Thanksgiving is gonna be different this year, as every article in the country is noting. Duh.
You are staying home and not gathering with friends or relatives, right? Right? Because getting together for one meal this one time wouldn't be worth living with the guilt of killing your parents, grandparents, kids, relatives, friends or members of the broader community, right? Right.
So, anyway, just because there's a pandemic and you might not be getting together with the people you care most in the world about (see above) doesn't mean you can't eat well. Right?
For instance, Thanksgiving, to me, aside from spending time with those I love (but not this year, right?) is not so much about the turkey. Though Dave, who is hidebound in his compulsion to grill the bird regardless of snow, sleet, rain, freezing temperatures or any other calamities the gods may place in his path, and who must have his turkey enchiladas made from the smoky (and really quite fabulous) leftovers, will do it regardless.
Myself, I'm all about the sides. From dressing to potatoes and gravy, to (this year) a chicory salad à la Nostrana and various seasonal vegetables roasted to perfection, they are what make the dinner for me. (Sorry, honey.)
Below are a couple of easy roast vegetable recipes that I think are pretty spectacular that you could make for the holidays or anytime, and that could even serve as vegetarian-friendly main dishes alongside a roasted squash.
Wishing you a safe and healthy holiday AT HOME. (Right?)
Roasted Cauliflower à la Sahni
This recipe is my adaptation of Julie Sahni's version in Classic Indian Cooking. Sahni, who, along with Madhur Jaffrey, brought Indian cuisine to the masses here in the US, steams her cauliflower then crisps it by frying. I found it's easier and faster to roast it.
1 medium head cauliflower 4 Tbsp. vegetable oil 1 tsp. coriander seeds 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds 1 1/2 Tbs. fresh grated ginger 1/2 tsp. turmeric 1 tsp. salt 2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped fine (optional)
Preheat oven to 400°.
Separate the cauliflower into small bite-sized flowerets and chop any stems or leaves into 1/2" pieces (seriously, they're great). Place in large bowl.
Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a small skillet until very hot. (Flick a drop of water into the oil. If it spatters, it's hot enough.) Add coriander seeds and cumin seeds and fry until the seeds turn dark brown, about 10 seconds. Reduce heat to medium-high and add ginger, stir briefly, then add turmeric and salt and stir. Pour over cauliflower and stir to coat. Place in 9" by 12" roasting dish (or roasting pan) and place in oven for 40-50 minutes until browned and very tender.
Taste and adjust salt. Garnish with chopped cilantro, if using, and serve.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Olives and Preserved Lemon
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, halved 10 castelvetrano olives, pitted and roughly chopped 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed 3-6 anchovies, minced 3-4 Tbsp. olive oil 4 Tbsp. preserved lemons, chopped, or juice of 1 lemon Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 350°.
Place halved Brussels sprouts in a large mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Transfer to 9" by 12" roasting dish (or roasting pan) and place in oven for 35 minutes until browned and very tender. (I like the sprouts very browned on the edges.) Taste for salt and serve.
Jared Gardner (top photo) and Hilary Foote own Nehalem River Ranch, located on 100 acres of rich coastal land in Western Oregon. They raise cattle and pigs in a pasture-based, rotational grazing system that not only produces healthier animals and, therefore, more nutritious meat, but the system also builds better soil with more nutrient-dense forage as well as sequestering carbon. They are also active in building the North Coast Food Web, home to a diverse and thriving group of farmers, fishermen, and foragers. This essay is from a bulletin about a conference they attended of the National Young Farmers Coalition.
Hilary and I, along with two coastal vegetable farmer friends, attended the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) virtual leadership conference this past week as part of our commitment to improving ourselves and supporting the next generation of food producers in our region. NYFC has to be one the best, most thoughtful and inclusive organizations when it comes to resources for those on the ground. Plus it works to improve federal and state policies to support food systems and to make sure we all have fewer hurdles to enter and succeed at farming, ranching and fishing.
We were most blown away by a keynote presentation by Chris Newman of Sylvanaqua Farms near Washington, D.C. Previously a software engineer, Chris came to farming a year before we did. We must have exclaimed “yes!” a couple dozen times, since we could relate to many parts of his story: how hard it can be to find the right balance as a couple and family; taking on too many things by ourselves (remembering our days of eggs, chicken, turkeys and geese on top of adding pork to the beef operation we had just taken over as newbies to farming); and how it can be unrealistic that any one farm, or small farmers in general, can take on the whole value chain that is necessary beyond actual food production: legal/compliance, tax/accounting, risk management, marketing, sales, storage, distribution, and customer service.
