Transcript:

Speaker 1 My mom was a great baker, as Beard's mother was, and so you grow up and those are strong sensory influences, you know, that smell of of, you know, what are sticky buns or stolen or fresh baked bread or whatever it is. They it's addictive. And it's I mean, they tell us that smell is one of our most deepest reminiscences with the smell of our mother. The smell of food overpowers all of our other senses in the brain. And so bread is something people are passionate about. People love, you know, and it's that I think we all can just conjure that up. I don't know anybody who couldn't say, well, I know what bread smells like when it's baking. I don't know that, you know. But anyhow, when I opened, the Heasman portal was quite a bit different. And it's 30 years ago, more than 30 years ago. And I just couldn't find the kind of breads I wanted to serve at the hotel. So being a, you know, want to do things kind of guy, I decided I'd start baking bread. So I just in between my banquets and my run in the restaurant and doing all the things the executive chef does, I started baking some bread and people were crazy about it. The idea of fresh bread hitting the table for the restaurant was like, I guess it wasn't happening really. And I was baking breads that I liked. But to do that, I had to learn more about baking bread. I had I had done some bread baking, you know, my mom's recipes and a couple others. But I had never tried to do it on a big scale. And I went to the bookstore and I looked to see what was around. And I couldn't find really a professional book that I like. But I picked up Beard's beard on bread and started emulating some of those recipes. And obviously they weren't made to make you know, he was talking about making two baguettes, not 100 baguettes. But be that as it may, I learned some very basic things from him in that book. And I gradually started expanding that. And, you know, in the course of, I think two or three years and ended up me opening a bakery for the hotel, all inspired by Beurden bread originally. Of course, we do a lot of other breads now and we're going to bake some bread in the wood oven today. And that's that's all because of that book, that funny little book with the Kartini drawings of James on the cover. So he just speaks to you and, you know, you feel confident, you know, who would think that they could just buy that book and start baking for a hotel? But guess what? You can.

Speaker 2 That's great. OK, so then let's talk about the vets. So, again, we've talked a little bit about the market, but maybe we can pick up with, you know, in addition to the market, some of the local farmers had such a close relationship with Mrs. Biard that they would go to her house. They would bring her the pick of the litter first before they brought it to everybody else. And one was Mr. Delfino, the other guy's name, and totally so. And they would bring things like eggplant, which most Americans hadn't even really heard of. And this is a way for you to introduce the leeks. Sure. You don't have to say we're going to make it because we're going to show it to, you know, OK, big Celebrex, which again, where these European, Italian, Greek recipes that most Americans had never.

Speaker 1 So when I read Beard and I think about that sort of anachronistic deal of what we have today and what they had then and you find out, hey, they had what we had today back then, and we think, really, how how could that be? Well, it was and one of the passages I love is him talking about the vegetables that his mother loved to cook with. And in there they talk not only of going to the market and buying vegetables from the stalls along Yamhill Street, but they also talk about what he calls hucksters. These guys who would come around the neighborhoods with Wagin, perhaps maybe it was a truck. I don't know. He doesn't detail that. But they had vegetables. They grew like a lot of communities, a lot of the farmers. Back then, the truck farmer's vegetable farmers were Italian American families that had bought land and were growing vegetables to bring to produce markets. It's the same where I grew up back in upstate New York. And these gentlemen would travel around in the neighborhoods, show up maybe Monday and Friday or whatever it was. And they had set days and they would bring their vegetables and maybe some other little special things they bought off the common market coming out of California, who knows eggplant, things like that, things that were very exotic to sort of the common cook, perhaps, of that era. But Beard's mother loved those things and she responded to him. And if she didn't know how to cook it, she would develop relationships with Mr. Delfino or Mr. and Jose, and they would talk about how they would cook and how their grandmother cooked that or those kind of things and introduce new ideas, new sort of regional cuisine into Beard's mother's cooking. So you've got a pretty adventuresome woman who's willing to talk to the Italian guy off the back of his truck and then go try cooking, you know, some kind of eggplant preparation she's never, ever heard of before. And so there's a vast list of things, Savoy cabbage and lemon cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, things that we today think are pretty special. Well, they were special then, too, and they had them. They just kind of kind of went into hibernation for a while till they reemerged in our era of food. But it's great. And then Beard's mother grew vegetables. She had vegetable beds and fruit trees. And so he mentions in Pride and Prejudice is a number of her sort of favorite vegetable preparations. Probably some of those things they grew or some of them they came off the back of one of these Italian guy's trucks. But it's just again, it's that people coming together around food theme that keeps reappearing. And he describes her learning about making pesto and how exciting that was. And remember, this is the 20s, probably maybe earlier, maybe the teens, you know, 1915, perhaps. So it's a long time ago, one hundred years ago. And what we think of is pretty special stuff they did, too, so.

