National pride may run high on today’s holiday, but state pride in Oregon gives patriotism a run for its money. If you’re not from there, you may think of it as a land filled with tattoo-emblazoned cool kid chefs, shops selling genitalia-shaped donuts, and cutesy picnics on Pendelton blankets under Douglas firs.
Those aspects of Oregon food culture are accurate and nifty and everything, but it’s a big-ass state with so much more than the coast and the Portland metro area. It’s got deserts, wine country, ranching, and a bunch of libertarian rednecks who live miles away from the nearest pour-over coffee. (I used to live in Oregon, and I say all of these things with the deepest of affection.)
The co-existence of these things—popular perception Oregon and secret Oregon—is precisely what makes Oregon so special. Being there, you feel like anything could happen and still totally make sense. For food lovers, this is especially exciting, because Oregon is rife with people in the culinary field who ride those waves of creativity.
Click through the gallery to see how the past, present, and future of Oregon’s food culture weave together to make it one of the most delicious destinations to visit (and, perhaps, not ever leave).
Sara Bir is Paste’s contributing food editor. She will gladly skip Voodoo Doughnuts for the applesauce rings at Annie’s Donuts. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @sausagetarian.
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Statehood order: 33rd state
Statehood date: February 14, 1859
State fish: Chinook salmon
State mushroom: Pacific golden chanterelle
State beverage: Milk
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Hazelnuts are the state nut (sometimes, just to be confusing, they're called filberts). According to the Oregon Blue Book, 99 percent of the hazelnuts grown in America are from Oregon. It's just 5 percent of the crop grown worldwide, though – for some reason, Americans are not big on this flavorful and nutritious nut, and half of Oregon's hazelnuts are exported. Western Oregon's climate and soil are perfect for cultivating hazelnuts, and the first commercial orchard there was planted in 1905 at Dorris Ranch. Today the site is a public park and still a working orchard.
Baker County Tourism CC BY-ND
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Cranberries. Really? Cranberries? Yup. Cranberries are native to the region, and native people harvested them. Thanks to their good keeping qualities and high vitamin C levels, they were a valued addition to diets. Oregon now leads the West Coast in production, and grows seven percent of the nation's commercial crop. According to a 2014 report, Oregon has the highest percentage of independent cranberry farmers in the U.S. The coastal southern town of Bandon has an annual Cranberry Festival complete with a cranberry eating contest (hmm, we hope they're sweetened).
OCVA CC BY-ND
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Jojo potatoes are not unique to Oregon, but the seasoned and breaded wedge-shaped fries are especially beloved there, and can be easily found under the glow of convenience store heat lamps and on letterboard menus in divey neighborhood bar & grills. Jojos originated with the rise of restaurants using the high-pressure commercial deep fryers manufactured by two companies, Broaster Co. and Flavor-Crisp. The thick spears of potato were fried alongside fried chicken, and that's how you'll get them oftentimes in Oregon today. Denizens of Portland flock to the unassuming Reel M Inn for fried chicken and jojos, but we've heard rumors of fancy-pants bistros serving jojos fried in duck fat. Either way, they're irresistible, and especially good with beer.
rob_rob2001 CC BY-SA
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Fred Meyer stores have evolved quite a bit over the years, with floating sushi and cereal-topped donuts at some locations. But the essence of this chain of one-stop shopping destinations has remained the same. Founded in southwest Portland 1922 by Fred G. Meyer, Fred Meyer stores brought together groceries, hardware, clothing, electronics … you get the picture. Newcomers to the Pacific Northwest are sometimes thrown off by these well-stocked grocery stores that may also carry jeans and paint, but before long they become utterly unavoidable. Just try to live in Oregon and not be a regular Fred Meyer shopper, I dare you! Luckily, they're welcoming stores with friendly customer service and a great wine and craft beer selection, to boot.
Parker Knight CC BY
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Straight outta the Rogue River Valley came Harry & David, a name that's probably familiar to you if you've ever purchased or received a gourmet fruit gift basket. Harry and David Rosenberg took over their father's pear orchard, focused on cultivating Comice pears, and built up a reputation for premium pears. Sales flagged during the Great Depression, so they branched out into selling mail-order pears as corporate gifts, thereby launching a new industry: food gifts by mail. The box pictured also contains cheese from H&D neighbor Rogue Creamery.
Harry & David
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Oregon grape plants are not actually grapes, but they do produce edible berries. The native shrub, which grows along the coast and as an understory plant in Douglas fir forests, is the state flower. It produced small yellow blooms in the spring and bluish-purple berries in the fall. The berries are quite tart; native people would mix it with sweeter salal berries, and they used the root and inner bark medicinally.
Tom Brandt CC BY
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Nowadays, foodies may know of James Beard through the eponymous awards, highly regarded as the Oscars of the food industry. Before there were JBAs, though, there was James Beard himself, "The Dean of American Cuisine," a larger-than-life food personality before there was such a thing. Beard was born in Portland and was raised to appreciate food, including the foods of the Pacific Northwest: salmon, crab, game, and wild foods like berries and mushrooms. Trained as a singer and actor, moved to New York City in 1937 and opened a catering company after failing to find theater work. He wrote the first of his 20 cookbooks, Hors D'Oeuvres and Canapés, in 1940, and in 1946 he hosted a TV cooking show, I Love to Eat. Over six feet tall and indeed a gastronome, Beard had a striking, energetic presence, and his teaching and writing inspired millions to embrace cooking, whether rustic or refined. His early life in Oregon was fundamental to his sensibility as a person and a culinarian.
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Razor clams are prized bivalves of the Oregon coast. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, an 18-mile span of beaches around Clatsop account for 95 percent of Oregon's razor clam harvest. At low tide, the clams (so named because their brittle, thing shells are hella sharp when accidentally broken) burrowed in the sand produce a tiny round hole called a "show." Recreational razor clam harvesters look for these shows to let them know where to dig. Some people use shovels, but there's a special tool called a razor clam gun that's a cylindrical canister with a plunger for a handle Digging Pacific razor clams is not easily mastered, but the rewards are sweet and tender. The shelled clams are traditionally pan-fried briefly. There's a daily limit you can legally harvest during the season, and the state always posts warnings when toxins in the water make harvesting dangerous ... so check before you dig.
Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife CC BY-SA
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Portland's Voodoo Doughnuts has a gravitational pull on tourists and drunk suburbanites out clubbing it up on the weekend. The original Old Town location, with its long lines snaking around on seedy piss-scented exterior sidewalks, became a national donut trendsetter with its punky atmosphere and colorful, outlandish creations. Granted, Portland has other classed-up donut outlets offering superior wares, but that's not to say a raised donut topped with smashed Oreos and peanut butter isn't completely irresistible. (Insider tip: if Voodoo Doughnut is a must-stop, go to the more spacious Voodoo Too on NE Davis St.)
Parker Knight CC BY