To be clear, we can’t say we relate to all of Chris’ experience, especially Farming While Black, a good read if you’re comfortable with being uncomfortable, or okay with all political parties being called out and, if you’re white, having the opportunity to imagine why a Black farmer in typical farm clothes (i.e. dirt-stained) is looked at differently when doing home deliveries in a farm truck in upper middle class white neighborhoods.
I have been casually following Chris’ writings for a year and a half after reading Small Family Farms Aren’t the Answer which, among other topics, included an economic critique of an institution so many of us love—farmers markets—and all the money, time and resources individual farmers put into them which, in aggregate, could utterly transform our local food systems if we built more cooperative structures. I thought of this article again recently when Food Roots published in their 2020 Food Producer Assessment that some Tillamook County producers are spending the same amount of time delivering food as 3.8 full-time employees, often passing each other on the road or, very literally, bumping into each other while delivering to restaurants, grocers and food hubs.
More and more of us are working to create models that promote economies of scale that keep more food dollars in the hands of the local producers and making it easier for the next generation to gain stability as producers.
We've centered our ranch's growth and resilience on cooperation, learning to exercise our mutual aid muscles, learning to ask for help, and finding ways to serve others—and we acknowledge we are riding the waves created by so many others before us. Chris inspires on similar topics from different angles, bringing his biracial experience, being raised by a Black father and an Indigenous mother from the Choptico Band of Piscataway Conoy, to create a vision for a better food system. Like our North Coast Food System Collaboration, he, too, was part of the Rockefeller Food System Vision. You can read our North Coast collaborative vision (with videos!) and a pretty short publication version.
It seems that more and more of us are working to create models that promote economies of scale that keep more food dollars in the hands of the local producers, all the while making it easier for the next generation to gain stability as producers.
The Rockefeller Vision spurred a deeper collaboration of nonprofits, economic development organizations and inspired farmer, fisher and rancher colleagues on the North Coast. Because of that work our region has received this year just shy of $650,000 in federal, state, and local grants to accelerate work over the next few years to improve coordination in our food system; increase local procurement through food hubs and from institutional, grocer, and restaurant buyers; improve access to healthy foods for all income levels; and, above all, slow economic leakage that happens when food dollars go to processed, flavorless and nutrient-poor foods trucked in by national food companies that squeeze producers all over the world.
Soap boxes aside, the point of all this is we are blessed and thankful to be part of a food system supported by our community, and also to be working in collaboration to actively improve the economic viability of all of our local farmers, fishers and ranchers, which in turn directly increases food access for all residents as well as building real wealth in our rural communities.
Photos from Nehalem River Ranch, Sylvanaqua Farms and the North Coast Food Web.
This week it was Steve Jones's Cheese Bar. Before that it was Andy Ricker's Pok Pok empire. The Portland restaurant industry website Portland Food and Drink shows more than 80 restaurants, pubs and related establishments have closed since the pandemic struck in March of this year.
Due to spiking positive cases of COVID-19, on Friday Governor Kate Brown declared a two-week statewide "freeze" on top of the "pause" she announced just the week before. She warned that Multnomah County was one of five that might have to brace themselves for at least a four-week shutdown, possibly stretching into mid-December, if not longer.
The news of this latest shutdown hit Oregon's restaurant and hospitality industry hard. On Sunday, the Independent Restaurant Alliance of Oregon (IRAO), formed in response to the pandemic to assist restaurants in responding to the crisis, issued a letter to Governor Brown and policy makers requesting that they convene a special session of the legislature to address the issues faced by Oregon's small businesses.
Noting that nearly nine percent of Oregon's workforce is employed by the industry, the letter, signed by more than 300 members, said that restaurants and bars aren't like hardware stores. "We can’t just flip a switch and walk away," the letter states.
"When restaurants close, the entire supply chain is disrupted, from root to roofline," the letter continues. "Sixty five percent of the revenue from independently owned restaurants and bars recirculates in the local economy. In addition to the nearly 200,000 Oregonians who are employed by restaurants and bars, our closure directly impacts bakers, fishers, butchers and Oregon’s 34,000 small farms."
While acknowledging the seriousness of the pandemic and the need to take swift action to keep communities safe, the IRAO letter reminds policy makers that government needs to take responsibility for the economic damage these mandates have inflicted on the state's small businesses.
"We've made $2,000 this entire year," said Emily Anderson of tiny P's and Q's Market in Portland's Woodlawn neighborhood. "A government mandate should come with government support. Something's got to give."
