OPB’s “Superabundant” explores the stories behind the foods of the Pacific Northwest with videos, articles and this weekly newsletter. To keep you sated between episodes, we’ve brought on food writer Heather Arndt Anderson, a Portland-based culinary historian and ecologist, to highlight different aspects of the region’s food ecosystem. This week she reflects on how the Northwest weathers a snowstorm.
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Now that we’ve dug ourselves out from under all that snow (and kids have finally gone back to school), some of us have taken strolls to check on the garden. The winter greens and parsley are unaffected, but your tulips might’ve gotten a bit stomped on. Maybe some of you are still a little sore from shoveling your sidewalks. But as with everything, history can offer us a bit of perspective. In 1951, Eugene was completely buried by a freak March snow storm. But take heart: Spring really is right around the corner, and we’ll set our clocks forward just a few days after the next full moon. Why is the March full moon called a Worm Moon? Read on to find out!
Small Bites: Lilian Tingle’s legacy, eulachon runs, and remembering Der Rheinlander.
Freshly picked morsels from the Pacific Northwest food universe:
Der Rheinlander, hoch soll er leben.
If you talk to pretty much any old-guard chef or line cook in the greater Portland area, chances are they’ve done a stint working in a Horst Mager kitchen; nearly every seasoned service industry pro over the age of 40 has a Horst story. He also opened Western Culinary Institute, so even the chefs who didn’t work directly for Mager learned from him. By most accounts, he was Oregon’s first celebrity chef, with a sparkling, camera-ready personality…and a reputation for having something of a brusque, old school (read: German dad) management style off-screen. His restaurant L’Omelette was one of James Beard’s and Julia Child’s favorite eateries in Portland, but the longest-lasting of his restaurants was Sandy Boulevard’s Disneyfied German bierstube, Der Rheinlander. The beloved flagship would have turned 60 on March 4, had it not been closed in early 2017 (its sister restaurant Gustav’s still has a location in Vancouver). Find the recipe for the restaurant’s famous lentil soup, perfect for chilly days, at the end of this newsletter.
Domestic science saves lives.
March is Women’s History Month, and that has us reminiscing about that time in 1908 when the Oregonian’s cooking columnist Lilian Tingle led a national campaign to send the housewives of America into their neighborhood markets to demand hygienic conditions, gaining her the position of Portland’s official market inspector — a crucial role at a time when people routinely died from consuming bad meat and milk from cows with tuberculosis. (That same year, Esther Pohl Lovejoy lost her 7-year-old son Freddie to septic peritonitis after drinking contaminated milk, leading her to take on the role of Portland’s health commissioner.) Cleanliness in markets became the new norm, and food poisoning fatalities dropped. Besides running the cooking column, Tingle taught international cooking classes at the YWCA, and went on to found the domestic science programs at Portland Public Schools and University of Oregon, where she served as the department director.
Those darn hooligans are at it again.
And by “it,” we mean recovering from their Endangered Species Act listing in the Cowlitz and Columbia Rivers. Eulachon (aka ooligan, hooligan or Columbia River smelt) — a small, silver, anadromous Pacific Northwest fish species — are recreationally fished using the traditional indigenous method of dip netting, but due to commercial overharvest, numbers had gotten so low in 2009 that the fish were listed by 2010. There are currently no fisheries scheduled in 2023, but with their numbers making an encouraging comeback, some folks are angling for the right to fish for them once again. Washington’s and Oregon’s state wildlife departments spent January 2023 collecting public comments on how to best manage the recovering fishery for consideration when updating plans for recreational and commercial fishing. (Lilian Tingle recommended serving eulachon in a decorative ring shape, with their tails through their eyes.)
It’s the Full Worm Moon on March 7, a time, according to Naudawessie (Dakota) people, when the beetle grubs begin emerging from the thawing bark of fallen trees. In the Northwest, Kalapuya people named the full moon in this period of winter’s wane atcha-uyu, or “women’s camas-digging time,” since the Willamette Valley soil would have softened enough to yield to her digging stick. Wasco-Wishram people of the Middle Columbia River named it the “long days moon,” coinciding with the time of year when our clocks spring forward an hour, lengthening our afternoon daylight.