Speaker 2 And what were some of her favorite recipes that you like to make?

Speaker 1 Oh, you know, Bairds mom had a lot of interesting approaches to food. Some of them were very simple. You know, vegetables just served with a simple cream sauce or things of that nature, leeks, holographic. She did artichokes, loved to cook all of those things in different manner, some that were kind of came out of her British tradition. I remember talking about her suddenly realizing that these big Maroa squashes that she grew, which is a British term and it's kind of an overgrown zucchini. And we all know how much we don't like overgrown zucchini. Well, Mr. Delfino taught her about zucchini, meaning little squash and how delicious they were when they were harvested young rather than being growing up to this big size that she had been cooking them at their kind of insipid. When you cook one of those, it's all watery. But when you get a nice young squash and cook it and then beard waxes on about living in in France and eating the squash blossoms or Spain, I think, and learning about how to use the squash blossoms as well. So it's all just that sort of aspect of what we would consider to be just classic country cooking. But it was taking place here in her kitchen and out of her garden or off the back of one of these guys trucks, a little olive oil, a little wine. Just simmer it till it's just perfectly cooked asparagus for one, for sure, you know, with hollandaise or whatever it might be. So just great stuff. And it reads like a menu of today.

Speaker 2 Great. Oh, my God. You're just killing it.

Speaker 1 I don't know. You got a lot more is going to come out when we start cooking.

Speaker 2 Let's talk about the berries here and then we can repeat, you know, he he could not say enough about Oregon berries to anyone with less, basically, and. Know why this is the perfect time right now to produce? Sure. And then yet you just tell, because I'm not sure if I'm going to have Rob read this passage, but you can tell the story actually tells this funny story about going with Mary and letting her dad at the Oregon coast to go very hunting. And all of a sudden out of the woods, they all came screaming out of the woods and they were being chased by a bear and they made it out alive. But foraging for berries back then could be dangerous because there's too many bears in the Oregon goes down right now.

Speaker 1 They're still out there, actually. Yeah, they are.

Speaker 2 I think we've encroached on.

Speaker 1 Yeah, yeah, yeah. You got to go pretty deep into. Yeah.

Speaker 2 You have to bear

Speaker 1 well in the berry patches you can run into them. So yeah. They're the bears love bears.

Speaker 2 I was going to say you're competing with them.

Speaker 1 Yeah. Yeah. That's their, their patch. So. So anyway, we're going to talk about the strawberries, the

Speaker 2 harvested Oregon berries in general. Should we go out and maybe when we're making the berry you can try again a little bit more. Sure. And then tell that funny story

Speaker 1 about the bean being chased by the bear. OK, so one of Beard's favorite things with berries, fresh fruits. I remember a passage where he mentions that his mother thought that she always wanted to have the first fruits and vegetables in season. So despite her rigid standards, she could bend them a little bit. And she mentions that she thought to California, berries and fruits could taste almost like mature local fruit just picked if she got there just in time. And I thought that was kind of curious. It seemed like the little rationale like, well, I'll just have a wee glass of whiskey because it's OK. It's not really drinking then. But anyhow, he does go on to say that there's nothing that can approach a perfectly ripe and Oregon strawberry or huckleberry in season and that that comes up again and again in his writing, whether he's talking about making desserts or just having them as a delicious little finished finale or whatever, whether it be strawberries or amazing huckleberries, which he was very fond of in. And folks from other parts of the country probably have had what is called huckleberries. We have huckleberries all around North America, the northern hemisphere or northern latitudes in North America, in the United States. And there's a unique quality to Oregon huckleberries. We have a number of varieties. I think we have about a dozen varieties. But the deep dark blue ones, which around the rest of the country, when you have them taste more or less like a little bit wild or blueberry are just another level here. They have a pieni resinous like unforgettable quality to them. And ironically, we're not the only ones who like them. And Beard tells a story as kids going out to the coast with Mary Hamlett and they're going to go on a berry picking trip up into the forest because these berries grow in the forest around the fringe of the forest and you have to go up, climb into some pretty rugged spots to get to them. So they all went pylon into the forest to pick their huckleberries. And in short order, they are all coming, running back out of the forest. And they had found a bear's private patch and the bear was chasing them out of his patch. And I don't know if I could think of anything quite funny or I don't know how old James was at the time, but I don't think he was much of a runner would be my guess. So it had to be quite the scene.