My name is (your name). I am a resident in your district. Due to coronavirus, many restaurants in my neighborhood won’t survive the winter. As you may know, most restaurants don’t actually make money on food, but on alcoholic drinks. If these businesses do not survive, the heart of my neighborhood will be ripped out.
I’m writing to ask that you take immediate action to help restaurants and bars survive, such as an extension of the commercial eviction moratorium and the ability to sell cocktails to go. With emergency requirements that both reduce occupancy and hours of operation during the pandemic, having another method of generating revenue would provide businesses a lifeline for survival. As they face the long-term structural challenges that COVID-19 has imposed on business, which was designed to be a gathering space, they are desperate for sustainable tools to help navigate the new normal.
Restaurants and bars account for nine percent of all employment in Oregon. And nearly 65 percent of the revenue from these businesses recirculates into the local economy keeping vendors, landlords and employees afloat. This small change to Oregon statute will help us keep businesses open and bring people back to work.
This is an URGENT REQUEST. Without your help now there’s a very good chance places of business in my neighborhood will be permanently closed by the next time the legislature convenes.
Mine tend to run to the hearty warmth and belly-filling attributes of the foods my mom made for us growing up. Tuna casserole, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, and a classic pot roast top that list, and I've added a few more of my own—a pandemic pantry version of mapo tofu is a new favorite—along the way.
Falling leaves and dropping mercury always mean getting out the braising pot and turning on the oven. It's an easy if not terribly efficient way to boost the chilly temperatures in a drafty old house like ours, for one thing, and the delicious smell of a joint of beef or simmering sauce wafting through the house for hours will have your neighbors hollering from the sidewalk, asking what you've got on tap for dinner.
The pandemic has everyone craving stability—three cheers for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris—and comfort even more than usual, and with most of us working from home or needing to save money on groceries, homey dishes like the ones mentioned above are both easy on the budget and can handily feed a family. (No doubt the reason my mom was partial to them, with three kids and a husband to feed every night, even when she also had a full-time job.)
The other night I was rummaging in the fridge and came across a pound of ground lamb and leftover hamburger buns that Dave had made, plus there were two half-heads of cabbage left over from making tacos. I'd been craving sloppy joes for awhile, so figured now was as good a time as any to give them a whirl.
Since cooking in a global pandemic means a quick dash to the store was out of the question, I decided to deviate from the standard tomato-based sauce and take advantage of the lamb to give them a Middle East-meets-Asia twist. Plus, instead of making a slaw to serve alongside, I took a page from pulled pork sandwiches and plopped the slaw on top of the meat-slathered, open-faced buns.
(Note: It helps to have a wide-ranging condiment selection for this kind of cooking. Fortunately our condiment shelf is literally overflowing…insert hysterically laughing emoticon here.)
Feel free to use the recipe below as a guide and make your own pandemic pantry adaptations depending on what you've got on hand. It may just become a go-to comfort food staple on your family's list of favorites!
Ground Lamb Sloppy Joes
2 Tbsp. olive oil 1 lb. ground lamb 2 Japanese curry bricks or 2 Tbsp. curry powder 1 yellow onion, diced 1 large carrot, diced 1 sweet yellow pepper, diced 1 sweet red pepper, diced 3 cloves garlic, chopped fine 1 tsp. cinnamon 1 tsp. cumin seeds, ground 1 tsp. coriander seeds, ground 1/2 tsp. ground ginger 2 Tbsp. gochujang 2 Tbsp. white miso 1/4 c. barbecue sauce 1/4 c. sesame vinaigrette or 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar 4 hamburger buns, toasted Cabbage slaw with miso vinaigrette (optional) Fresh cilantro, chopped fine (optional)
Heat olive oil in deep sauté pan until it shimmers, then add ground lamb and brown. Add butter bricks or curry powder and heat, stirring until fragrant. Add yellow onion and sauté until tender. Add carrot, peppers and garlic and sauté until tender. Add cinnamon, cumin, coriander, ginger, gochujang, miso, barbecue sauce and vinaigrette and stir to combine. Simmer for 20 minutes until flavors meld and meat is cooked through. Adjust flavors to taste, add salt if necessary.
Toast buns on both sides under broiler until nicely browned. Place one opened bun on each plate, top with meat sauce and then slaw. Garnish with cilantro if desired.
The fall harvest of goods from Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm is truly a gift from the gods. Their grains and beans, grown from varieties they have adapted over decades of painstaking selection, play an iconic role on many Oregon restaurant menus and family tables. The same goes for their stunning selection of preserves made each year from only the best portion of their fruit harvest. See below to find out where to buy their products locally.