That spring seems so close is why a late-February snowstorm and record low temperatures (in Hillsboro, Portland and Pendleton) can feel particularly egregious. A surprise winter wonderland can be not so wonderful for our garden plans, but the timing is more important than the severity. If 2022′s summer’s cherries are any indication, it’s our crops that have a harder time weathering an off-season storm, but the heavier-than-forecast snowstorm that blanketed much of the region last week happened when fruit trees are still dormant (this is why it’s also the time of year to prune your fruit trees). Apples, cherries and pears — of which Oregon and Washington are top growers — are actually more productive in years with a winter chill. Although it seems that we’ve had more freaky winter weather over the past couple years, according to Climate Central, winter chills have been in overall decline around the United States.
Nature has a way of bouncing back from a sudden flurry. The native red-flowering currant and mockorange in the garden are utterly unscathed by the random cold snap, and the frilly escarole and red kale (two great winter crops) in the raised beds have never looked more luscious. If you sowed your peas and chervil in the fall, they’ve taken the snow in stride, poking their little heads out of the soil as if nothing happened. Alliums like garlic chives and spring onions are also beginning to stir.
Songbirds have picked up where they left off before the snow, selecting bits of grass and old vines to resume building their nests, but cold weather and snow can have an impact on livestock, particularly young animals. Backyard hens may have gone on strike if they’ve started laying again, and chicks may need to be kept indoors even if they’ve begun outgrowing their brooder.
This time of year is when many farmers plan for their cows to give birth; calving season is currently underway in Eastern Oregon, and newborn calves can be vulnerable to extreme temps. However, last week’s weather was nothing compared to the snowstorm that hit Central Oregon in the winter of 1883-84.
That winter, in late December, a cold front swept in, dropping the Ochoco Valley to -40 degrees Fahrenheit by the stroke of the new year. The snow began to fall and didn’t stop until it was over 6 feet deep. The cold weather hung around for several weeks and so did the snow, requiring farmers to dig tunnels between their homes and barns. Snow remained on the ground in March, and when farmers were finally able to assess the damage they saw their cattle had frozen to death where they stood, huddled against trees for shelter. As recently recalled in the Madras Pioneer, “The Brown brothers, of the Wagontire area, lost a herd of nearly 2,500 sheep, and Alonzo Boyce lost a herd of nearly 1,500 sheep on Agency Plains north of Madras.” The storm nearly obliterated Central Oregon’s burgeoning livestock industry, yet there seem to be no mentions of this storm whatsoever in news sources of the time.
Nowadays, a couple inches of snow makes headlines, but we in the Northwest have seen much, much worse. Maybe a snow day here and there isn’t so bad after all.
Recipe: Horst Mager’s lentil soup
This recipe is adapted from Horst Mager’s famous Frankfurter lentil soup, but it’s different from the one published in Mager’s cookbook — this is based on the version that was published in The Oregonian in 1973 along with a collection of other Portland chefs’ recipes. The cookbook’s recipe also somehow omits the most important part of the famous lentil soup: the Frankfurters. In the 1964 restaurant review of Maria’s Kitchen (which opened in March of 1963 and was renamed Der Rheinlander two years later), Mager recommended thinly sliced skinless Frankfurters, and the restaurant reviewer noted the soup was “laced with tomato some way.” This updated recipe reflects those observations. If you’re in Portland you can look for traditional German style Frankfurters at Gartner’s or Edelweiss, or buy the Zenner’s brand at mainstream grocery stores elsewhere in the Northwest. If you’re cutting back on processed meats, feel free to leave out the Frankfurters. Makes 6-8 servings.
¼ lb (4 strips) raw bacon, diced
1 cup minced onion
1 cup diced celery
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 tsp coarse kosher salt
¼ cup flour
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 cup dry green or brown lentils (not split), rinsed in cold water
1 quart low-sodium beef broth or homemade beef stock
1 cup peeled, diced potatoes
1 14-oz can crushed tomatoes
2 skinless Frankfurter sausages, thinly sliced
2 tbsp chopped parsley
- In a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot, saute the bacon over medium heat until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, celery, carrot and salt and stir to coat in the bacon fat. Saute until the onion begins to get glossy and fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- Sprinkle in the flour and nutmeg and stir well to remove any lumps. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly, then stir in the lentils. Slowly pour in the broth and potato, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the potatoes and lentils are tender, 20-25 minutes.
- Stir in the canned tomatoes, one canful (the empty tomato can) of water, and the sliced Frankfurters and bring up to a simmer. Cook uncovered for 5 more minutes, then taste and adjust seasoning as needed (note that if you use unsalted homemade stock you will need to add another couple fat pinches of kosher salt). Stir in the parsley and serve.
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