Bay Nut Brownies

I must apologize for my long silence. I was extraordinarily busy last year finishing two books, The Curious Kitchen Garden, to be published by Timber Press next spring, and First Fruits: The Lewellings and the Birth of the Pacific Coast Fruit Industry, to be published by Oregon State University Press at about the same time. I’m back at work now on one of my older book projects, but I wanted to take a break to share with you all my latest experiment with foraged food.

I stumped the book club this week with my mystery brownies. One member guessed they contained beets, another peanuts. Others were sure I’d added coffee. And indeed the brownies smelled like coffee—strong, dark-roasted coffee—but they also bore an intriguing herbal note. They were my first batch of brownies made with bay nuts.

Bay nuts come from one of my favorite evergreen trees, the California bay laurel. Although it is most often associated with northern California and the southern Oregon coast, it grows almost everywhere in California except the Delta and the high Sierra Nevada, and it is also endemic here in the Willamette Valley (in Linn County I know bay trees that must be more than a century old). In California the tree is often shrub-like, but here it can grow as tall as one hundred feet. The leaves are so intensely aromatic that Californians will use a scrap of one in place of a whole Mediterranean bay leaf. Oregonians tend to ignore the leaves but treasure the wood, which they call myrtle. From it they make such things as salad bowls and musical instruments. But few people anywhere eat the nuts, though native tribes once enjoyed them.

I’d never paid any attention to bay nuts until my daughter asked me why I didn’t use them (why she ponders such questions from her home in Sweden I do not understand, but that’s Rebecca). Soon after, I found myself crunching the nuts underfoot as I strolled through town. Last year was a good one for collecting bay nuts; they were scattered over the sidewalk in several places in my neighborhood. And so I gathered a couple of handfuls.

bay nuts, in and out of shellBay nuts fall in November. It’s probably wise to gather them right away, though the ones I collected had survived many rainy days without getting moldy. The nuts have a thin green skin that comes off easily. Nuts that have fallen to the ground will often have lost their skins already. I peeled away the skins remaining on my nuts before leaving them to dry for a few weeks indoors. Once dry, the nuts are supposed to keep well for years.

Most people who use bay nuts roast them in their shells. Not knowing this, I shelled my nuts before roasting them. The thin, round, buff-colored shells come off with a light whack of a meat mallet or hammer. The freed nutmeats fall into halves.

roasted bay nutsI roasted my nuts at 350 degrees F, turning them two or three times, until they were a uniform dark brown. This took about 45 minutes. The roasted nuts smelled very strongly of coffee, first, and chocolate, second, along with that herbal je ne sais quoi.

 Because the nuts taste so strong on their own, I thought they would be most useful as a powder. They must be ground with care, though, since they are about 50-percent fat—about as rich as almonds and cashews. They gummed up both our manual and electric coffee grinders before I fetched a stone mortar. I ground the nuts quickly and easily in the mortar, to a brown, clumping powder. At least it seemed like a powder until I tried to remove it from the mortar. I had to scrape off the paste at the bottom with a steel spoon.

ground bay nuts in mortarground bay nuts in bowlBecause my powder wasn’t entirely smooth, I later reground it in the Vitamix. For some reason, this worked: The powder smoothed out and didn’t form a paste.

Robert used a tablespoon of the powder to make a cup of drip “coffee”—actually, a clear, golden brown liquid more like tea than coffee. The flavor was pleasant enough, but I think the powder might be better used like chocolate or cocoa, blended with hot water or milk.

Bay nuts are supposed to contain a stimulant, not caffeine but something similar, which is said to make people feel energetic and focused. Robert didn’t notice any such effect. I concluded that the powder was safe to try on the book club.

For the club, I used my favorite brownie recipe, which calls for both chocolate and cocoa. Because Hershey’s cocoa, which I usually use, is only 10-percent fat, my bay nut brownies turned out extra dense and rich but very good, and extremely aromatic. In fact, even though the book club seemed to love the brownies, I suspect that some people would find them too aromatic. So, the first time you try this recipe, you might replace just half or even a quarter of the cocoa with bay nut powder.

Bay Nut Brownies

bay nut brownies½ cup butter
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup flour
7 tablespoons bay nut powder (or bay nut powder and cocoa combined)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Grease and flour a 9-inch-square baking pan, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Beat in the sugar and eggs. Stir in the flour and bay nut powder, and then the vanilla extract. Spoon the mixture into the pan, and smooth the top. Bake the cake 25 to 30 minutes, until it is just firm in the center.