Demeter has lapsed into her sad repose. We have taken many of photos of the harvest deity. Demeter (Ceres in Latin) is generally portrayed with poppy capsules and barley heads in her right hand, reflecting her association with medicine and food, and a sickle or pomegranate in her left (top photo). The pomegranate a reminder of the six seeds Persephone ate. This simple bust captures the mother’s sadness and longing, subtly and gently, as she patiently awaits her daughter’s return. As we work in our harvest shed, we are reminded that the exuberance of her summer with her daughter leaves the granaries full.
The chap on the right (photo, left) is the Emperor Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius in long form. Generally regarded as one of the five “Good Emperors,” hence the Pius tagged on to the impressive string of names. Emperor Titus Antoninus Pius was credited as an adept administrator a talent that, to this day, appeals to the Romans. He was the adopted son of the Emperor Hadrian and was designated as his successor. Hence lots of busts and statues are scattered about the bounds of the Ancient Roman Empire, and his visage is stamped into Roman coins of the era.
But it is Demeter who is on our minds. An epic harvest has kept us very busy. Staff has just finished the extraction and cleaning of the pumpkin seeds. We have yet to shell out the popcorn, but there is no urgency because it takes many more weeks for the kernels to dry sufficiently so as to pop well. Nestled on the ears, the kernels will dry more safely. Haste can lead to small fractures in the kernels, robbing them of their oomph. Our trips to Sweet Creek Foods to make the preserves require an extra level of planning. Yesterday, we managed to wrangle the raspberries, Boysenberries and Veepie grapes into glass. Next Friday, we hope to accomplish the same with the currents, jostaberries and Loganberries. The jellies, plums and cherries are on the calendar for December.
The lag in scheduling open days has resulted from the need for careful planning, not plodding. Given the choreography imposed by the virus, we have been unable to organize an open day until now.
We are scheduling open days on Sunday and Monday, the 22nd and 23rd. We will send out a separate, more succinct email early next week for orders (e-mail Anthony to be notified). A December couplet will follow when we finally put the remaining fruit of the year in a jar.
This is a banner board using poplar, another fairly soft wood. The motifs for the sun and rain are influenced by those used by 20th century Japanese woodblock makers. The red ink is used by Japanese artists for their hanko—a signature stamp.
It is simplistic and imprecise shorthand to call something “Local" or "Oregon Grown.” And given the complexity of bioregions within the state, completely meaningless in terms of the influences on flavor, quality and spirit when it comes to what we grow here.
Our harvest is wrought from the soils and climate of Gaston, perched as we are on a bench above Ayers Creek with its heavy but fragile clay soils, and a hard-edged climate forged as it is between the montane anvils of the Coast Range and the Tualatin Ridge. Travel a few miles to the north or south, the climate and soils are a world apart. The challenges posed by the soils and environment of Gaston have pushed us into growing our own seed selections and varieties. All good reasons to use the ink of a hanko on the banner.
The Culinary Breeding Network was founded by Lane Selman, an assistant Professor of Practice in the Horticulture department at Oregon State University, in order to start a conversation between plant breeders, farmers and the public about bringing more flavor to our food. In this essay she recalls the beginnings of those conversations and how they have evolved into a global network of discussions. Scroll down to get the schedule for this year's Winter Vegetable Sagra on Saturday, Oct. 24, and links to the segments as they are posted.
The first time I encountered the Italian concept of the sagra was the very first time I went to Italy in 2014. It was near the end of an epic day of overstimulation at Slow Food’s international Terra Madre gathering in Torino. At a quiet booth along one side of the Salone del Gusto, I came across a small, accordion-folded pamphlet advertising something called the Fiera Regionale della Zucca, the regional pumpkin fair of Cuneo, Italy.
On the cover was an illustration with an adorable gnome sitting under an archway made of pumpkins in the piazza of a medieval town. The inside listed three days of squash-filled festivities, from pumpkin cooking demonstrations and meals featuring pumpkin in every course, to squash carving expositions and classes for kids about how to make musical instruments out of winter squash. The sensation was one of immediate recognition, like discovering a word for a feeling in another language that your own lacks—the way political junkies must feel the first time they hear the word schadenfreude, or nostalgic lovers learning about saudade.
At that time, I was working as an agricultural researcher at Oregon State University, and moonlighting on the side as the market manager for an organic vegetable farm. But the last few years, something else had been taking up more and more of my time. I’d been hosting events—what I called “parties”—to build some connections between the people who breed plants, and the people who eat them.