Speaker 2 That's perfect, perfect, because I'm hoping that my little animating ladies can do up to

Speaker 1 yeah, I think we, you know, few people want to think back and think of these things existing, like we always want to think we're special. And there's something that's unique here that that nobody else has ever experienced. And Beard is that conduit to the past for us. The older Portland and his world was one of amazing restaurants. You can look at church cookbooks and other cookbooks of the day to see what kind of ingredients his writing talks about, the things his mother cooked with and things like that, and the restaurants they went to. So most of them are ghosts now. A few of them still exist. You can still go to Huber's or to the Bensen or a couple of other places, but the Henry T. and those other places, if you look at menus from that era or you look at the cookbooks and you'll see dishes that you would think would be straight out of the great hotels of Europe, and they were being cooked by probably not so much the housewives as their cooks were doing the merchant ships and, you know, the people that were comfortably off. And that was the world that beard grew up in. And because it's a mild climate and there's an amazing diversity of product here, there are ingredients that none of us would really imagine them having access to. In fact, things that didn't become commonly available to us until relatively recently, last 20, 30 years were commonplace at that time. So that completely will change your impressions when you dig into that stuff. So, yeah, amazing. Well, I think we all want to think it is. But in truth, the scene of Beard's youth would probably rival what we have today. Stylistically, not the same. Of course, they're cooking from the grand tradition of the European hotels and restaurants, but the ingredients they had to work with. If you look at books and menus of the day, church cookbooks and women's clubs and things, we see dishes like Bullivant and forced mushrooms. I mean, who's whipping up Volvox today? Probably most of these chefs in town couldn't make a fool of all that was commonplace then. But those people cooking it, we're also trained professionals that were working for the big houses, for the wealthy wives that were running these big, you know, incredibly spacious homes in the hills that their husbands were timber barons and Chipper's or whatever that might be. Likewise, the restaurants in town were catering to those people. It was an affluent city and beard and his mother would travel from one restaurant to the other and see what they're offering and try and emulate that in their restaurant at the Gladstone. And people became accustomed to that. And when you go back and look into those things, you're pretty amazed to see a, what the ingredients were and B, how they were prepared. Things that were commonplace then didn't come back into sort of the commonplace usage or restaurant usage until relatively recently, maybe the last 20 or 30 years or so. Biard indeed was spoiled and exposed to some amazing diversity of both product and preparation that would shock most people today for that era. So it's interesting to see how these kind of cycles and continuums happen. But Bearder is our conduit to that one of the past here in Portland.

Speaker 2 So what were some of the places that you might have gone with is?

Speaker 1 Oh, you know, a few of those places still exist. A couple are Huber's is still here. And that has an amazing tradition. Really interesting to see why they do what they do. And it's such a beautiful restaurant when you go inside and you see the stained glass cupola in the back room and the original Huber's that he would have dined in the Benson Hotel. Of course, most of the others have. Henry Tilley's is long gone and other places, so we can only find those through the archives and see them in the recipes, in the menus that are stored there. But the pulse is still there. I think when I and in Huber's I sit down and have a turkey sandwich there, I feel like I can hear James, you know, talking with some friends in the corner, enjoying his turkey sandwich or maybe his shrimp cocktail. So that still exists. And there are other places outside of town, but particularly those places here in Portland. Yes.

Speaker 2 Did I have to have you talk about prohibition at all? Maybe we can get you to say one sentence like, you know, like the rest of the country. Portman's restaurant scene was sure and she was almost set to close to. Sure.

Speaker 1 OK, so one thing that we've all sort of forgotten about was prohibition. And what that did to how people ate and drank and how it affected how people drank is obvious. They had to go underground with that process. And for people in the restaurant, in the hotel business of that era, it was a catastrophe and it caused people to completely change what they're doing. And it certainly caused the closing of many restaurants. Some figure out a way to survive. Huber's did. They came up with a formula that worked for them, their whole focus on turkey dinner. It was the thing that saved them. And to this day, that's what they're known for. So other places, I don't know how a place like Henry Teeley survived. They became kind of a cafe and diner rather than, you know, he was considered one of the great chefs of North America today and it traveled all over the world cooking. Then he turned it into a cafe, family restaurant. So changes we we couldn't anticipate. And thankfully, as a restaurant tour, I'm hoping there's no prohibition in my future, so.

Greg Higgins
Interview Date:
2015-05-26
Runtime:
0:16:52
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
N/A
MLA CITATIONS:
"Greg Higgins, James Beard: America's First Foodie." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 26 May. 2015, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1276
APA CITATIONS:
(2015, May 26). Greg Higgins, James Beard: America's First Foodie. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1276
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Greg Higgins, James Beard: America's First Foodie." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). May 26, 2015. Accessed January 20, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1276

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