Oregon Mint Pt. 2

December 26th, 2011

Butler Farms in Stayton, Oregon in December 2010.

Although peppermint grows easily in Oregon it has its problems, like most crops, when cultivated on a large scale. Butler Farms wages a continuous battle with pests–everything from spider mites, cutworm, crane fly and nemotodes to symphylans, mint rust and verticillium wilt. One year, they lost 25 percent of their peppermint crop to mint rust. Mint rust, a fungus that blisters and destroys mint leaves, took Butler Farms from profitable to breakeven in one short week.

In other words, says Butler, “You don’t just throw it out there and hope for the best, because there wouldn’t be much.”

In the Willamette Valley, peppermint is perennial. It awakens from its winter dormancy in late January to early February. At that point, Tim Butler goes out into his fields with a winter herbicide spray to keep the weeds at bay.

By the first of March, the peppermint shoots are visible and growing quickly but Butler’s first fertilizer and fungicide applications don’t happen until several weeks later in mid-April. Butler then crosses his fingers, hoping that insecticide application isn’t necessary.

Throughout the year the Butlers monitor their fields with integrated pest management. An agronomy professional scouts the farm testing for nemotodes and other detrimental insects. Depending on the results, some fields get insecticide application while others don’t.

From April on, the peppermint is hungry and thirsty as it grows at breakneck speed. In the summer it’s irrigated with roughly an inch to an inch and a half of water weekly and fertilized heavily as well.

Early-to-mid-August at Butler Farms means peppermint harvest. They swath it, put it in rows, chop it, and pick it up with a harvester (similar to alfalfa, clover and corn harvest). From the field the mint goes into eight- to nine-ton mint hay tubs which are taken to the mint still by truck.

Stay tuned for the next two installments of this story.

Stay tuned for the next two installments of this story.
Read Pt. 1 Oregon Mint
Read Pt. 3 Oregon Mint

Oregon Mint Pt. 1

December 19th, 2011

Edible Portland sent this lovely card out to folks for the holidays.

So even though I’m pretty stinking busy right now working on the Toro Bravo Cookbook as well as being an editor and publicist for Hawthorne Books I’m still freelance food writing. I love covering our local food culture.

I wrote a story about Oregon mint for Edible Portland a while back and due to space constraints it didn’t make it as planned into this winter’s issue of magazine that just published. Despite getting nixed something cool happened to my story. See that card above? Mary Kate McDevitt took my story — followed up on some of the facts and figures — and made it into a beautiful holiday card for Edible Portland that I and probably many of you recently received in the mail. Literary transubstantiation!

Since I interviewed a lot of great people for my mint story I thought it would be a shame to not get it out there so with Edible Portland’s permission I’m posting it for you here in several installments and with a fair few photos. Hope you enjoy it!

Here’s the first installment…

There’s an old poster of Reba McIntyre push-pinned to the bulletin board of Tim Butler’s small fluorescent-lit farm office in Stayton, Oregon. Just below sit two small, mustard-sized jars of oil–peppermint oil. Like most oil, it doesn’t look like much: It is pretty clear with a faint straw hue. But when Butler opens a jar, a minty aroma immediately fills the room. The smell is intoxicating.

Butler Farms in Stayton, Oregon — just south of Salem — is a little less than a decade shy of becoming a century farm. Tim Butler’s maternal grandparents purchased the farm and its then 160 acres in 1918. Butler’s mom grew up on the farm; Tim, now 61 years old, grew up on the farm with his siblings; and Tim’s children, who are all adults now, grew up here. These days Butler, two of his brothers and a nephew run 2,100-acre Butler Farms. Tim’s wife, Joanie, is the farm bookkeeper.

Peppermint is integral to Butler Farms. They cultivate 400-plus acres of it annually, in addition to various vegetable crops, and every last bit is distilled on premises into peppermint oil. They began growing peppermint in 1995 after learning of a neighbor’s success.

“That’s typical of farmers,” says Butler. “You watch what your neighbor’s doing. If he’s successful at it you think, ‘Well I can do that too.’”

The Butlers are not alone in Oregon mint cultivation. The state is second in the nation in terms of peppermint cultivation (a very close second to Washington) and has seven main cultivation regions: the Willamatte Valley, Klamath Basin (including Susanville, Northern California and Tulelake), Madras, Hermiston, Ontario, Klatskanie and La Grande. The Madras and Hermiston areas focus primarily on peppermint leaf production while the Willamette Valley specializes almost entirely on peppermint oil production…

Stay tuned for the next three installments of this story.
Read Pt. 2 Oregon Mint
Read Pt. 3 Oregon Mint

Young Winemakers of Oregon Event

December 12th, 2011

Young Winemakers of Oregon this Saturday...

Please consider checking out the second Young Winemakers of Oregon event this Saturday, December 17th from 5-8 pm at Red Slate Wine Co. (also known as Ambonnay Champagne Bar; next to Olympic Provisions) in Southeast Portland. It costs $10 to taste the nine wines featured and that fee is waived if you buy six or more bottles. Here are the details pretty much straight from the source…

Taste wines from these winemakers:

Division Winemaking Company– It started as an “itch” when Tom enrolled in an entry level sommelier course and when Kate visited her family home in the Loire Valley in central France. It has now evolved into a winery on Divison Street in Southeast Portland, the site of Tom and Kate’s first home together.

God King Slave Wines – At 24 and 27 years old, Christine Collier & Chris Jiron, have released their inaugural wine, a Syrah-Tempranillo blend from the Rogue Valley. Their mission is to “Create like a God. Command like a King. Work like a Slave.”

Brigadoon Wine Company– Having caught the winemaking bug at an early age, Matt Shown has been working in the vineyards since he was 8 years old. Matt will be showcasing the Pinot Noirs and Pinot Blanc his family is committed to making.

Saturday, December 17th
Red Slate Wine Co./Ambonnay Champagne Bar next door to Southeast’s Olympic Provisions
Portland, Oregon
$10 tasting fee for tastes of nine wines (waived with a 6 bottle purchase)
Facebook event page

Friend Food Pt. 4

December 5th, 2011

Our friend Pete gave us the beautiful foraged mushrooms that made this chanterelle brussels sprout risotto so special. He also regularly gifts us with his homebrew. We're so lucky.

Our friends keep us very well fed and this regular installment aptly titled Friend Food is a chronicle of the edibles and potables that they are so kind as to give us. It goes both ways of course. I love to give friends homemade food and drink and the things I most often gift include all sorts of pickles and vegetable ferments (kimchi, kraut, spicy garlic dills, pickled beets etc.), hot sauces, salsas, mustards, and if you’ve been very good some homemade fruit wine.

Maybe you’ll get an idea here for something to cook and give to friends and family this holiday season. Please leave a comment if you’re making something good as a holiday gift this year that you’d like to share…

Our very good friend and neighbor Alison baked us this lovely lemon meringue pie for Thanksgiving this year. I really miss this pie. So good

Our friend Pete also gave us a bottle of liquid gold -- his homemade dandelion wine.

Better late than never with these awesome smoked pork ribs that our friend Dave made in his smoker late this summer. He fabricated the smoker ground-up and for the time being it's at our house. Again, lucky.

Picked the last of this year's plums from our neighbor Alison's trees and turned them all -- along with other fruits -- into wine that's fermenting in the utility room.

Our friends Vern and Sandy migrate between Rainbow County in San Diego and Lopez Island every year. This year on their way south from Lopez they visited us and left us with these tasty gifts -- canned Dungeness and homemade salal/blackberry/apple jelly. Mmmm.

Friend Food Pt. 3
Friend Food Pt. 1
Friend Food Pt. 2