If the world of vegetables was the land of Oz, plant breeders would be the wizard behind the curtain. They have a huge amount of power over the foods we eat, but they’re only human. They can’t read minds to know, for instance, that chefs like smooth-shouldered peppers because they’re easier to chop without waste, or that most winter squash is sold in the days before Thanksgiving. And since most of us don’t really know that plant breeders exist, let alone know where to find them, we can’t tell them about the qualities we care about most. I wanted to reconnect academic and commercial plant breeders to their communities by creating opportunities for consumers to give feedback about in-progress breeding projects, but “party” just sounds a lot more appealing than “feedback session.”
If the world of vegetables was the land of Oz, plant breeders would be the wizard behind the curtain.
My first party was a pepper party. I asked several local plant breeders to share the fruits of their current pepper breeding projects, with the goal of getting some solid feedback from chefs and consumers about which varieties they liked most. We tasted dozens of pepper varieties, raw and roasted, with the goal of helping shape the release of a new open-pollinated variety to replace an old hybrid that was getting hard to find. I went into it hoping pepper breeders would walk away with a better sense of which breeding lines consumers found most appealing. What I didn’t expect was just how fun the event would be—and what a sense of community it seemed to immediately create.
In hindsight, I’m not sure why I was surprised. It’s a truism that food brings people together, but the specific kind of energy I sensed at the pepper party was different than the generic good vibe of a dinner party. It was pleasure with sense of purpose and creativity, a feeling of community reinvestment in a food system that, in the United States, has long felt divorced from everyday life—hidden away behind a curtain.
That chance encounter with the brochure at Terra Madre gave me a new word, a new language, for these gatherings: Sagra. In Italy, a sagra is a festival, usually centered around food. The word comes from the Latin word sacrare, to consecrate, which refers to Italy’s centuries-long history of bringing together—consecrating—a community with feasts that celebrate the harvest.
Ancient sagre usually had a religious aspect, and were celebrated in front of temples or churches during the Medieval era and often linked to specific saints or feast days. In addition to elaborate meals, sagre sometimes incorporated historical traditions, rituals, or sporting events, like horse racing or a cuccagna tree. Modern sagre are distinctly more secular, something like a cross between a state fair and a church picnic, but they haven’t lost steam; some estimate 20,000 to 30,000 sagre are held in Italy every year, usually between the months of June and September (prime outdoor dining season). They’re casual, family-friendly affairs, and many attract a mix of international and domestic tourists. Almost as a rule, they’re unpretentious, sometimes to the point of hokey—think fried foods, cheap souvenirs, and dunk tanks.
“Party” just sounds a lot more appealing than “feedback session.”
Inspired by that humble trifold, when I returned home to Portland, Oregon, I teamed up with fellow researcher Alex Stone to throw our most ambitious event yet: Squash Sagra. We had been working on winter squash breeding trials for several years. One of the most common complaints I heard from growers was that Americans bought most of their squash around Thanksgiving—but many winter squashes don’t taste really good until, well, winter. Could an epic Squash Sagra (despite hosting it in an unheated, albeit very groovy, old warehouse) get more Portlanders to buy and eat winter squash in January, February and beyond?
Squash Sagra 2017 was a blast. We had squash “butchery” demonstrations. We served samples of squash-y delicacies, from savory dips to pumpkin ice cream. We demoed recipes. We let kids paint squash. We had a “cucurbit cuddles” photo booth. Many squash-themed outfits were spotted. And so, we kept going. The next year our sagra included squash and beans. In 2018, Chicory Week was created with farming and restaurant partners that includes an annual Sagra di Radicchio in Seattle.
Then, in 2019, we went to the next level when we attracted about 1000 attendees to celebrate nine fresh and storage vegetables at the Winter Vegetable Sagra in Portland in that same, but recently beautifully renovated and heated, old warehouse. In addition to turning people on to these often under-appreciated locally grown winter foods, the word sagra was introduced to many Americans vocabularies.
We share the same vision in weaving together education, advocacy and joy into these celebrations.
In early 2020, right before COVID-19 descended on the globe, I even partnered with my friend and Italian farmer Myrtha Zierock to take a group of American radicchio growers, chefs and advocates to northern Italy on a Radicchio Expedition to learn more about this quintessentially Italian crop. We visited radicchio farmers and breeders throughout the Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige and Fruili-Venezia Giulia regions for five days, culminating in a winter vegetable celebration called Giàz (meaning ‘ice’ in the Trentino dialect) at Foradori winery in the Dolomites. Myrtha claims her vision for Giàz was inspired by the sagre we have organized in the US which is a deeply appreciated compliment coming from an actual Italian. We share the same vision in weaving together education, advocacy and joy into these celebrations.
