Oregon Bounty 2006 Day Six: The Willamette Valley – Getting The Dirt
Winemakers and farmers love to talk dirt. They might not spend a lot of time yacking about whether the guy three parcels over is going through a divorce, but they can go on for hours telling you in minute detail the origins of the soil they farm.
In the Willamette Valley, these stories start some 15,000 years ago, and center around a giant lake up in Montana created by climate change at the end of the last Ice Age. Apparently, giant earthen dams holding back the water gave way, causing a series of dirt and debris tsunamis to flood through the Columbia River Gorge before taking a left turn toward Eugene. Known as the Missoula Floods, this geologic activity and the rich soil compositions it created is why the Willamette Valley is such a fertile place to grow grapes, and why you can’t drive but few miles in most parts here without running into a farm stand selling Oregon’s bounty. Yesterday, I enjoyed the results of that prehistoric turmoil.
My destination was the Campbell House Inn, located in Eugene. When we arrived, I met Jeff Parker, executive chef and a man who’s never met an ear of local corn that he couldn’t get really excited about. Jeff and I headed out into the farmlands surrounding Eugene. Once we left the sprawl of mini marts and burger joints, we hit a long stretch on River Road where the Burma Shave-style signs let us know what awaited. We stopped at Thistledown Farms, where we loaded up a basket-full of corn, peppers and herbs before heading back to the Campbell House’s kitchen. There, Jeff showed me a few tricks as we made an autumn salsa of sautéed corn, red bell and yellow banana peppers finished with a little cilantro (something I learned: if you boil corn in the husk, you can remove the silks much easier and save on the dental floss). Our dish wasn’t fancy, but it tasted just like Oregon in the fall. When you have corn that erupts with that much flavor, why get in its way?
During Oregon Bounty, Jeff is running a series of “Shop With The Chef” packages where you can stay overnight, head to the market to choose your own bounty, and then sit back while he prepares your feast. There are also dozens of events at wineries throughout the Willamette Valley, as well as harvest festivals and events. Check out the Willamette Valley section of traveloregon.com/bounty for details. Or, you can read about my earliest experiences on the farms of the Willamette Valley.
We’re in the final stretch of On The Road With Oregon Bounty. The Oregon Coast is waiting.
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