Outdoor temperatures have risen, the berries are ripening, and summer is coming along strong! Chances are most families are enjoying their spare time socializing, sunbathing, gathering at a sporting event, visiting festivals, or relaxing by the swimming hole. Nothing caps a fun-packed day quite as well as a tasty, satisfying meal. Thanks to Oregon’s substantial culinary background, it is easy to pay homage to our state’s history the next time you feast! Here’s a brief look into some famous foods that you may not know were born here in the Beaver State:
Along the breathtaking Highway 101 in the city of Rockaway Beach, just south of Flamingo Jim’s and the public beach access, a humble food vendor stands to the east side of the road. Imagine back to the year 1939, and Oregon was making the cliches proud by raining hard for days straight, perhaps even weeks. George and Vera Boyington had recently relocated from Michigan, looking to make a fresh start from their dubious days of bootlegging. Instead, they looked at dismal business ledgers amid an insufferably wet season at their small hot dog stand. To make matters worse, the weather had managed to ruin their entire stock of buns! While the Boyington’s hung their heads in grief, feeding their wasted product and livelihood to the local gulls, they brainstormed ways to prepare buns fresh to order. Such was the birth of Pronto Pup–aka, the corn dog! The Boyingtons soon released a unique take on hot dogs: skewered on a small stick, deep-fried in a delicious casing of cornmeal batter, and strictly served plain or with a light drizzle of mustard. Over 80 years later, the corn dog has become a nationwide favorite, and the Pronto Pup stall still slings corn dogs day after day for locals and tourists alike (with a ketchup drizzle now an allowable option).
Just south of Oregon’s capital city of Salem, in greater Marion county, lies the city of Corvallis and the sprawling grounds of Oregon State University. Starting in the 1940s, USDA horticulturalist George F. Waldo made the university his home base under the grand design to crossbreed a new variety of blackberry. Waldo’s plan involved the combination of the high-producing Chehalem strain and the richly flavorful Olallie strain, which he hoped would create a sweeter, juicier berry that produced large harvests even in the damp valley … and he succeeded! Naming his creation after the county in which it was created, the marionberry has since become an Oregon staple. Nowadays, the Willamette Valley is home to 90% of all marionberry harvests! Waldo’s hybrid is ideal for the valley’s milder, wetter summers, with a single acre of bushes producing an average of six tons of berries a season! While simmered in sugar and wrapped into a flaky crust is one of the most popular uses for the berry, this section really should not be limited to just pies. Waldo’s delicious hybrid goes great in almost any dish, such as smoothies, jams, ice creams, scones, and more!
During the days of the Great Depression, every soul across America was busy finding ways to make do with much less. Near Vale, Oregon, a farm had been dealing in corn and potatoes for decades. When times hit their hardest, and the plantation was drowning in its own mortgage, an innovative farmer by the name of F. Nephi Grigg found a new way to use the leftovers from his family’s frozen french fry production line. While the rejected potato scraps had been previously used to feed the cattle, Grigg’s entrepreneurial spirit saw an untapped wealth in those extras. By smashing these bits together, blanching them, frying them in oil, and flash-freezing them into nuggets, he created a distinct type of potato product and immediately flew them over 2000 miles away to a national potato convention. Upon arrival in Miami, Grigg bribed a cook to serve his creation alongside the other convention food … where they were quickly gobbled up! His audacity and forward-thinking resulted in a contract with Ore-Ida, an already successful joint company between Oregon and Idaho, which saw the untapped potential in Grigg’s product. Today, you can find bags of tater tots in the frozen section of almost any grocery store, and local restaurants will offer them as an alternative to french fries.
Lightly browse the selection at any coffeehouse, and the likelihood of spotting hazelnut as a flavor option is high! This creamy nut has a robust flavor often described as buttery and earthy that has become well-beloved across the globe. While hazelnuts may be used to flavor fancy European chocolate, the very first tree was planted here in Scottsburg, Oregon, by Sam Strickland in 1858. Then, in 1903, George Dorris planted his first commercial hazelnut orchard in Springfield–which is still produced today. By 1989, Oregon declared hazelnuts the official state nut, and 2018 marks the outstanding record of 50,000 tons of hazelnuts harvested! From cake to pesto sauce, polenta to toffee, hazelnuts are a tasty choice for many dishes. Find your new favorite use for our state nut on OregonHazelnuts.org!
To sum up, Oregon is home to a fantastic variety of foods–and people who dearly love them. Just take a look at how many food festivals this state holds each year, and you’ll have a good idea of what one of our favorite pastimes is. Next time you find yourself chomping into a corn dog, sipping a marionberry smoothie, saucing up a tot, or savoring that rich smell of roasting hazelnuts, take a brief moment to thank our experimental Oregon ancestors!
Michelle is a married mother of two toddler girls and a house full of pets. As a homegrown Oregonian, she enjoys spending her time on family adventures throughout the PNW to fuel her creative inspiration! Photography, crochet, freehand mandala designs, hiking, and gardening are a few of her hobbies that are highlighted on Instagram @xenonvogue. Each new day is a chance to be present and involved, so Michelle strives to live honoring the knowledge that this too shall pass.