When my family came to the United States from Sicily in the 1920s, they were eager to leave their homelands behind and assimilate into American culture. I grew up surrounded by my Sicilian-American family, but nobody spoke Italian to me (despite my great-grandmother neighbor that nearly only spoke Sicilian dialect), and the first time I ever visited Sicily was as an adult during that trip in 2014. Like so many second and third-generation immigrants returning to their ancestral homeland for the first time, I experienced that dizzying sensation of feeling simultaneously like a tourist and as if I was surrounded by a vast family for the first time: people who looked just like my grandparents, like my cousins, like me. Re-establishing a personal relationship with Italy and Sicily over the past six years has brought a new layer of meaning to my life. Developing my own version of sagre at home the United States that fuse American and Italian traditions has been a major part of that experience.
I can’t claim that the Culinary Breeding Network’s sagre are “authentic” in any particular way (although few Italians would argue that modern Italian sagre are an authentic expression of Italian culture, either). Like any imported cultural artifact, there’s something altered in the translation. But that chance encounter with a whimsical squash brochure in Piemonte years ago planted the seed for an idea that I hope helps Americans get more excited about eating regional foods by skipping the preachy eat-local lecture in favor of enjoying delicious foods (and wearing hats shaped like a slice of pumpkin pie) in community.
Undeterred by the pandemic, this year's Sagra del Radicchio is going online on Saturday, Oct. 24, with a full day of rad and bitter programming. Dip in and out as you please, and all content will be posted for later viewing (see links with each segment):
With albacore season in full swing, it seems like a good time to rerun this post from 2011.
Wind off the ocean whipped through the rigging on his boat, and sea lions barked in the background as albacore tuna fisherman Rick Goché recalled growing up on Tillamook Bay on Oregon’s north coast.
“I’ve been fish crazy since I can remember,” he said. “When I was old enough to make my way down to the creek, I was fishing with a safety pin and a string. I can still remember when I got my first factory-made hook.”
Goché grew up to be a fisherman; today, he fishes the Pacific Northwest’s deep, abundant waters, casting off from Coos Bay for two to six weeks at a time. It’s hard work, and definitely not child’s play. “When you’re a hundred, 200, 300 miles offshore, it’s not like you can duck into a port when the weather gets bad,” he says.
His brother, Larry, fishes with him, and his son, his daughter, and his grandson have taken turns on the boat as well. He has hopes that his daughter Lauren, who will be working on the tuna boat this summer, may eventually take up fishing as a career.
“Even though she won’t be on the boat,” he said, “it’ll be cool to be on the water with her.”
The average age of a fishboat owner is 62 (Goché is 57—“I’m one of the young guys,” he says), and the industry has had trouble attracting younger people into a career that not only is dangerous but also requires hard physical labor and long periods away from home.
Another issue facing the industry is consumer awareness, a concern voiced by chef Eric Jenkins while he was handing out samples of hot-off-the-grill wild West Coast albacore outside a Portland-area Whole Foods market. “I’ve had a couple of people say they won’t eat fish because of the mercury,” he said.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Wayne Heikkila, a second-generation albacore fishboat owner and currently executive director of the Western Fishboat Owners Association (WFOA). “[People] don’t know tuna from albacore, or skipjack from yellowtail.”
The tuna most of us grew up eating in casseroles and sandwiches was probably skipjack, which is caught on giant factory ships that operate in the deep, tropical oceans of the world and is sold under brand names like StarKist, Bumblebee, and Chicken of the Sea. Nearly all of those ships are longline fisheries, which tow a fishing line several miles long with thousands of hooks baited at regular intervals along its length. The problem with this method is that it produces significant bycatch—meaning that it also hooks endangered and threatened sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals, sharks, and other fish besides skipjack.
The tuna caught in these deep waters are several years old and can weigh 40 to 60 pounds. They have absorbed mercury and other toxins, enough to cause the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to advise pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to limit their intake of the fish.
Those warnings have caused big headaches for the West Coast albacore industry.
That’s because the advisories don’t distinguish between the albacore caught in the deeper oceans and those younger and smaller tuna caught off the West Coast of the United States and Canada. Ranging in age from three to five years old and weighing 12 to 25 pounds, these younger albacore simply have not spent enough time in the ocean environment to contain the levels of mercury found in the larger, older fish.
Heikkila is frustrated that so much of the albacore caught off our own coast is exported to Japan for sushi, and that Northwest foodies would rather buy a can of albacore tuna from Spain—produced, ironically, from West Coast albacore that is exported to that country and shipped back to stores here—than albacore caught and canned on their own coastline.
