Just north of Portland on the Columbia River is a 26,000 acre farming community called Sauvie Island. It is nothing like the rest of Portland, being mostly farms and woods. It is like being a million miles away from the theaters, traffic and pizza joints of the city.
On Saturday we went up for an adventure. First thing, once we crossed the bridge onto the island, was we drove down a road we’d never been down, and followed it until it ended. We saw houseboats along the narrow Multnomah Channel, lavender fields, and eagles’ nests perched on top of power poles.
When we got to where the road ended ( it sort of faded from paved road to gravel to dirt), we turned around and headed towards our favorite you-pick blueberry place, Columbia Farm. They were really crowded on this lovely holiday Saturday, and had opened their auxiliary parking lot. They let us use our boxes from last year, which made me happy. I hate throwing perfectly good boxes away.
We headed out to the fields and passed families with wagons heading back in…. With lots of berries! We had to look pretty closely to find enough to fill our eighteen small baskets, but we got them all full.
I love being in the fields and picking fruit. Maybe it is because my parents were farmers and I grew up valuing the folks who get our food to us, or maybe it’s just fun to be out in the sun and fresh air, hearing birds and other people’s conversations.
I even found a tiny, abandoned hummingbird’s nest, tucked safely in a bush. I left it so the birds could use it again next year.
We picked only blueberries because that’s what we like best, but many folks also picked raspberries and blackberries. A lady had a boxful that was so pretty, I asked to take its picture. She very sweetly said yes.
We filled our boxes and paid up (Fifty dollars for too many berries to carry) and put them in the car. We were hot and sweaty and…. Hungry!
On Friday I got to spend a wonderful evening with Auntie Katie and Cousins Jasper and Kestrel. It was a real adventure!
Auntie Katie drove us through Friday evening rush hour traffic up to Sauvie Island. We went to a farm where her friend Peggy works, called the Topaz Farm. It was nearly 5:00 when we got there, but Peggy assured us that there was a lot of fun to be had before the sun went down.
Kestrel and Jasper had great fun running around the extremely diverse pumpkin patch, admiring and adopting pumpkins as they went along. “George” would get googly eyes and a feathered hat, Kestrel decided, and a little white one would sit and watch.
Once the pumpkins were corralled in the car, Peggy took us over to meet the goats. There were several goats, including one just a month old. We were allowed to feed them bunches of basil, which made everyone smell delightfully of pesto.
There were also turkeys, ducks, and an outstanding Goth chicken.
The pigs had gone to sleep by that time, but the sign in their pen let us know what sort of sneaky critters they were!
The sun was beginning to go down as we headed into the Corn Maze. There were maps posted at every checkpoint, and we still managed to get delightfully lost. We picked and nibbled some corn, and Jasper held into an ear “as a weapon, just in case”.
We wandered into the barn where all sorts of apple things were being sold. Cider, caramel apples, hand pies, and mushrooms, all got loaded into a box. We sat out in the gathering dark and enjoyed feeling almost normal, almost pre-Covid. We bought some kettle corn for Grandpa Nelson and the kids climbed in a tree until it was literally too dark to see.
I was one tired, happy Grandma by the time I got home. Life is good. Stay safe, stay well.
We finally got home with our groceries and all those blueberries, and man, was I tired! We put out feet up, had dinner, and finally had the energy to deal with our fruity bounty.
First, they needed to be washed. These wonderful berries from Columbia Farms are organic, but bird poop and tractor dust are not welcome in my kitchen. We dumped them in the sink, swished them around, and scooped them into our biggest bowl.
Since most of these berries are going to spend the next six months or so in our freezer, they needed to be dried and then frozen individually before being bagged and stacked. This process happened in several stages, since our freezer is small.
Meanwhile, I found a new recipe for blueberry cobbler. The one I used last year, from Martha Stewart, was too sweet for our tastes. This one, from the All Recipes website, had less sugar.
All Recipes Blueberry Cobbler before being devoured
Combine 3 cups berries, 3 T white sugar and 1/2 c orange juice in an 8×8 pan. Set aside.
In a small bowl, blend 2/3 c flour, 1/4 t baking soda and a pinch of salt.
In a medium bowl, cream 1/2 cup butter 1/2 c sugar, 1 egg, and one t. Vanilla until light and fluffy. Just bring together with flour mixture. Spread topping evenly over berries. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes.
I added 1/2 oatmeal to the topping for more crunch.
Once the cobbler was cool enough to eat, we piled some in bowls and slurped it up. It was so good! And, of course, we had some for snack the next day. And the next. It was even better after a rest in the fridge.
I plan to enjoy these berries for months to come, and maybe even make a nice blueberry cobbler for Christmas!