Let the cake cool before cutting it into squares.

Tasting Brined Whole Watermelon

fermented watermelonI finally took one of my ‘Winter King and Queen’ watermelons out of its trash can full of brine and sliced it open. What a revelation! This pickled watermelon wasn’t slimy and tomato-like, like the brined watermelon I had in New York so many years ago. It wasn’t a translucent red like the ‘Golden Midget’ melons I brined in 2010. The flesh still looked more or less as it would have before brining, and it was mostly still crisp. It was lightly sweet, sour, and salty all at once. It was, in sum, delicious, and now I understand why many old-timey Germans from Russia prefer the ‘Winter King and Queen’ over other watermelons for brining.

Robert immediately found uses for the brined melon. He cut it into cubes and combined it in a salad with sliced celery and scallions and unrefined sunflower oil. This salad was so good that I had to duplicate it the following evening. He made a cocktail of homemade slivovitz (plum brandy) with cubed brined watermelon. He ate the flesh by spoonfuls right down to the green outer rind. And we both drank the refreshing brine that the cut melon released while sitting in the fridge.

We will eat the other melons soon, while they’re still crisp. And when they are gone we will miss them. Thank goodness we’re only two months away from watermelon-planting time.

Bring on The Briner

“I should have invented that!” my husband said to himself when he first saw The Briner. People who are handy apparently say this to themselves often, but in this case it’s true: He should have invented that!

The Briner & Briner Jr.He gave me The Briner and The Briner Jr. for Christmas. They are food-grade buckets, 22-quart and 8-quart, respectively, made in the USA. Each comes with a lid and a flat plate that fits inside and locks into place between indentations that run in vertical rows down opposite sides of the bucket. I don’t know how much Robert paid for the set, but on the manufacturer’s website it costs $60. You can get these two buckets with a third, the 3.5-quart Briner Mini, for just $15 more.

The strange thing is that the manufacturer hasn’t figured out that these buckets are good for fermenting vegetables. One photo on the website shows corn on the cob, presumably getting a brief soak in the bucket before grilling. But there are no other photos of vegetables and no mention of vegetables or fermentation. The website is all about brining meat.

weights over brining watermelons
A sorry way to weight watermelons


As I mentioned in my last post, I began brining some watermelons in a food-grade plastic trash can in October. Unfortunately, I have no plate big enough to fit inside the trash can. If I had an old-growth tree to cut up, I could create something appropriate. Instead I filled an assortment of food-grade containers with water and used them in place of both a plate and weights. This setup is not working very well.

Brining cabbage

The other day I started brining a single, 2 ½-pound whole cabbage in The Briner Jr. The process was shockingly easy: Insert cabbage, pour over brine, add a few aromatics, insert plate, turn it to lock it in place, snap on lid. The lid may need burping from time to time, though I could avoid that little task by leaving the lid loose. But otherwise I have nothing to do but wait. Once fermentation is underway I may carry the bucket from the kitchen downstairs to the cellar, but that will be easy: The bucket weights little more than its ingredients.

I can’t find the inventor’s name on the website, but I thank him for his ingenuity. I hope he profits well from his invention.

End-of-the-Year Treat: Winter Watermelon

Remember the long piece I wrote last year on the ‘Winter King and Queen’ watermelon? The winter-watermelon fun continues.

Last spring I gave my friend Betty several starts of ‘Winter King and Queen,’ and she grew out all of them. In early September, I brought home from Betty’s farm about eight round, nearly white melons. The two or three that Robert and I ate fresh over the next few weeks were sweet, crisp, aromatic, and delicious. They tasted even better than the single ‘Winter King and Queen’ we ate last year, since this year we found no coarse, pale flesh surrounding the seeds.

After about a month I set three of the melons to brining in a food-grade trash can in the basement (I’m sorry to call the container a trash can, but there seems to exist no other term for it except garbage can, which somehow strikes me as worse). I kept two remaining melons on a shelf in the basement, which, for a basement, is rather warm, because it houses a furnace and a water heater. In mid-December, one of the melons began to liquify, and I put it in the compost pile. The other melon, though, stayed solid until December 27. On that day, although I was dressed in three layers of wool and snow covered the garden, I decided it was time for a taste.

cut watermelonI shivered at the prospect. Watermelon is cooling even when it hasn’t just come out of the fridge. After eating one slice, however, I immediately cut myself another. This ‘Winter King and Queen,’ like the ones we’d eaten in September, was sweet, crisp, and aromatic. The flesh had softened around the seeds in some parts—you can see the darker areas in the picture–but I just scraped out these bits and kept eating.

