Oregon Berry Festival: Celebrating Old Fashioned Fun, Modern Farming and Gourmet Food Products

by Nancy Zaffaro
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Wandering a good festival is a highlight of long summer days, and attending the Oregon Berry Festival in Portland was a sweet treat. The family-friendly festival is good old-fashioned fun, complete with the opportunity for foodies to taste and take home as many artisan food and beverage products they can carry. The free annual event was held  at the Ecotrust Event Space in Portland’s popular Pearl district. Take a look!

An elegant Gala Berry Dinner kicks off the festival.

An elegant Gala Berry Dinner kicks off the festival.

Organized by the Oregon Raspberry & Blackberry Commission (ORBC), the fest celebrates berries that grown on canes—blueberries, blackberries, Marionberries, and Boysenberries. The festival celebrates berries and other farm-grown Oregon products in an urban setting.

This years’ festival kicked off with an elegant al fresco Gala Berry dinner, a Plate & Pitchfork event held at Smith Berry Barn in Hillsboro. The Portland festival event was held July 15 and 16.

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Get them while they’re fresh! Blueberries by the pint, half-flat and flat!

Forty vendor booths shared samples and sold Oregon artisan and farm-made food products. Of course, there were fresh berries to taste and the opportunity to buy berries by the pint or flat. There was live music, cooking demonstrations, garden tips and the chance to learn more about the variety of berries grown in the state.

Food samples galore at the festival.

Food samples galore at the festival.

For kids, there was a games and craft area, face painting and the chance to learn about berry science, hosted by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). There was even a blackberry pie contest and bike raffle.

Hot Lips Pizza is a proud festival sponsor.

HotLips Pizza,outside, on the deck.

Although we certainly “filled up” on the many samples and tastes offered, we took a break and stopped by one of the festival’s sponsors, HotLips Pizza, in the EcoTrust building. Sitting at a table on their outdoor deck, we kept an eye on the comings and goings at the festival while enjoying pizza and HotLips fresh fruit soda.

HotLips sodas include fresh fruit in every bottle.

Here are some favorite foods and beverage finds from the Oregon Berry Festival:

Wild Roots Vodka

Incredible. Flavored. Vodkas. Portland’s Distillery Row’s latest resident; Wild Roots Vodka adds over a pound of Northwest fruit to every bottle of their small batch distilled flavored vodkas. The deep purple-red hue of their Marionberry-infused vodka had friends thinking it was a liqueur when I served some at a gathering the next evening. I poured cocktails, topping the vodka with a little Prosecco and a splash of lemonade. There’s nothing syrupy about this clean tasting, five-time distilled, five-time filtered vodka. The vodka maintains a perfect balance of mildly sweet and tart and true Marionberry aromas and flavor. Truly special.

Wild Roots Vodkas contain a pound of fresh berries in each bottle.

Wild Roots Vodkas contain a pound of fresh berries in each bottle.

Nineteen27 S’Mores

James Kelly of Nineteen27 S'Mores improvises the campfire s'mores experience at his booth.

James Kelly of Nineteen27 S’Mores improvises the campfire s’mores experience at his booth.

Homemade marshmallows taste nothing like what you buy in the bag at your grocery store, and personally, I’m not going to get all Martha-Stewart-enough to make my own. Fortunately, James and Elise Kelly of Nineteen27 S’Mores decided to do just that.  The name pays homage to the Girl Scouts, which in 1927 published the first recorded recipe for s’mores. They sell their kits complete with a variety of flavors of hand-crafted marshmallows and graham crackers, and chocolates from Missionary Chocolates. They’re beautifully packaged and will make your next bonfire an upscale event. Try the Oregon raspberry marshmallows!

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Columbia Empire Farms

Columbia Empire Farms has a large line of jams, sauces, hazelnuts, and chocolate confections.

Not one of the little guys, Columbia Empire Farms, owned by the Pamplin family, grow and bottle their excellent products on a 900 acre farm in Sherwood, Oregon. In operation since 1976, they produce a large line of fruit, nut and chocolate products right on their own farm.  A few of my favorite items are their Seedless Marionberry Preserves (their bestseller), Chipotle Raspberry Grill sauce, any of their pepper jams (!), and their Dark Chocolate Covered Hazelnuts. Their products are sold in stores nationwide and online and at venues through YourNW.com.

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 Little Handfuls

Dustin Kochis hands out samples of his Little Handfuls.

Dustin Kochis hands out samples of his Little Handfuls.

There was a stroller parking jam at Dustin and Darcy Kochis’ Little Handfuls booth as parents sampled these organic, natural, gluten-free small “plates” and then bent down to share with their little ones. Three flavors, including Blackberry, Date & Oat, Bean, Brown Rice & Spinach, and Apple, Squash & Quinoa are available. You can identify each of the three main ingredients in each tasty bite, there’s no salt, sugar or anything unnatural, and the size is perfect for kiddos just learning to feed themselves. They’re fully cooked and frozen, making them handy for parents and grandparents to keep in the freezer for something quick but healthy.

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Vincent Family Cranberries

The Vincent family has been tending and harvesting cranberries from their bogs just half a mile from the Pacific Ocean in Bandon, Oregon since 1957.  The year-round cool climate and salty winds extend the growing period and the berries end up smaller, darker and with a higher sugar content than other cranberries. Today, they have 27 acres of bogs. They sell dried cranberries and a full line of cranberry-, cranberry Marionberry- and cranberry-blueberry juice.  Their dried cranberries are infused with unsweetened apple juice instead of sugar and are sliced rather than shards of cranberry skins like most others. Vincent Family cranberry juices are 51-90% cranberry juice, far more than the other cranberry juice blends. The cranberry-blueberry juice is just that—no apple juice included. There’s no comparing flavor—or health benefits.

Vincent Family Cranberries makes juices have less sugar, more cranberries.

Vincent Family Cranberries juices are made from their own cranberry bogs.

Blossom Vinegars

Drinking vinegars and shrubs are all the rage and are refreshing and healthy as both non- and alcoholic beverages. They’re also great for cooking. Connie Rawlings-Dritsa’s Blossom Vinegars products use fresh local fruits and herbs and absolutely no added sugars—no cane sugars, corn syrups, agave, stevia or artificial sweeteners. The sweet and tart flavors are all fruit and herbs. The Blueberry Basil Culinary vinegar is delicious and versatile and I especially liked the Thai Pepper Pear drinking vinegar.

Connie Rawlings-Dritsa of Blossom Vinegars with her flavored vinegars.

Connie Rawlings-Dritsa of Blossom Vinegars with her flavored vinegars.

Oregon Specialty Fruit

Pourable Fruit fruit purees are delicious in smoothies and more.

Pourable Fruit fruit purees are great in smoothies, cocktails, and more.

Oregon Specialty Fruit has been canning berries since 1935, when farmer Max Gehlar decided fruit processing would be more stable than farming. Their products became kitchen staples and are still sold today in the same black-labeled cans. Their latest product is Pourable Fruit. Pourable Raspberry, Blueberry and Strawberry are frozen fruit purees that can be poured to create beverages, cocktails, smoothies, sauces, and toppings. The fruit is picked and quick-frozen. Add a little to a glass of lemonade and turn it into something special, complete with fruit pulp.

Look for the 7th annual Oregon Berry Festival in July, 2017.




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– All photos by Nancy Zaffaro.


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