“We’re trying to get consumers to eat more of the local product,” Heikkila said. Approximately 16,000 to 23,000 tons of albacore are caught per year. “It’s crazy—we send 80% to 90% of it to other countries and then the U.S. consumer has to buy it from overseas. That money could go into local fishermen’s pockets.”
What’s more, Northwest consumers are generally unaware that these local fish are caught one at a time using what’s called a pole-and-line or troll-and-jig method. This approach employs 10 to 15 lines of nylon cord measuring six to 100 feet long that are towed behind a boat. Each line has a barbless “jig” or lure at the end that is attached to a double barbless hook. When a fish bites the jig, the fisherman hauls it by hand into the boat, allowing the fishermen to keep only “right-size” fish and eliminating bycatch.
The U.S. and Canadian albacore fisheries in the North Pacific, made up of mostly small, family-owned boats like Rick Goché’s, received a boost last year when Seafood Watch, a program of the Monterey Bay Aquarium that evaluates the ecological sustainability of wild-caught and farmed seafood, listed U.S. and Canadian troll- and pole-caught albacore from the North Pacific as a “Best Choice” due to negligible bycatch and the healthy stock of albacore in the region.
But the biggest shift in public awareness may come from the announcement by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which has certified the Canadian Highly Migratory Species Foundation (CHMSF), an albacore fishery of Canadian-based boats, and the U.S.-based WFOA as sustainable and well-managed.
“It’s a very rigorous, on-site process that looks at a fishery as opposed to a sweeping view of a species,” said Kerry Coughlin, the Regional Director for the Americas of the MSC. “It’s our view that’s how you get a very rigorous assessment process that’s accurate, and it’s how, in some cases where fisheries aren’t sustainable, you’re going to bring about change on the water.”
And when they see the blue MSC label in their grocer’s seafood case or on a can of albacore, “consumers can have the assurance that it is an environmentally responsible choice,” Coughlin said. And, because they come from younger fish, the fresh loins of albacore available from July through October at most retailers contain more have more “puppy fat,” as an industry spokesperson called it.
“I think it’s moister,” Jenkins said. “It seems to have higher fat levels, particularly concentrated in the belly.” His suggestion to consumers buying a whole loin is to ask their butcher to keep the belly meat on, adding that many butchers either keep it for themselves even cut it out, which he considers a travesty.
Locally canned albacore would be almost as much of a shock to most shoppers. The major-brand tuna on their grocery shelves was caught and frozen at sea, then thawed at a cannery and cooked in big steamers, where it loses much of its natural juices and fats. It is then packed in cans and cooked again, requiring the addition of water or oil to keep it moist.
That contrasts with most local tuna, which is packed in cans when it’s fresh and cooked only once, sealing in the natural juices and not requiring the addition of oil or water to keep it moist.
Between MSC certification and a growing concern among consumers about where their food comes from, families that depend on the North Pacific albacore are seeing a brighter future for their children, and a way of life that they prize.
“On a boat, you have to have all your senses attuned to your boat and the fish and your gear, but what it comes down to is stay alive and fill up the boat,” said Rick Goché. “When I pull away from the dock and I cross the bar and I feel the ocean lifting the boat, I leave everything behind as much as possible. Sure, I miss my family, but I don’t miss all the complexities of being on land.”
My 10-year-old nephew was coming over to spend the day, and while he's pretty low-maintenance—Legos and our vast collection of books, everything from Tintin to Narnia to Bulfinch's Mythology seem to keep him occupied—it's always fun to do a project together. That's when I noticed the bunch of cucumbers from my neighbor Bill that were needing to be used.
The cukes were the bumpy, prickly kind good for pickling, though they were larger than I normally think of for dill pickles and I was a little nervous about being able to jam them into the quart jars I had. But heck, there's a reason it's called a science experiment, so I washed the jars and stuck the cucumbers in an ice bath to firm them up.
When my nephew arrived, we read the instructions for making pickles in the extremely informative and useful "The Art of Fermentation" by Sandor Ellix Katz, a tome suitable for fermentation nerds and newbs alike. As we let his words settle in, we walked around the corner to my neighbor's garden to pick grape leaves, which Katz recommends adding to the jars. Apparently the tannins they contain help to keep the pickles crisp, and with grape season in full swing there were plenty to choose from. (Katz also mentions that horseradish leaves, oak leaves, cherry leaves or other tannin-rich materials can do the same job.)
