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’s delighted to announce a new episode of “Superabundant” — Strawberries — and offers a recipe for a strawberry-elderflower spritzer.
It’s time for a brand-new episode of “Superabundant,” this time featuring Oregon’s favorite small fruit: strawberries. Oregon is an epicenter of berry growing, thanks to our rich volcanic soils, mild weather and two native strawberry species for genetic material — but do you know how long horticulturists have been breeding strawberries in the Beaver State? Read on (and watch!) to find out!
A brand new episode of “Superabundant,” mollusks of land and sea, and good things in gardens and markets
Freshly picked morsels from the Pacific Northwest food universe:
New “Superabundant” episode: Strawberries 🍓
A Northwest native that also traveled the Oregon Trail with our region’s father of agriculture; the main attraction in one small town’s festival (and world record-shattering shortcake); a top-selling flavor for Häagen-Dazs and Salt & Straw ice creams. We’re talking about Oregon strawberries, and they’re the star of our new episode of “Superabundant” (as well as this week’s recipe). Though the Northwest is home to two native species of strawberry (and Japanese farmers have been growing strawberries in Oregon since the 1880s), horticulturists at Oregon State University partnered with the USDA more than a century ago, announcing their first “new” strawberry variety in 1922. Learn more about the science and history of one of Oregon’s favorite fruits.
Open season for razor clams on the Central Coast
When Namazake Paul (Portland-based sake dealer Paul Willenberg) texted the “Superabundant” kitchen a couple weeks ago with a cooler full of freshly-dug razor clams in the back of his car, we jumped at the chance to experiment with the obscenely large bivalves. The North Oregon Coast razor clam season opened on May 6, and as of May 26, the season has opened on the Central Oregon Coast as well. Clammers can keep the first 15 clams they dig in the designated areas, but harvesting razor clams south of Seal Rock is still prohibited due to high levels of domoic acid (the same toxin that waylaid Dungeness crab season last winter).
Slug Week takes Northwest by storm
Gardeners, take notice: Springtime is when land clams hatch and go to town on your veggie starts. But are all slugs and snails a gardener’s foe? To inform and educate us about the wonderful world of terrestrial mollusks, Oregon State University’s Master Gardener Program ran its annual Slug Week on Instagram last week, and let’s just say that some of the content was eye(stalk) opening. Of course, we at “Superabundant” believe there’s a place in the garden for all types of soil-dwelling critters, but sometimes that place is a beer trap. [NB: Researchers at OSU have found that bread dough is far more effective at attracting slugs than any other bait.]
What’s in season in the “Superabundant” garden this week: bamboo shoots. A bit of processing is required, but then again most sansai, or “mountain vegetables” need to be processed in some way — boiling, salting, drying or pickling — before they become palatable. In the case of bamboo shoots, boiling removes toxic cyanogenic glycosides (don’t worry; apple seeds have these compounds too). If you’re growing bamboo and want to try fresh shoots, double-check that the variety you’re growing is safe to eat — of the roughly 1,400 species of bamboo, only a hundred or so are harvested for food. To harvest, press firmly against the shoot with the palm of your hand (like you’re pushing it over) and it should snap off cleanly right below the soil level. Here’s a handy video of how to peel them. After you’ve removed the tough sheaths, boil the shoots for 1 ½ to 2 hours in rice water — you can use the water left from washing rice or just add a spoonful of rice bran to water — then rinse and eat or refrigerate them for later. The elders are all blooming now, too — find our elderflower cordial in this week’s recipe.
Good things in markets
Rhubarb and strawberries are still going strong, as are herbs and greens. Snap peas, pea shoots and carrots are as sweet and crisp as ever. Garlic (and other alliums, like leek) scapes are showing up, ready for summer grilling — treat them like slightly pungent asparagus (that is to say, simply — they don’t need much more than butter, lemon, and herbs). Wild-foraged porcini will be available at better-stocked markets (or in the forest, depending on where you shop for groceries). Speaking of summer, imagine our surprise when fresh zucchini made an appearance at the farmer’s market! Where there are zucchini, there are zucchini blossoms — stuff them with herbed goat cheese, then batter and fry them, or make a Mexican squash blossom soup.
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Recipe: Strawberry-elderflower spritzer
Strawberries are such a versatile fruit; they pair as well with whipped cream or rhubarb as they do basil and balsamic vinegar, but there’s something truly intoxicating about the fragrance and flavor of fresh, ripe strawberries with elderflowers. This summery spritzer puts them both on full display, and you can make it with sparkling wine or lemonade, depending on your preference. Any elderflowers will do here; the “Superabundant” garden has white-flowered European elder (Sambucus nigra) as well as the ornamental ‘Black Lace’ variety with baby-pink blossoms. Flowers from Northwest natives red elder (S. racemosa) and blue elder (S. cerulea) can be foraged in the wild, though might not yet be blooming at higher elevations. Makes 1 quart of elderflower cordial, enough for many spritzers
4 oz fresh elderflowers, big stems removed
1 qt water
4 cups sugar
1 tsp powdered citric acid (see note) or ½ cup fresh lemon juice, strained
2 small to medium Oregon strawberries, hulled and sliced
4 oz sparkling dry white wine, sparkling lemonade or tart lemon Italian soda
- Make the cordial: Add the elderflowers and water to a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, then turn off the burner and allow the flowers and berries to steep for ten minutes. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined colander (or pour through a fine-mesh sieve and then pour the strained elderflower tea through a coffee filter).
- Stir in the citric acid or lemon juice and the sugar. If you’re using a purple-stemmed elderflower variety, the tan liquid will turn a lovely shade of pink! Pour the elderflower cordial into a jar with a lid and allow to cool to room temperature before stashing it in the fridge to chill.
- Make the spritzer: For each person, add sliced strawberries to a wine glass or tumbler , top with ice, 2-3 tablespoons of the elderflower cordial (use less or more depending on how sweet you like things) and then pour over the sparkling wine or lemonade.
Note: We’ll always provide the lemon juice equivalent, but we recommend you just get the citric acid! It’s basically (heh) the acid of salt. We think it’s odd that sugar and salt have a place in the average kitchen but MSG and citric acid get short shrift when they provide two of our tongue’s five tastes (umami and sour, respectively). Citric acid is a versatile ingredient used for making fresh cheeses, safely canning low-acid or borderline-pH foods (like tomatoes), and, as noted in an earlier newsletter, for bringing out the bright pink color in foods high in anthocyanins. If you aren’t ready to commit to a 2-pound tub of the stuff, you can pick up a little jar of it in the canning supplies sections of stores like Bi-Mart and Fred Meyer, shelved by the pectin and pickling salt.