So, it’s true—the ‘Winter King and Queen’ watermelon really can keep well until Christmas. I might have avoided the softening in one melon and the rotting of the other if I had kept them in a cooler place. (We have another garbage can—truly a garbage can, the old galvanized metal kind—sunk in the ground outside the back door. Maybe I have finally found a use for it.) For all the people who can bring themselves to eat watermelon in December, wouldn’t it be nice to revive the concept of the winter watermelon? Wouldn’t it be nice if farmers sold some of these melons as well as the bland, seedless types that soften so unappetizingly within a week?

Many Germans from Russia consider the ‘Winter King and Queen’ doubly virtuous: They say it is exceptionally good for brining as well as long-keeping. I will see if I agree in a few more weeks, when I lift the first fermented melon out of its brine in the plastic trash can in the basement.

One Pretty Pumpkin, Warts and All

Galeux d'Eysines pumpkin The big, warty salmon-pink pumpkin surprised me when it appeared in my community garden plot this year. I couldn’t remember planting the seed. I must have, though, because rolling around my brain was the variety name—Galeux d’Eysines, or Scabby from Eysines. I found the fruit stunningly beautiful, and I was happy it was growing where so many people could admire it.

This Cucurbita maxima variety was developed in Eysines, a farming community near Bordeaux, in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. It apparently wasn’t introduced to the United States until 1996, when Amy Goldman found it at a potiron fair in Tranzault, a tiny town in the center of France (Amy loves squashes so much that she wrote a book about them and sculpts them besides).

Some Americans are now calling Galeux d’Eysines the peanut pumpkin, not only because peanut pumpkin is easier to pronounce but because the warts on this squash are, in their size, color, and ridges, reminiscent of dried peanut shells.

Although Galeux d’Eysines may be the world’s wartiest squash, many squashes are warty. I can’t tell you why. Gardeners like to say that the warts emerge from an excessive buildup of sugar in the flesh. But I can find no scientific verification of this notion, and, in fact, when I tasted the insides of a Galeux d’Eysines wart I didn’t taste any sweetness at all.

Now I remember where I got the seed I planted last spring. Three years ago I bought a Galeux d’Eysines squash at a market. Because seed catalogs raved about the flavor—“one of the tastiest squashes I have tried” (Baker Creek), “silky smooth, fiber-free” (Everwilde Farms)—I was disappointed to find mine watery and insipid. I wondered if perhaps I’d cut into it too early or too late, since some squashes improve with keeping and others deteriorate quickly. I saved a few seeds so I could sample another fruit or two later.

Galeux d'Eysines, cutThis year, my vine produced two fruits—the usual yield, according to the catalogs. The bigger fruit, pictured here, weighed more than 20 pounds. Its flesh was a beautiful bright orange, its seed cavity small, and its seeds rather few (and too big and tough to eat). I cut the squash in half, roasted one half, and gave the other half to a neighbor.

Again, I was disappointed: The flesh was watery, only mildly sweet, and somewhat stringy. It became silky-smooth only after I put it through the food mill.

Still, with the milled flesh I made a delicious curried squash soup with coconut milk. My neighbor was happy with her similar-looking soup. If you like puréed soup, this may be the squash for you.

But its use is limited. To make it into pie you have to drain off some of the water. If you want to stir-fry it, well, forget it.

The greatest virtue of the Galeux d’Eysines, I concluded, is its appearance. My bigger fruit made a lovely porch ornament all through October and November. If I had plenty of garden space, I would grow Galeux d’Eysines every year, just for the pleasure of looking at it. But for me it could never replace denser, sweeter squash varieties like butternut, red kuri, and Sweet Meat. With plenty of those fruits, come winter, I wouldn’t feel guilty about throwing Galeux d’Eysines to the pigs—if I had pigs. Thank goodness that at least I have neighbors.