Back home with our leaves, we gathered the ingredients to add to the pickles, including fresh dill, garlic and peppercorns, plus mustard seeds and dried chiles from Ayers Creek Farm. We measured the salt into two quarts of water for the brine, and while my able assistant stirred it to dissolve the salt, I cracked the peppercorns and peeled the garlic.
All that was left was to jam the cukes into the jars with whatever struck our fancy—I confess mine were probably more than a little garlic-heavy—and to fill the jars with brine. We placed canning lids on top and loosely screwed on the bands to allow gas to escape as fermentation progresses. It can also include some liquid bubbling out, so we prudently placed the jars in a baking dish before taking them down in the basement to ferment for a few days.
A couple of days later I was able to report to my nephew that not only had their color begun to change, there was noticeable bubbling and a tiny bit of liquid had escaped. The fourth day there was more bubbling, the brine was slightly cloudier, a larger puddle of brine had formed and there was a distinct vinegar aroma wafting over our jars.
I waited a full week before pulling out a jar to taste them.
Fresher and a bit milder than most store-bought brands, our pickles were nicely crunchy with a tart, light vinegar flavor that was infused with garlic, dill and mustard.
On his next visit, one jar went home with my nephew and the rest are sitting in our refrigerator—lacto-fermented pickles are not shelf stable—awaiting our next antipasto platter, hamburger extravaganza or albacore salad.
Basic Lacto-Fermented Garlic Dill Pickles
2 lbs. pickling cucumbers 12 medium-sized grape leaves Mustard seeds Garlic cloves, peeled Bunch fresh dill or dill flowers Dried red chiles Peppercorns, lightly crushed Sea salt
Wash four quart jars. Wash cucumbers, rub off the prickly bits and place cukes in an ice bath for one hour.
Make a 5 percent brine by dissolving 6 tablespoons of sea salt in two quarts of water. Set aside.
Start with a grape leaf in the bottom of each jar, then tightly packed in the cucumbers with one or two more leaves and a variety of flavoring ingredients. Leave an inch or so of head room above the cucumbers, then add brine to within 1/2 inch of the lip of the jar.
Place a canning lid, coffee filter, or a device called a "pickle pipe" airlock on top, then loosely screw on a jar band. The idea is to allow gas to escape during fermentation, so you don't want to seal it completely or the pressure buildup could cause it to blow off.
Watch for color change, bubbles and cloudiness. A spongy mold may form on top, but you can just pull that off and dispose of it…the pickles should be fine as long as they have stayed submerged and they still smell good (that is, pickley). After five days, pull a jar and taste one of the pickles. If it's not pickled enough, put the lid back on and let it ferment another day or two (temperature plays a big part in the time it takes to ferment).
When pickles are to your liking, store in refrigerator for several months.
I am such a sucker for a good label, especially one with seriously old school fonts, and the one on the bottle of Mattei's Cap Corse Blanc Quinquina practically propositioned me from it's spot on the shelf. Fortunately I have a brother in the wine biz, so I didn't have to buy it blind, get it home and find out that I should have invested in a poster of the label instead.
(Yes, it's happened. On more than one occasion.)
Knowing my fondness for bitter aperitifs—Cocchi Americano Bianco, almost any Italian amaro and, of course, Campari—Bruce was more than happy to recommend adding it to our home bar. Looking it up, I learned it's one of the oldest and best known aperitifs from Corsica, "made from a base wine of Vermentino and Muscat, with subsequent additional macerations of herbs, spices, the local citron fruit, and cinchona bark (quinine, hence the name)."
It's bright, citrus-y sweetness with that typically bitter backbone only needed a cube of ice in a glass to make a late summer evening sitting on the front porch even more idyllic; a spritz of soda and a twist of lemon or orange peel wouldn't have been out of place, either.
But we're always looking for new variations on our tried-and-true list of cocktails, and since it's (nearly) fall and Manhattans are feeling oh-so-seasonal, Dave thought the quinquina might make an appropriate switch for the sweet vermouth in that cocktail. (We've done this before, of course, making a nutty, dark nocino Manhattan, among others.)
The quinquina brightens up the classic cocktail quite a bit, bringing a tinge of late summer sun, an almost-but-not-quite fall tone that matches the grapefruit color of the ash leaves falling from our trees.
2 oz. bourbon 1 oz. Cap Corse Blanc Quinquina 2-3 dashes Angostura bitters Amarena cherries
Chill cocktail glasses in freezer. Fill pint glass or small mixing pitcher half full of ice. Add whiskey, vermouth and bitters. Stir 30 seconds. Take cocktail glasses out of freezer. Strain liquor into glass. Drop in cherry. Serve.