Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Local Yokel

I grew up north of and still live in Seattle. My culinary education began in the pacific northwest, from a grandmother also raised in the state. It's safe to say that almost my entire life has been spent with the food of this region. My great grandma was a cattle rancher in eastern Washington, during the days when you still drove the cows through the mountains to pasture each year. My grandma Eva, her daughter, was the cook of the house, and eventually became the first college educated in the family with a degree in home economics. My youth was filled with old fashion cooking from the pacific northwest. So I can safely say I am a Local Yokel.

Recently I was invited to share my insight with a man writing a book on the subject of regional specialties. The book is titled Eat This, and will be published by HarperCollins in 2006. The Author, Ian Jackman describes his book, "It's about old-fashioned regional American food and the best stuff we can still find round the country when everywhere has the same restaurant chains and low-level paranoia about eating."

I spent the last couple of weeks grilling everyone I knew for other insight. Today I sent my list of specialties off, and thought I would share them with everyone.


A regional flavor that haunts my childhood memories is that of Wild huckleberries. These dark cousins of the blueberry, also called Bilberry, have an intense flavor all their own, and great staining power. They grow wild through out eastern Washington. The only source our restaurant uses for them is a forager who will pick them while mushroom hunting. Other than that, there is a gas station in Trout Lake that sells them by the gallon that my dad likes.

My family would take a yearly camping trip the week before school started to a place on the Yakima reservation we called Huckleberry hill. There we would ride horses, run wild, and of course, pick huckleberries. The berries became breakfast every morning cooked into pancakes over the campfire. When we got home, berries in tow, jam was made, and the huckleberry pies began to come. The pie is best with a hint of lemon, cinnamon, and a binding starch to thicken the immense amount of juices the berries release. A reserve of berries was allays frozen to ensure the thanksgiving table would have a pie or two, but about half of them would end up on top of vanilla ice cream before the big day. As a pastry chef I have put them on my own dessert menu in mauve colored ice creams, cobblers, a shortcake, and my favorite, a huckleberry cheesecake topped with white chocolate. A regional specialty for these tart berries is a huckleberry buckle. My family from the east coast searches out the buckle on visits. ( I think they like the name as much as the flavor)

Nanaimo Bars

This rich dessert was made by my grandmother often as they are one of my fathers favorites. They are a chocolate and cream layer thing, not a brownie, not even baked. They originated in a town in British Columbia called Nanaimo. There they began to surface in ladies community cookbooks around 1953, and in the shops shortly after around 1955. I just saw these Canadian treats as far south as a tiny mountain coffee shop in a little town called Mill City. Mill City is where my own sweetie, Russell grew up, in the Santiam canyon on the way to Bend, Oregon. This very cute little coffee shop, Rosie's, sold the original Nanaimo bar and a peanut butter variation which I had never seen before. Further research provided many variations, all of which looked promising.

Smoked Salmon

It's no secret that the pacific northwest's coastal regions are known for the salmon that run through them. One of my first vivid child hood memories is in Seattles Ballard Locks, standing in front of the windows that expose the fish ladder watching these magnificent creatures fight their way up stream.

Each year my father and uncle would spend long weekend days fishing, and occasionally they would bring home a salmon. My father would call from the marina and my mother would set up the little chief home smoker. She would prepare a brine for the salmon that used a lot of brown sugar as I remember. The fish would spend around 4 hours out of the water before it made its way into the brine. The next day it was in the smoker on our front porch, the alder chips changed frequently by my mother. My favorite use of this was my mothers smoked salmon spread. She would mix the smoked salmon with cream cheese and a hint of horse radish, lemon juice, and chopped herbs. It was such a hit with our friends and family that one woman asked for this spread as her wedding gift!


Wapati is the Shawnee word for the American Elk, a large greyish brown deer that roam the mountains of the pacific northwest. My dad's side of the family is largely of the Yakima Nation, and they would hunt for elk each fall. From them we would receive Elk meat. The steaks are a bit tough, but with a lot of flavor. My mom liked to use it for stew. The slaughter house my cousins took their Elk to also made Elk pepperoni sticks. My sisters and I went crazy for the elkaroni sticks!

Olympia Oysters

The Puget sound is a large oyster producing area, the favorite being the petit Olympia oyster. These silver dollar sized mollusk crops are maintained and harvested in the Hood canal, and in the Puget Sound down around Olympia. Around the Pacific Northwest these little gems turn up in oyster bars and on menus often, and are a favorite for oyster lovers.

In San Fransisco, they became part of a dish called Hangtown Fry which consists of scrambled eggs and oysters. Legend tells us it was a condemned man asking for the three most expensive things in San Fransisco to be made into his last meal. As it was the gold rush era, those ingredients were eggs, bacon, and oysters. Other stories compete for the origin of Hangtown fry, but the ingredients remain the same. I don't know that I would ever want to eat an oyster omelet


Hazelnuts, or Filberts are also a large regional specialty, hailing from Oregon. My first taste of Hazelnut was not in a regional dish, but from a jar of Nutella my sister brought from Germany. Since then, this "ageless nut" as I have seen it called, has fast become one of my favorite flavors.

I have recently been introduced to very nice Hazelnuts from a farm called Holmquist Orchards. These hazelnuts have a very delicate edible skin rather than the fibrous paper that usually envelopes the nut.


Anonymous Mom said...

We brought home, from Alta's,10 gallons of huckelberries and two salmon Mathew caught in the Klickitac River. You can't get much more northwest thenthat

October 17, 2005 12:34 AM  
Blogger Dana said...

Mom, I cant wait to start making pie!!!


October 24, 2005 12:14 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

this post makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside

October 26, 2005 8:38 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

Thanks Sam!!

October 31, 2005 8:55 AM  

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