I had been watching the weather for the past couple of weeks hoping that this dry spell that the West is going through would last through the long Martin Luther King holiday weekend. If it did I would head up to Klamath Falls, Oregon to do a little bird watching, specifically to view the large number of
raptors including bald eagles that can be found at Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Refuges just below the California/Oregon border. We have raptors here where I live but not the quantity and variety that can be found at these refuges during the winter months. (We saw thirty-eight bald eagles in two days and as many as 8 standing on the frozen lake awaiting an opportunity at a goose carcass.) Dry weather would be the key since I don’t have 4×4.
My luck held and so I packed various layers of warm clothes, my boots and heavy coat and left Friday morning just after dawn for Nevada where I would meet up with Sis #2 for a road trip. From Minden, NV we headed north on 395 past the sprawl of Reno, through the more sparsely habitated areas of California’s high desert to Alturas, then on to Klamath Falls, a five hour journey if you don’t stop, meaning it took us much longer. What’s a good road trip without some interesting stops?
I have many fond memories of the Klamath area, having visited it off and on over the past twenty-some-odd years. One of the things that has become tradition after spending several chilly early morning hours watching birds in this literally frozen environment is to head back across the California state line to Merrill, OR for a hearty breakfast at Pappy Gander & Company. It had been at least 8 years since we had been to Merrill and we had high hopes that our traditional breakfast spot would still be open. We were in luck. It was.
Merrill is a small rural community with a population of less than 1000. It’s claim to fame; it’s home to an annual potato festival, a celebration held in October at the end of harvest. Not surprising since Merrill is located in Klamath County one of Oregon’s premier potato growing regions.
I can’t think of anything better with morning eggs than some crispy country fried potatoes and Merrill serves up some of the best. This particular morning a Chicken Fried Steak covered with delicious country gravy accompanied the eggs and potatoes. I think the duck hunters at the table across from ours were surprised that a couple of gals could match them in appetite. It was the perfect breakfast; it warmed us up and took us well into the afternoon. It was late in the afternoon, when we decided to head back into Klamath Falls for a bite to eat. We stopped in at a little Thai restaurant in downtown and I had their Yellow Thai Curry, chocked full of chunks of beautiful potatoes. It was a potato kind of day.
That night as we were looking through some photos that we had downloaded on our laptops I got to thinking about the potatoes grown around Merrill. I knew potatoes grew in Idaho. Who hasn’t heard of Idaho potatoes but I didn’t really know much about potatoes grown in Oregon. I switched from photo browsing to a little information-surfing. Not only are potatoes grown in Oregon, it has one of the highest yields per acre of potatoes in the world at 53,000 pounds per acre and they farm over 36,500 acres. In the area around Merrill they grow various varieties of Russet, Yukon Gold, Purple and some certified organic, well as potatoes specifically grown for potato chips and seed. Historically the first potatoes were planted in Oregon by the crew of the ship “Ruby” on an island in the Columbia River, near Cape Disappointment in 1795. Twelve potatoes were planted and they produced 190 potatoes the first season. And by 1835 1,300 bushels of potatoes were produced at Fort Vancouver.
I found the Oregon Potato Commission site to be really informative and fun. Their Potato Trivia page has lots of interesting facts; the potato did not become popular in America until Benjamin Franklin tasted the potato served 20 different ways when he was ambassador to France and came back to America singing its praises, French Fries were introduced to Americans when President Thomas Jefferson served them at the White House and that potato chips were invented by mistake in 1853. One of the facts I found particularly interesting since I love California history was; during the California gold rush surplus potatoes from Oregon were packed by mule train, and later by wagon train to the miners. In 1849, four bushels of Oregon potatoes were selling for $500 in San Francisco. Sounds like the Oregon potato farmers were doing better than some of the hard working miners.
Here’s a nice way to use potatoes in a soup. This recipe is one I’ve used for many years. It’s the perfect recipe for a cold wintry day. This recipe makes a lot so I usually end up freezing some for later use.
Portugese Bean SoupTom Bombadil’s Restaurant, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Bon Appetite 1980
2 ham hocks (I prefer shanks over hocks)
1 12oz Portugese sausage (linguica), diced
3 medium potatoes
2 medium onions, diced
3 celery stalks, including leaves, chopped
2 medium carrots (4 oz), diced
1 medium-sized bell pepper, seeded, divined and chopped
1medium bunch parsley leaves, chopped
2 15oz cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained (I use Cannellini beans)
1 15oz tomato sauce (I use 1 15oz can chopped tomatoes and 1 8 oz can tomato sauce)
1 t salt
1 t freshly ground pepper
1 t hot pepper sauce (if the linguica is pretty hot you may not need or want to add this)
1 bay leaf
Combine ham hocks, and sausage in heavy size saucepan over medium-high heat and sauté 4 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and enough water to cover. Bring to boil, skimming foam from surface. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer about 2 hours. Remove ham hocks from soup; discard bones. Cut meat into bite-sized pieces. Blend into soup. Enjoy!