Yesterday we got to do something normal! That is, something we have done since we have lived in Portland. We drove out to pick blueberries on Sauvie Island. Sauvie Island is the largest island in the Columbia River, and is a big dollop of farms and wild area just minutes from downtown Portland.
To get there, we crossed to the west bank of the giant Willamette River, drove north a bit, and then crossed the tiny Multnomah Channel, and there we were. Pastoral paradise.
Now, of course there were accommodations for Covid-19. We all wore masks, kept our distance, and used the farm’s boxes to keep from giving them any of our germs.
But the picking was the same. Pulling pounds of juicy berries off bushes, planning the dozens of cobblers and muffins, is very satisfying, in a hunter-gatherer sort of way.
Among the bushes, we listened to parents chat with their kids and smiled at our first post-Covid babies. We watched dozens of swallows swoop low to get berries, only slightly discouraged by the broadcast hawk shrieks. We reveled in just being outdoors, being part of the world. As the box filled up, we picked slower, not wanting our time to end.
There is so much of Sauvie Island we haven’t seen yet. There is a nature preserve full of water birds. There are farms that specialize in Marionberries.
But eventually, the call of lunch got too loud to tune out, and we needed to head off. Of course, this lead to another adventure! More tomorrow.
On Sunday, we returned to Sauvie Island, just north of Portland. It was a chilly, rainy day, and as we drove over grey bridges and couldn’t even make out the dark Willamette below us, we had some second thoughts. We had boots and coats, and Auntie Bridgett even had her trusty umbrella…but going to a farm in the rain?
“At least it won’t be crowded on a day like this,” I thought. Obviously, I have a lot to learn about Portlanders. Every pumpkin farm on the island was busy, and The Pumpkin Patch’s huge gravel overflow parking lot was almost full. We were lucky to find a spot.
There was mud anyplace there wasn’t gravel, and we picked our way carefully to the main area. From the middle of the yard, we could see the food stalls, the Animal Barn with critters to pet, the Pumpkin Perk coffee trailer, the gift shop, and the line for Hay Rides. We ate (corn on the cob, a turkey sandwich and kettle corn), then felt ready to tackle the Corn Maze.
Corn Mazes can be pretty hit and miss, but this one was really well done. There were clues in the form of trivia questions (you got to choose your area of expertise….we chose Movies, Halloween, and Corn), and when you got to certain intersections, the trivia answers gave you directions.
There were also delightfully “corny” cartoons that were puns… it was fun to watch kids stare blankly while their parents cracked up! It rained quite a bit while we were in the maze, and the sound of the rain on the corn was magical to my country girl DNA.
The corn was still green and full, making it nearly impossible to see from one path to the next, and the stalks were about eleven feet high and still had fat green corn! There were bridges, too, not to go over anything, but to let us see the maze from above. From up there, it was just a vast sea of corn silks and green, with not a clue of how to get out.
We did a good deal of backtracking and walking in circles, but with intuition, listening for traffic noise, and splitting up long enough to check out ‘loops’, we got through.
We were sure tired, and no wonder. Auntie Bridgett’s fitness watch said we walked nearly 2 and a quarter miles! Our final duty was to buy some pumpkins…one for carving and looking at, and one for baking. Done!
We got home and I got dinner started while we got off our feet. Tonight, we watch “The Mummy” with Boris Karloff. Ooooooo…
Sunday, we went to the farm. Several farms, in fact, and all just about 25 minutes north of Downtown Portland. We went to Sauvie Island!
This island is where the Willamette River meets the Columbia, and at 26,000 acres is one of the largest river islands in the country. It is almost all farmland, flat, green, and beautiful. We drove up highway 30 and crossed the tiny Sauvie Island Bridge over the Willamette Channel, which is only about 20 feet wide, and there we were.
First we stopped at a lavender farm. It was small, and the season was just over, but it was sure nice to walk around and see the flowers, as well as pear trees on the property.
We got hungry and stopped at Kruger’s BBQ for lunch. Friendly people, pulled pork, salmon sandwiches and corn on the cob put us right. Bridgett was in heaven, walking around in the incredible sunflowers, zinnias and chickens. She likes to talk to chickens, but these were busy and didn’t talk back to her.
Further along, Grandpa Nelson must have read my mind, because he found Columbia Farms where we got to pick our own blueberries. My farming genes must have wanted to get out and stretch, because it sure felt good to be out in a sunny field, picking the food I was going to eat. It only took about 20 minutes to get our flat full. We grabbed a couple ears of fresh corn for dinner and headed off. We drove the rest of the way around the island and headed back into town.
On the way, Auntie Bridgett realized we needed a few things from the market, so we stopped the New Seasons in the northeast part of town. We found some new things and had a sort of food adventure. By the time we had shopped, we were done in.