Gathering the Garlic

garlic drying in gardenEvery year the garlic harvest seems to come a little earlier than the last. This year I harvested on June 14, despite on-and-off rain. I couldn’t wait any longer; on some heads the cloves were already pushing outward, which will lead to early sprouting, and rust spots were beginning to appear on some leaves. The rain was likely to continue for at least another day. Here in western Oregon June is normally a nearly dry month, with an average of only an inch and a half of rain. But what’s normal anymore? Last year I harvested during a downpour.

dirty garlic washing garlic

I worked as fast as I could, using only my hands to lift the heads—the soil is that light. Light soil makes for clean garlic, provided that the soil is dry, as it should be by harvest time. But this time my garlic heads were covered in mud. I washed them in a bucket so I could pour the dirt soup back into the bed, and then I gave the heads a final rinse with a garden hose. You have to clean the base of each head thoroughly if you plan to keep the pretty rootlets but don’t want to contaminate your kitchen workspace with soil (which could lead to a risk of botulism, depending on how you store the food you’re preparing). Thankfully, the rain stopped long enough for the clean garlic to dry in the sun for an hour or two before I had to hurry to carry it indoors.

garlic on pool table

Now the garlic is drying further on the pool table in the basement. This isn’t the ideal place to dry garlic; last year I lost some of the heads to rot. But I’ll keep the windows open and turn the garlic twice a day, and in a few weeks I’ll make some beautiful braids. I think we’re set for garlic for the coming year.

Finishing the garlic harvest always seems like cause for celebration. The best way to celebrate is with an aioli platter—bread and boiled eggs, potatoes, and other vegetables with a bowl of aioli (a Provençal word; it’s alioli in Spain), mayonnaise’s simple—and, I think—superior, garlicky ancestor.

Most Americans make aioli or mayonnaise with flavorless vegetable oil, but I like to use extra-virgin olive oil or even roasted hazelnut oil. The latter is unusual but irresistible. I use a whole egg instead of the traditional yolk so that I can make the aioli quickly with a hand blender. Alternatively, you could use two yolks. If you have no hand blender, use just one yolk and add the oil drop by drop, beating constantly with a whisk.

If you’re worried about the risk of salmonella from eating raw eggs, use a pasteurized egg.


Vary the number of garlic cloves depending on their size and pungency. Fresh-dug garlic is sometimes really hot!

1 whole egg
1 to 3 peeled garlic cloves, chopped
¼ to ½ teaspoon fine salt, to taste
2/3 to ¾ cup roasted hazelnut oil or extra-virgin olive oil

Put the egg, garlic, and salt into a tall and narrow container. Begin blending on high with a hand blender. Pour in the oil gradually, and keep blending until the mixture is uniform and quite thick. Chill the aioli until you’re ready to eat.

Red Orach Leaves as Salad-Roll Wrappers

red orach plantEvery year red orach comes up here and there in my garden, and usually it goes right to seed, sending up a stalk at least three feet tall that bears opposite pairs of two- to three-inch heart-shaped leaves. I could pinch back the top of each plant to encourage it to bush out, but I haven’t bothered. The small leaves are never bitter or tough, and they are perfect for adding whole to green salads.

Orach—the word almost rhymes with borage–is Atriplex hortensis, an ancient Eurasian herb in the amaranth family that comes in green, red, and “white,” or bright yellow-green. The plant is related to spinach and chard and tastes like both, only much milder, with barely a touch of sourness. Given plenty of water, the plant can grow as tall as six feet. I’ve never managed to grow orach neatly in rows, but I always let at least one plant self-sow. The seeds, in their flat, papery husks, apparently spread themselves among the garden beds, and just enough of them manage to sprout. I welcome the spot of red color—the only color I’ve grown—wherever it appears, especially when the wind comes up and exposes the leaves’ fuchsia undersides.

Something different about the weather this year has slowed the orach’s race to seed production, and now I appreciate the plant more than ever. It has formed lettuce-like heads with big leaves, about five inches across. Yesterday, as I considered what to make for dinner, I knew these big leaves were probably the only ones I would get; the plants were already beginning to bolt. So, dinner had to include orach salad rolls.

I picked eight big orach leaves, trimmed out the lower part of the midribs, and rolled each leaf around bean-thread noodles, pickled threads of carrot, mint leaves, and salad shrimp. This was much easier than making salad rolls with rice-paper wrappers; the leaves proved to be at once sturdy and flexible. For accompaniment, I made a sweet peanut-chile sauce.

I didn’t check my watch, but I’ll bet that Robert and I ate the whole stack of salad rolls in less than three minutes.

