hour. I think I did about four in 10 minutes.

Photo: Stevie Froese

Northern Chinese cuisine meets Cranbrook food truck take-out! Beef, pork, carrot and vegetarian options all carefully tucked into delicious purses of handmade goodness!

"Everyone makes dumplings back home," she says. It's part of most family get-togethers - the family sits around a table and folds dumplings - so it comes naturally to her. "Unlike here where, say, I can't make Kraft Dinner for the life of me!" she said laughing as she handed another happy customer a helping of hoisin-drizzled goodness.

Farmers Market
Photo: Doc Pow

100% handmade! The Cranbrook Farmers Market runs every Saturday from 9am to 1pm, in downtown Cranbrook. It's the best place to find artisans, potters, bakers, distillers, produce growers and more all under one roof (or along one street)

The Farmers Market is the place to be on Saturdays, with vendors offering up everything from cold brew and rhubarb, beets and mead, honey, fresh eggs, grass-fed lamb, distilled spirits, woollen garments, and pottery. The latter is offered by Geri Binder who learned his skill as a kid, since his mother was a potter. He started up again about 10 to15 years ago, when he moved from Fort McMurray to Cranbrook. "I like to have lots of curves in my work," he said as a group made their way over from the Pommier Ranch Meadery table to admire his cups. "I started leaving dents and twists and finger marks, the stuff you normally smooth out." What Geri accomplishes is a truly unique style, and each piece is literally his handiwork.

Of course, you can't stop by the Cranbrook Farmers Market without visiting Niwas Rustic Breads stand, where their molasses ciabatta sells better than hotcakes.

Photo: Stevie Froese

All bread is mixed by hand and made with love at Niwas Rustic Breads, available only at the Cranbrook Farmers Markets

The bakery is operated by Shivani and Paramjyoti Howe, who moved to the East Kootenays from an ashram in India. The market is an exclusive outlet where they sell their all-natural breads and pastries, carefully crafted in their own wood-fired oven at the Ishtadev Niwas Ashram and Farm. This includes sourdough that has been fermented for several days, helping the bread rise and acquire its characteristic taste, improving its nutritional profile.

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Shivani says her rule of thumb is: "Would I feed this to my own son?" It's safe to say he can wolf down any and all of their baking. At the market, I scooped up a cinnamon orange croissant (it paired amazingly well with the cold brew on site) and a knob of chocolate croissant for good measure.

Speaking of chocolate, when my visit to the farmers market ended, I made another stop in town that combined handmade and chocolate. Sweet Gestures was founded by Michelle Shypitka in nearby Marysville and she moved the shop to Cranbook in 2003. There you can find hand-dipped truffles, novelty chocolates, fudge, and local raspberry ice cream. It lives up to its name, with message cards made of chocolate that read: “Happy Birthday,” “Happy Retirement,” and other - you got it - sweet gestures. They also have gift boxes with golf clubs and guitars, made of chocolate.

cranbrook chocolate
Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

Local ingredients (like huckleberry truffles and raspeberry ice cream) and thoughtful gift boxes can be found at the aptly-named Sweet Gestures in Cranbook

To cap off my handcrafted tour of Cranbrook, I met up with Petra and Tiffany Ware, a mother/daughter super duo that runs the blissfully serene - and aromatically soothing - Petra Naturally tea room and wellness shop. “I wanted to make something myself for a craft fair so I browsed Mother Earth News, a magazine, and I saw a recipe for soap.” Petra’s passion for the craft grew from there and she was soon selling items at the Cranbrook Farmers Market, then eventually her own shop. She makes bath bombs, lotions, oils, soaps, and more all in her shop space where guests can also select from over 150 teas to feel good inside and out.

I bought all natural bug spray and a loofah, two things that are usually made with synthetic elements and chemicals.

Check out our Facebook live of our experiences during the Cranbrook Farmers Market

My tummy was very happy after my day of exploring the handcrafted treasures around Cranbrook, and now the rest of my body was too.

No matter where these artisans began their journey, they converged in Cranbrook, and the locals - and lucky visitors like me - get to reap the benefits of their time-honoured talents and passion for handmade goodness.

When You Go

Visit the Cranbrook Tourism Website  for any pre-trip research and to connect with the businesses listed in this story, or stop by the in-town visitor centre for more details on the region.

Check out the #RockiesExploring expedition page on ZenSeekers to see what other experiences you can have nearby.

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