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 offers a little Oregon berry history primer and explores the ways the Northwest can observe everyone’s favorite math-based food holiday known as Pi Day (3/14).
March 14 is Pi Day, and while there’s a pie for every palate, Oregon is best known for one in particular: Marionberry. There are so many reasons we in the Northwest should be proud of our pie. But what exactly is a Marionberry — and which small Southern Oregon town library sells mini-pies at their annual Harvest Festival? Read on to find out!
Small Bites: Ghostly white crab makes local appearance, vegan bacon gets some much-needed help and planting the radicchio revolution
Freshly picked morsels from the Pacific Northwest food universe:
The Oregon Coast gets a new shell-ebrity
When a snow-white Dungeness crab appeared in a local commercial fisherman’s crab pot this winter, it wasn’t just unusual — it was a one in 2 to 3 million occurrence. But the same alabaster carapace that should have made it an easy target for predators is ultimately what saved its life, when the rare crustacean was spared from the fish market in the name of science. Leucism isn’t the same genetic mutation as albinism; while albinism is a complete lack of pigment, leucism is just a partial loss of pigment (this crab’s eyes are still as black as ink). It’s not as rare as albinism — leucism is sometimes seen in urban crows — but it is still a freak occurrence. Dubbed Sour Cream, the crab now takes up residence at Oregon’s own Island of Misfit Toys, the Seaside Aquarium.
Vegans finally have a retort to “but bacon though…” trolling
If one were to create a Venn diagram of the Pacific Northwest diet, the saddest intersection lies between bacon and veganism. Doughnuts and ramen can be made plant-based with perfectly serviceable results compared to their original versions, leaving conscientious diners wanting for nothing. A convincing meatless bacon, on the contrary, has always proven the vegetarian’s white whale. Pending FDA approval, this will soon no longer be a problem, thanks to meatless bacon made with lab-grown fat at San Francisco startup Mission Barns. As Yasmin Tayag recently wrote for The Atlantic, this new development could move the plant-based needle beyond the novelty of “bleeding” meat analogs and could make vegan bacon that actually chews, smells and tastes like the real thing. Fat is flavor, and there’s no amount of liquid smoke, Bragg’s and coconut oil in the world that can make canned jackfruit taste like pulled pork. Maybe in-vitro bacon fat is the shot in the arm desperately needed by the meat analog industry, still reeling from mass layoffs.
Need a new lettuce? Try radical radicchio
In Superabundant’s continued mission of waxing rhapsodic about the joys of winter vegetables, OPB’s Crystal Ligori recently reported on the radicchio revolution sweeping the Northwest. Like other members of the daisy family (including lettuce, dandelion, chicory and endive), radicchio can be bitter, but some say that’s part of its charm. A major part of its charm, however, is the gorgeous variety of colors and leaf shapes available to farmers and gardeners today, thanks to help from Lane Selman, an Oregon State University prof and founder of the Culinary Breeding Network — a collaborative effort to unite farmers, plant breeders, chefs, and consumers to develop and source cooler, tastier vegetables suited to the Northwest’s temperate climate.
How Marionberry became Oregon’s official state pie
March 14 is colloquially known as Pi Day (get it? Pie day) and we in the Northwest have a tendency to take our pie very seriously. Since 1978, Hermiston-born restaurant chain Shari’s Cafe & Pies (originally Shari’s Restaurant & Pie Bakery) isn’t just for 24-hour breakfast; it was originally a pie spot. Franz Bakery’s hand-held chocolate creme and fruit pies are a taste of childhood. Whether you look in a restaurant, a farm stand or the grocery store, a quality pie can be found all over the region. Heck, in Myrtle Point, they even sell mini hand-made pies at their local library during their annual Harvest Festival.
There are savory pot pies to go from Tualatin’s 150 year-old family farm, Lee Farms Market & Bakery. And don’t forget the pizza — from family-style buffet Abby’s to Pietro’s taco pizza to artisanal wood-fired Ken’s, we’ve got a pie of every stripe.
Pie has always been part of the Northwest’s culinary landscape. It traveled west with Overlanders and was quickly adapted to the local ingredients of the new country. Pie has maintained its place on the gastronomic throne ever since, its humble ubiquity belying its influence and appeal.
According to Joseph Conlin’s 1979 social history of food in logging camps, “Old Boy, Did You Get Enough of Pie?” the circular food was a requirement. “As an occupational group,” he reports, late 19th-century loggers “were probably some of the best-fed workers in the country.” In the Pacific Northwest, logging camp cookhouses regularly cranked out food that was said to have rivaled that from the finest hotels in Portland, Astoria or Seattle. If the food in a logging camp wasn’t up to snuff, loggers would quit en masse and go work somewhere else. Pie was critical to a lumberjack’s job satisfaction.
Today, Lauretta Jean’s chocolate chess pie is a classic straight from the South; for a different regional niche cult classic, go with a Volga German Schwartzbeerenkuchen made from (totally not poisonous!) black nightshade berries. If you fancy a wild berry pie, there’s always huckleberry, but what about Pacific serviceberry (better known in Saskatchewan as Saskatoon berry) pie? Oregon’s official state fruit is the pear, but pears make a wet pie; Washington apples are a much better bet (now that’s what we call crustifiable pomicide). Hood River’s cherries are fabulous in pie, as are their peaches, but when it comes to the single most perfect flavor of Oregon, a Marionberry pie is peerless.