Serves 4 normal people

Quick Carrot Pickle
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon fine salt
1 medium-large carrot

Sweet Peanut-Chile Sauce
1 tablespoon peanut butter
3 tablespoons Thai sweet chile sauce
About 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
About ¼ teaspoon fine salt

Two bunches bean-thread noodles
8 large orach leaves
Handful fresh mint leaves (I used a Vietnamese variety, but spearmint is good)
½ cup (cooked and peeled) salad shrimp

sliver-making toolCarrot Pickle: In a wide bowl, stir together the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Cut the carrot into thin sticks. You can do this by slicing it diagonally and then cutting the slices thin lengthwise, but the tool shown here makes the job quicker. Toss the carrot in the seasoned vinegar. The sticks will quickly lose their stiffness.

Sweet Peanut-Chile Sauce: Put the peanut butter into a small serving bowl. With a fork, mix in the Thai sweet chile sauce. Loosen the sauce with rice vinegar, and season the sauce with salt.

In a large saucepan, heat water to a boil. Cook the bean-thread noodles briefly, until they are tender, separating them with chopsticks or another tool as they begin to soften. Drain the noodles, and rinse them well with cold water.

Cut out aboutfilling orach leaves 1 inch of the lower, thicker midrib from each orach leaf. Lay the leaves, one at a time, upside-down on your work surface. Top each leaf with a portion of the noodles, carrot, mint, and shrimp, and roll the leaf from the base to the tip. Place the roll seam-side down on a plate. Make the rest of the rolls the same way.

orach rollsFor garnish, borage blossoms provide an interesting color contrast.






More Fun with Jerusalem Artichokes

Once again, about a week ago, I dug into the roots of my Jerusalem artichokes, isolated in a corner of the yard where they get no water that doesn’t fall from the sky, and confined by the landscape fabric I spread to keep the Bermuda grass from invading from two neighbors’ yards.

fresh Jerusalem artichokesOnce again I found a bounty. I loaded the roots into a galvanized washtub and hosed them clean. And then I wondered how Robert and I would eat them all—and how we could do it while avoiding “a filthy loathsome stinking wind,” as John Goodyer described the roots’ aftereffects in 1621.1

roasted Jerusalem artichokesThe same day I roasted some of the roots—in the way you would usually roast vegetables, but slower, at 350 degrees F for two hours. The long cooking, I figured, might make the inulin-rich roots more digestible. It did not—but what a delicious dish! The chunks turned out crunchy on the outside and soft and candy-sweet on the inside. Robert thought they would make an excellent side for roast beef.2

Frying Jerusalem artichokesMost of the roots were still sitting in colanders on the kitchen counter when my digestion returned to normal.3 Again they tempted me. I remembered how tasty baked artichoke chips were, the last time I made them. No doubt artichoke chips would be even tastier fried. They would be less trouble to cook that way, and I could quickly use up a large quantity of roots. fried Jerusalem artichokesIn the end I was glad I’d cooked a lot, because the chips shrank substantially; they lost two-thirds of their weight. They turned out curled and brown, a sweet, salty, crisp, greasy delight. They still have gassy powers, but we haven’t suffered much as long as we’ve restricted ourselves to a handful a day. (This takes discipline. The chips are addictive!)

Advocates of vinegar pickling Jerusalem artichokes insist that they won’t cause gas if they’re first boiled and then soaked in vinegar. I suspect the vinegar works simply by slowing consumption. Boiling, however, actually reduces the inulin in the roots; Harold McGee, in The Curious Cook (1990), also advises this method. In fact, inulin is highly soluble in water. It must be the inulin that makes the bubbles appear strangely large when you boil Jerusalem artichokes; the stuff apparently acts as a surfactant. McGee boiled his Jerusalem artichokes for fifteen minutes and figured he had drawn out 40 to 50 percent of the “indigestibles”—the powdery residue left in the pan after he had boiled off the water.

