Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sufferin' Cranberries

Ocean Spray leaflet
 The Thanksgiving Day meal pushes many  seldom-eaten foods briefly into the limelight: brussels sprouts, stuffing, pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, even the roast turkey itself. And cranberries.

I like cranberries. I hailed the development of cranberry juice and cranapple juice. I grew up on the Oregon coast, where cranberries were grown; my father, as a government weatherman, was regularly on the Astoria radio stations giving the weather report, which at appropriate times included noting the overnight forecast for  freezing temperatures "in the bogs": the warning to cranberry growers to flood the fields to protect the crop.

My mother always made a Thanksgiving Day relish of fresh cranberries, an orange, and sugar, run through the meat grinder. An excellent combination, and an easy and foolproof recipe. I like to squeeze an orange, add sugar, heat it up, and add fresh cranberries, boiling them lightly until the berries pop; when you set the mixture aside, it cools as a delicious and lumpy thick sauce. Another excellent and easy recipe.

Our Dad often cooked, and he made a most delicious meat loaf. Our family preferred the every-loaf-is-different approach, and we also belonged to the lumpy, not smooth, school of meat loaf building. So we had chunky meat loaf that might include some combination of chopped onion, celery, sweet pepper, leftover broccoli, an egg, condensed milk, Worcestershire sauce, rolled oats, cooked rice, bread crumbs, tomatoes, and/or tomato catsup, along with the usual ground beef, ground pork or sausage, and assorted herbs. It was always a treat.

But then, sometime in the early 1970s, Dad got his hands on a recipe that called for mounding the meat loaf ingredients over a log of canned, jelly-like cranberry sauce. My sister Laural and I independently concluded that this was a terrible development, but by the mid-1970s, our Mom had died and Laural and I had gone our own ways: the result was that, for the next two decades, each of us was from time to time subjected to seeing Dad and being offered what he was sure was one of our favorite meals, featuring cranberry meat loaf. Several times we were so subjected together, along with our respective spouses. Oh, the grimaces we suppressed.
Ocean Spray, "The Grower's Brand"

Finally, having compared notes, Laural and I confronted Dad and told him the bad news: we both hated cranberry meat loaf. Yes, we loved his un-cranberry meat loaf, and we were sorry we hadn't told him sooner. He was crestfallen, dismayed, taken aback: we had eaten so many cranberry meat loaves!

But he adapted. Thank goodness. After Dad's death a few years ago, I ran across a tattered leaflet in one of his cookbooks: here is the origin of the cranberry meatloaf. Try it if you dare. Only if you dare.

Monday, November 14, 2011

"An Indictment of Intercollegiate Athletics"

The furor at Penn State adds another dimension to the discussion of the purpose of intercollegiate athletics. A few months ago I acquired an offprint of an article by the first president of Reed College, William Trufant Foster, entitled "An Indictment of Intercollegiate Athletics." I have uploaded a .pdf file of this essay to Internet Archive. It was initially published in the Atlantic Monthly of November 1915, and it reads very well today. And it makes points that are still more pressing today.

When I attended Reed, two years of physical education were required. I took tennis, sailing, volleyball, and intermediate folk dancing (I should have taken beginning).

This is the chapel in Eliot Hall of Reed College, as it was at its completion in 1912. It is quite recognizable today; the pews, bare wood through the 1960s when I sat on them, today have a semblance of padding.

This card was sent in February of 1917 by a Reed student named George to his Aunt Alice, Mrs. John Steele of Tolland, Connecticut.

 "Dear Aunt Alice, This is the best place on earth in many ways. Here is a picture of the chapel where we meet every morning. The organ has now been placed in the [chapel] since this was printed... George."

And the organ remains.

Long Distance Hauling

Last year I commented on a nearly-vanished Oregon regional food product: the turkey (“The Rise and Fall of an Oregon Fowl,” November 23, 2010 posting). Sixty years ago, Oregon tom turkeys had cachet, and the term appeared on restaurant menus as a proudly local offering.

I went to my neighborhood New Seasons Market yesterday to order a Thanksgiving turkey. Though New Seasons is a dedicated promoter and seller of local foodstuffs, their turkeys -- free range and/or organic and/or heirloom variety -- will all come to us from the Sierra foothills of California.
November 1955
California and the foods grown there have a long history of being widely sold and consumed in Oregon. (Of course, we have also long sent California apples and pears and potatoes, too.) California’s impact on Oregon has a long history. Consider Sunset, a San Francisco-area based magazine that has been widely read in the Pacific Northwest ever since it absorbed Portland’s Pacific Monthly magazine in 1911. The food advertising in Sunset, the recipes for homemakers and the recipes from men “chefs of the West,” the articles about outdoor barbecues and indoor-outdoor living spaces, have all been highly influential on many western Oregon and Washington residents.

Here’s a bit from a shorter lived, but more focused, California publication. Western Family (ca. 1940-1958) was published in Los Angeles; it appears to have been distributed through independent grocers. There is likely some connection with today’s Western Family Foods of Tigard, although I was unable to find it in an online search. In any case, copies of the  magazine are easily found, and they are stuffed with food advertising, mostly for West Coast firms. On the one hand, there are a few West Coast firms marketing West Coast products, such as Del Monte canned green beans. On the other hand, Oakland, California-based Gerber baby foods does not get the bananas for its strained baby food from California growers.

Western Family, Nov. 1955

Here’s an ad of mixed goods: PictSweet, the frozen food division of the national brand Stokely-Van Camp (which then specialized in canned goods) was situated in Mount Vernon, Washington. Or so this advertisement says. And the implication is that the frozen PictSweet vegetables were grown in the vicinity of the Skagit River Valley.

But wait: PictSweet, according to their website, was founded in Tennessee in 1945 and has been there, family owned and family operated ever since. The history of food processing operations is complex and, it appears, largely unwritten and undocumented. But the ads in publications such as Sunset and Western Family do tell us that, even fifty and sixty years ago, most of the foods used by Pacific Northwest cooks traveled hundreds, even thousands, of miles from field to kitchen.

On the other hand, locally raised wheat once did get locally milled into flour throughout our region. Today, it's tough to find (and don't let the brand name Pendleton fool you, either).

Recipe book issued ca. 1932