Oregon is widely praised, and occasionally mocked (e.g. the hit TV series Portlandia), for its farm-to-table obsession. Yet this ever-growing “trend” is simply ancient indigenous tradition. “We're the original farm-to-table,” Potawotami chef Loretta Barrett Oden has famously proclaimed.
When visiting Oregon in spring and summer, pick and eat fresh blackberries and huckleberries, and forage and savor wild mushrooms, particularly the chanterelles. Don’t forget hazelnuts; more than 95 percent of the hazelnuts in the U.S. are grown in Oregon, primarily in the Willamette Valley wine region, where pinot noir grapes reign supreme. (Fun fact: Chinook Wawa is the trade language developed by a disparate group of Northwestern tribes in the 1850s to communicate when thrown together on a reservation in the heart of Willlamette Valley.)
Fully appreciate Oregon’s seasonal fruits and vegetables in their freshest glory: morels beginning in May; the sunchokes come July; the rhubarb starting this month; the large radishes in summer… the list is never-ending. Edible flowers! Fiddleheads! Heirloom carrots! For a comprehensive list of Oregon’s seasonal edibles from the earth — including specific months when optimal to consume — refer to The Spruce. Beyond that, truly embrace the cultural, culinary renaissance of Northwest Indians by trying slow-cooked camas bulbs, which were traditionally prepared in earthen ovens, and roasted potato-like wapato tubers harvested from shallow wetlands.
The seafood bounty of Oregon's coastal waters and rivers have also sustained tribes for centuries. Devour sweet and meaty Dungeness crab; peel pink shrimp; eat razor, littleneck, cockle and gaper clams; and dine on wild salmon planked on cedar sticks, cooked in the time-honored Coquille way over an open-pit fire. And if it's abundant, don't miss the opportunity to taste wild steelheads, Columbia River sturgeon, geoducks, lampreys, and more unique sea creatures local to Pacific Northwest waters.
Must-Go: Brigham Fish Market
Where better than Cascade Locks, the heart of the Columbia River Gorge, to get fresh, wild-caught Columbia River fish?
Brigham Fish Market is owned and operated by Kim Brigham Campbell of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and her family of fishermen. Her year-round market, a local favorite, offers fresh and smoked fish, like salmon and sturgeon, as well as crab and other seafare, and seafood chowder and canned fish. For updates on the availability of fresh, spring Chinook Salmon, expected end of May or early June, follow Brigham Fish Market on Facebook.
Brigham Fish Market, 681 Wanapa St., (541) 374-9340, brighamfish.com; Monday & Tuesday: noon to 6 p.m.; Wednesday closed; Thursday, Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The 14th Annual Mill-Luck Salmon Celebration takes place September 9-10, 2017, in the south parking lot outside The Mill Hotel in North Bend, Oregon. The outdoor event, a celebration of Native American and Coquille Tribal culture, will feature tribal canoe races and rides, outdoor tribal vendors and crafts (including demonstrations and participation), live entertainment with authentic Native American dancing and drumming, Coos Bay Basin Salmon Derby awards ceremony, and of course, a traditional salmon bake meal.
Independence, Oregon-based Rogue Farms' salmon bakes, served with craft beers from Rogue Hopyard, also make for popular summer events. Fresh-caught Chinook from the Columbia River is harvested by Native fishermen who also bake it the traditional way over hot coals. Check Rogue’s website for updated event dates.
Similarly, the Depoe Bay Salmon Bake is a 60-plus-year-old annual tradition on the Oregon Coast, featuring Native American-caught wild salmon roasted over an open fire. The event generally occurs in September; follow @DepoeBaySalmonBake on Facebook for updates.
With nine federally recognized tribes in Oregon — Burns Paiute Tribe; Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation; Coos, Siuslaw and Lower Umpqua Tribes; Coquille Tribe; Cow Creek Band of Umpqua; Grand Ronde Tribes; Klamath Tribes; Siletz Tribes; and the Warm Springs Tribes — there are numerous, destination-worthy tribally owned restaurants. Located at tribal casino resorts, they are conveniently situated near some of the best gaming, golf, spas and more.
Among the plethora of dining/gaming options, Spirit Mountain Casino offers seven chef stations at Cedar Plank Buffet, the state’s largest buffet. Try melt-in-your-mouth cedar plank salmon, prime rib and unique Northwest and seasonal dishes.
Check out the first installment in our Oregon travel series, dedicated to the funky City of Portland: “Discover Oregon’s Indian Country, Part 1: Portland, a Cultural Hub.” In Part 1, ICMN highlights Bison Coffeehouse, TeePee’s food truck, and Cupcake Jones — all Native-owned and Portland-based (or nearby). On Monday, Indian Country Media Network will run Part 3 about Oregonian coastal adventures and the state’s cultural destinations.
This story was originally published April 9, 2017.