Summertime in the Hood River Valley is in full swing and that means fruit harvest is at its peak for all Oregon growers.
As part of our Meet Our Makers interview series, we checked in with Dave Gee from Oregon Growers & Shippers to chat about what makes fruit (and their preserves) from the Pacific Northwest so amazing, how lemon juice is the home canner’s best friend and what makes for a fantastic day in the Columbia River Gorge. Plus we learned how to make marionberry-glazed meatballs, hello summer!
You’re known for your award winning jams, how did Oregon Growers & Shippers get started?
Originally from New Haven, Connecticut, I left the trenches of the restaurant world to pursue my love of the outdoors and open green spaces. This led me to Oregon and eventually to Hood River. I fell in love with the small community and decided to make the move permanent. My goal was to use the best of what the Hood River Valley had to offer to create products that highlight and promote the work of area growers – what we call Farm Direct Specialty Foods. We started experimenting in the kitchen in November of 2003 and came out with our first line of preserves in May of 2004.
Why are local ingredients so important to your success?
Since we have access to wonderful local ingredients and have cultivated close relationships with local farmers, we are able to get their best products, which in turn make our products that much better.
What’s your busiest time of year?
We have been growing so much lately, it seems like we are busy all the time. January is the usually the slowest. But starting in July as the fruit is peaking, the process begins to work with the farmers and start making the jams for the season. And then we hit the holiday season which is very busy for the retail side of the business.
Any unique challenges you’ve overcome as a small business?
As a small company, financing and competing with large national companies is always a tough thing. We had to create a value for Oregon products on a national level and introduce other regions to the exceptional fruit that our area provides.
What’s your favorite fruit grown in the Pacific Northwest?
Bartlett Pears are probably my absolute favorite. Ripe right off the tree, they are the best and finest of the Hood River Valley – crispy, juicy, perfect. Probably then followed closely by marionberries, cherries and peaches.
Canning is gaining popularity again; any tips for the weekend jam makers out there?
The most important thing to do is to always start with the best quality local fruit possible. Lemon juice will add acid and heighten flavor, and don’t let the jam cook too long.
Describe your perfect day in the Gorge? What snacks would you bring with you?
I would start the morning kiting with friends at the event site, followed by mountain biking in Post Canyon. I would end the day with a pizza dinner at Double Mountain. The snacks I would take for the day would be dry roasted hazelnuts, fresh seasonal fruit, and a PB+J sandwich.
Do you have a recipe you could share with us?
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup finely chopped onions
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- ½ pound ground pork
- ½ pound ground turkey
- 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 3 large eggs
- coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- ½ cup Oregon Growers Marionberry Jam
- 1 cup fresh orange juice
- ½ cup molasses
- 1 cup chicken broth
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a medium skillet over medium-low heat, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add chopped onions and minced garlic. Cook until soft, about 7 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl, combine the ground pork and turkey with the onions and garlic, 2 tablespoons of parsley, breadcrumbs and eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Create 1-inch meatballs and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes.
- Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes, until reduced by half. Remove and let cool.
- Put the meatballs in a large skillet over medium heat. Pour the marionberry glaze over top and cook for 2 minutes. Using a spoon, coat all sides of the meatballs with the glaze. Serve individual plates garnished with chopped parsley.
- 1 cup flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon table salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup chopped pistachios
- ⅓ cup Oregon Growers Red Raspberry Jam
- Place parchment paper along the inside of a 8×8 metal pan. Lightly grease with butter and sprinkle with flour.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack in the upper third of the oven.
- In a medium size bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
- In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Remove pan from heat and stir in brown sugar with a wooden spoon. Add eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture. Add ½ of the pistachios, and combine. Spread the batter into the pan and top with the remaining pistachios.
- Using a butter knife, swirl the raspberry jam into the batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes. After 10 minutes, rotate the pan. When the top is golden, remove and let cool completely on a rack. Using the parchment paper, lift the blondies out of the pan.
- Cut into squares and eat!
What comes to mind when you hear the words ‘fresh jam’?
When I think fresh jam, I picture summertime; going out to the orchards to pick your own fresh strawberries then going back home and making a batch of simple freezer jam which is the best for Oregon strawberries.