Oregon's harvest: a nonstop cornucopia
"It had taken over a month for the official word to arrive from Washington D.C.: Oregon was the 33rd state in the Union. The news would spread rapidly along trails, roads and rivers and through meadows and forest-covered mountains. A new chapter in Oregon history was unfolding. The year was 1859."
— Excerpt from "Oregon 1859: A Snapshot in Time," by Janice Marschner.
I came much later, of course. The year was 1978, and it was love at first sight.
You see, Oregon is very much about beauty. A part of it is the scenery, of course, from snowy peaks astride the mountain ranges, to lush green forests and glens spilling down highland slopes into river valleys, to the expansive grandeur of the high desert, where distance used to be measured in "looks" instead of miles.
In the west, the restless Pacific surf grooms long white beaches or explodes in brilliant fountains against rocky headlands. In the east, the mighty Snake River carves away at awesome Hell's Canyon, having already gouged it deeper than the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. In between, countless rivers and streams murmur their ancient music.
And then there are the people, with a kind and generous nature as captivating as all that scenery. One never tires of this setting.
Among the foremost of Oregon's charms is the prodigious variety of its landscapes. Just about every type of wilderness one could ask for is available somewhere in the state, and the same can be said for lands that have been tamed. Uncounted combinations of climate, topography and geology make possible an Oregon harvest that is nothing less than a nonstop cornucopia. Where should one begin in portraying such abundance? Where should one end?
The answer comes at 1,500 feet over the most splendid strip of country in the Northwest, the Columbia River Gorge. I gawked, and I oohed, and I ahhed. And even though it's February and my stomach is doing triple-rollers because a winter storm is surging all around us, when the pilot turns to say, "There's Multnomah Falls," I look. The mountains this river has breached aren't called the Cascades for nothing.
Flying on, the storm's mists obscure much of man's handiwork, putting it in perspective among the mightier forces that shape Oregon's living mantle.
From its dramatic sweep into northeast Oregon's dry-land wheat country, to the cattle ranches, orchards and farms along its gorge and lower reaches, to its gentle oblivion in the rich Pacific Ocean, the Columbia River cuts a cross-section through Oregon's harvest that is as representative as any I can imagine.
But who am I preaching to? The choir.
Perhaps this was the summer you made the drive to Eastern Oregon to gather such local delicacies as the intensely flavored apricots, Hermiston watermelons, juicy heads of garlic and elegantly refined shallots that grow bigger than your fist. Or perhaps you day-tripped up the valley and over to the coast, turning the trunk of your car into a market basket of sweet Bodacious corn, more herbs than you can name, heritage apples, plums, peaches, a plethora of berries, fresh-off-the-line, tiny Pacific shrimp and even a Dungeness crab or two, or five.
And then there's your wonderful backyard tomatoes and our nationally renowned cherry and apple crops, which always pave the way for filberts, cranberries and pears.
And did I mention the wine?
So in honor of the state's 150th birthday, which also falls on Valentine's Day, I'm serving up a collection of recipes that celebrate some of our riches, from the state nut (hazelnut), to the state fruit (pear) and a few extra-special regional specialties (like cherries, berries and ducks, oh my!). If you can work one or two of them into your own celebration this Saturday, well, you're welcome!
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contact her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.