Unfortunately, I don’t like the taste of boiled Jerusalem artichokes. The roots are much tastier raw, roasted, or fried. Judiciously combined with other vegetables, though, Jerusalem artichokes can add appeal. So I boiled some of the roots to mix with mashed potatoes. I routinely boil potatoes as my mother and grandmother did, with only a little water, so the pan ends up dry when the potatoes are ready and no nutrients are lost in the water. To reduce the inulin in the Jerusalem artichokes, though, I gave them a different treatment: I put them into a separate pan, covered them with water, boiled them for about fifteen minutes, and then discarded all the water. The artichokes don’t soften as potatoes do, but if you peel them before or after boiling them (peeling them first is more trouble but may help them shed more inulin) you can force them through a ricer like the one shown here.3   Without drawing too much attention to themselves, the Jerusalem artichokes nicely sweetened the starchy, dry Makah Ozette potatoes.(The Jerusalem artichoke announced its presence more aggressively, but tolerably, some hours later.)

I boiled more Jerusalem artichokes to make a purée to store in the freezer. This time I used a blender, and blended the roots with fresh water instead of the water from the pan. I hope the purée will combine well in a potage with leeks, celery, and other vegetables as well as potatoes.

Here are my recipes for the roasted roots and fried chips. I hope you enjoy them—in moderation, of course!

Fried Jerusalem Artichoke Chips

6 cups cold water
3 tablespoons fine salt
3 pounds Jerusalem artichokes (not peeled)

Put the water into a bowl, and stir in the salt. Slice the Jerusalem artichokes 2 millimeters thick (use a mandoline, if you have one). Drop the slices into the brine as you work. Let the slices soak in the brine for about 4 hours.

Drain the Jerusalem artichoke slices in a colander, and then fry them in batches in oil heated to 350 degrees F. Move them around in the oil every now and then so they cook evenly. When they are shrunken, curled, and lightly browned, they are ready. This should take about 4 minutes. Drain them on paper towels, paper bags, or newspaper.

Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes

1½ pounds Jerusalem artichokes, cut into chunks (not peeled)
1 large sprig fresh rosemary (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
A few grindings black pepper

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put the Jerusalem artichokes into a baking dish with the rosemary, if you’re using it. Pour over the olive oil, and toss. Sprinkle over the salt and pepper. Bake the artichokes for about 2 hours, until they are brown on the outside and tender on the inside.

1. John Gerard’s Herball. Actually, Goodyer exaggerated. The “wind” is not filthy or stinking, just noisy and somewhat painful.

2. Harold McGee, in The Curious Cook, advises steaming Jerusalem artichokes in an oven at 200 degrees F for 24 hours to break down the inulin into fructose. To me that would seem an extravagant use of fuel, and anyhow his artichokes turned out black.

3. This is not the best way to store Jerusalem artichokes. They should at least be refrigerated; it’s best, in fact, to store them at just above freezing. They also need high humidity during storage. Some people pack them in moist sand or soil in a box or bucket set in a cool place. Alternatively, you can simply leave them in the ground, and dig them out only as you need them, until approximately the end of March.

4. This ricer seems made for Makah Ozette potatoes. Because of their many, deep-set eyes, peeling Ozettes before cooking them wastes too much potato flesh. Peeling them after cooking is too difficult, and burned fingers can ruin your mood. Not peeling the potatoes at all makes for an ugly, uneven mash. But with a ricer you end up with a perfectly smooth mash. The clean skins are left behind, flattened against the screen of the ricer.


Obituary for the Home Orchard Society

Gravenstein applesToday I’m singing a dirge for the Home Orchard Society, yet another victim of the coronavirus—although, like so many volunteer-run nonprofits, this one was barely staying on its feet when the virus delivered its final blow.

Until recently, HOS appeared to be in glowing good health. Established in 1975 to serve the entire Pacific Northwest, the organization was an invaluable resource for Oregon and Washington fruit growers. In the fall the old hall at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds would fill with crowds of people sampling hundreds of varieties of apples and pears, eating them as fast as HOS volunteers could cut up the fruit. You could choose your favorite cultivars and order grafted trees to pick up in spring, at the Fruit Propagation Fair. Or you could come to the spring fair and join the crowds at the tables again, this time grabbing not for fruit but for free scionwood cuttings. An HOS volunteer would graft each of your scions onto rootstock as you watched, or you could take home the scions to graft yourself. At other tables you could pick up “fruit sox” to protect your apples organically, mason bee supplies to improve pollination, and books about fruit growing to read when the rain kept you indoors. The organization published its own quarterly journal, The Pome News, which was mailed to every member. HOS also maintained a nearly two-acre demonstration orchard at Clackamas Community College and held workshops and cider pressings there. If you lived close by you could join the arboretum’s CSA and pick up a boxload of fruit every week—apples, pears, grapes, figs, persimmons, kiwis, plums, pawpaws, and quinces.