We bring the berry best
The Northwest is well known for its plethora of berries, and Oregon’s caneberries (the name for blackberries and raspberries) are unsurpassed. Gresham was once known as the “Raspberry Capital of the World.” Belonging to the genus Rubus, “caneberry” includes Northwest native blackberries, salmonberry, thimbleberry and dewberry. It also includes innumerable horticultural hybrids important to berry breeding, like youngberry, kotataberry, olallieberry, boysenberry, loganberry, tayberry, tummelberry, veitchberry, silvanberry and hildaberry.
Unless you’re a true enthusiast, most of those probably won’t ring a bell — loganberries and boysenberries have had their day in the syrup dispenser and jam jar, but the average person probably couldn’t pick an olallie out of a lineup. The Oregon State University-born berry was derived from a cross between a few different cultivars and the Northwest’s native trailing blackberry (R. ursinus), but it doesn’t like Oregon’s cooler weather and like boysenberry, has mostly been relegated to the fields of California.
Loganberry’s germplasm has been used to sire numerous successful cultivars, including the California-bred boysenberry and our olallieberry, whose local claim to fame wouldn’t come until the 1950s: It’s the mother of Marion.
Named for the county in which they were first tested and grown, Marionberries are special. They’re like fine wine; a perfect balance of tart and sweet, dark and juicy with a complex floral-fruity fragrance that’s positively intoxicating. Because of their exceedingly short season (and even shorter shelf life), they’re nearly all frozen immediately after harvest, which means that when you buy frozen Marionberries you’re getting a perfectly ripe product. And a perfectly ripe version of a perfect fruit makes the perfect pie — our official state pie since 2017.
Among the myriad practical reasons cited in the official House Concurrent Resolution #19 for why Marionberry pie should be designated a state symbol, we find these facts the most indisputable:
“— 79th Oregon Legislative Assembly, 2017
and Whereas one of the most delicious ways to eat Marionberries is in a Marionberry pie;
and Whereas Marionberry pies are mouthwatering and delightful when served by themselves, à la mode or garnished with whipped cream;
and Whereas an ideal way to celebrate the wonders of a Pacific Northwest summer is to share a summertime meal with friends or family that concludes with a slice of fresh Marionberry pie;
now, therefore, Be It Resolved by the Legislative Assembly of the State of Oregon: That the Marionberry pie is the official pie of the State of Oregon.”
Recipe: Marionberry-cardamom galette
If you like an old-fashioned pie, the antique blackberry cream pie from Portland’s Neighborhood Cook Book (1912) is a keeper, but local fruit doesn’t really need any cream or custard to gild its lily. When the cookbook was written, marionberries hadn’t been invented yet and loganberries were still a fairly recent development. (The loganberry dumpling recipe in the cookbook is very good, can be made with canned fruit, and can be prepared in a cast iron skillet over flame, making it perfect for camping.) Because they’re flash-frozen at their peak of ripeness, frozen Oregon marionberries are excellent for pies. Feel free to use a frozen pie shell while you’re at it; there’s no shame in cutting corners in the name of pie. Here we’re using from-scratch pie dough but lazily folding it into a rustic galette rather than making a tidy pie with pretty crimped edges — we think it’s a fine compromise. Sparkling sugar on the crust always helps.
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp fine sea salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¼ cup ice-cold water
3 cups fresh or frozen Marionberries
3 tbsp sugar
½ tsp ground cardamom
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1 beaten egg
1 tbsp milk
2 tbsp coarse sparkling sugar or turbinado sugar
- Using a food processor, combine the flour, sugar and salt by pulsing a few times. Pulse a few more times to cut the butter into the flour, until the mixture resembles fine crumbs (or use a pastry cutter or a fork, if you’re old-school). Dribble the ice water over the mixture and pulse a few more times until a shaggy, lumpy dough kind of clumps together.
- Turn the crumbly dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap and grab the edges of the plastic to smush the dough together until a rough ball kind of forms. It’s not going to look like perfect dough yet, and that’s ok. Trust the process!
- Wrap the dough tightly in the plastic wrap and smush it into a disc about an inch thick. Chuck this into the fridge for an hour (or overnight) to let it relax and hydrate.
- When your dough has sufficiently chilled, stir the filling ingredients until thoroughly combined. There’s no need to thaw the berries first.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Position the oven rack in the middle and preheat the oven to 400°.
- Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until into a large circle about 12″ across and ⅛” thick (it’s more important to have a relatively thin dough than perfectly 12″ across). Lay the dough onto the lined baking sheet, then spoon the berry mixture on, leaving a 2″ border. Fold the border inward, overlapping with pleats as you go, as tidy or rustic as you please.
- Whisk the egg and milk together and brush the egg wash onto the top of the pastry, then sprinkle the sparkling sugar onto the brushed dough. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375° and bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling is soft and thickened, about 40-45 minutes.
- Allow to cool for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve with vanilla or buttermilk ice cream (optional).
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Correction: This story has been updated to note that, although marionberry is the state pie of Oregon, there is no Oregon state berry. OPB regrets the error.