All this was a tremendous amount of work for the board and other lead volunteers, especially when the membership grew to more than seven hundred. The old-timers who had been growing, pruning, and grafting fruit trees all their lives, who knew how to foil the Northwest’s formidable confederacy of microbial and insect pests, were dying off, and younger members lacked time, experience, or both. The membership director resigned, and no one else wanted the job. Joanie Cooper, the organization’s longtime president, was now running the Temperate Orchard Conservancy, a living collection of five thousand apple varieties, and couldn’t take on more responsibilities. So when Covid-19 forced the cancellation of first the spring Fruit Propagation Fair and then the fall All About Fruit Show, as well as all the summer workshops at the arboretum, things fell apart. A few days ago the board sent members a short note asking for their assent in terminating the association.

Those who are dissatisfied with the selection at the local garden center or who, like me, need scions for trees whose grafts have failed, must now figure out where to turn. The Agrarian Sharing Network, a Eugene-area organization with a similar but more limited mission, managed, last spring, to provide grafted fruit trees in dozens of unusual varieties to gardeners in Sweet Home as well as Eugene;  anyone could order trees online and pick them up at curbside. This was far from the vision of the ASG organizers, who for the preceding few years had held a series of small, neighborhood propagation fairs around the area. When the virus lets us resume holding social gatherings, perhaps the ASN can return to its vision, and perhaps that vision will prove sustainable. For now, I’m finding out what fruit varieties my neighbors are growing, because I just might want to ask them for some scions.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, home fruit culture will be harder without the Home Orchard Society. We’ll need to find new ways to cooperate if we want to continue preserving heirloom fruit varieties and furthering the art and science of growing good fruit at home.

The Multiple Lives of a Jack o’Lantern

Lit jack o'lanternBecause yesterday afternoon was warm and sunny, Robert carved the jack o’lanterns on the deck while I cut back the caneberries. “Do you want to use any of this flesh?” he yelled. He likes to scrape the walls of the pumpkins so thin that the candlelight glows through them.

“Taste it!”

“Raw pumpkin?”

Taste it!”

It was sweet, delicious. I’d suspected would be, when I bought it at the produce market up the highway. This pumpkin was a deeper orange than the others, and heavier for its size. The cashier told me it weighed more than the much larger pumpkin I’d brought from the bin a minute earlier. This one might be tastier, too, I told her.

“You eat Halloween pumpkins?”

Usually, I explained, I put them into the compost or bury them in a raised bed. But if they are sweet and dense and not stringy, certainly I eat them. I didn’t mention the seeds, which we would roast and eat regardless, or the high price I’d be paying for compost-to-be if we didn’t eat any part of the pumpkins.

The trick-or-treating started out slow. Families in costume walked slowly by the house, gazing at the lit jack o’lanterns but not coming up the walk. During a pandemic, it’s hard to know if you’re being too presumptuous in knocking on a stranger’s door. So I made a sign—“Trick-or-Treaters Welcome”—and stuck it on a brick porch post. And the kids started coming. Each time they did, I pulled on my plague mask, a black cotton bird’s beak stuffed with tissue paper (herbs would make me sneeze), to which I’d affixed goggles cut from black felt. While Robert pulled open the door, I extended the broomstick to which he had hung a basket, now filled with candy.

Between trick-or-treating groups, we munched roasted pumpkin seeds and I checked the big pot full of pumpkin flesh on the stove. I let the cooking finish with the lid off, so excess water would steam away.

Strained pumpkinThis morning I pressed the cooked pumpkin through the food mill, but that turned out to be an unnecessary step: The flesh was string-free. But now it was a fine purée, ready for a pie—except that it was still pretty watery. I could freeze it as it was and use it for soup, but I had pie on my mind. So I dumped the purée into a fine strainer, and waited a few minutes before packing the purée into freezer containers. I was about to pour the pumpkin water into the compost, but then I tasted it. It wasn’t just water. It was orange and sweet and tasty. It went into the fridge to await its future in a soup or stew.

Robert brought in the little jack o’lantern and took over at the butcher block. He is cutting away the peel, slicing the flesh into chunks, and filling the big pot again. We will have plenty of pumpkin for pie—not butternut or kabocha but genuine jack o’lantern pumpkin, pumpkin that did its duty on an old-fashioned Halloween night.