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Portland: A Food Biography

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The infant city called The Clearing was a bald patch amid a stuttering wood. The Clearing was no booming metropolis; no destination for gastrotourists; no career-changer for ardent chefs -- just awkward, palsied steps toward Victorian gentility. In the decades before the remaining trees were scraped from the landscape, Portland's wood was still a verdant breadbasket, overflowing with huckleberries and chanterelles, venison leaping on cloven hoof.

Today, Portland is seen as a quaint village populated by trust fund wunderkinds who run food carts each serving something more precious than the last. But Portland's culinary history actually tells a different story: the tales of the salmon-people, the pioneers and immigrants, each struggling to make this strange but inviting land between the Pacific and the Cascades feel like home.

The foods that many people associate with Portland are derived from and defined by its history: salmon, berries, hazelnuts and beer. But Portland is more than its ingredients. Portland is an eater's paradise and a cook's playground. Portland is a gustatory wonderland.

Full of wry humor and captivating anecdotes, Portland: A Food Biography chronicles the Rose City's rise from a muddy Wild West village full of fur traders, lumberjacks and ne'er-do-wells, to a progressive, bustling town of merchants, brewers and oyster parlors, to the critical darling of the national food scene. Heather Arndt Anderson brings to life in lively prose the culinary landscape of Portland, then and now.

326 pages, Hardcover

First published November 13, 2014

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About the author

Heather Arndt Anderson

5 books33 followers
Heather Arndt Anderson is a Portland, Oregon-based writer. She writes about food and culinary history.

Heather is the author of Berries: A Global History, Chillies: A Global History, Portland: A Food Biography (Baltimore: Rowman & Littlefield Studies in Food and Gastronomy, 2014) and Breakfast: A History (Baltimore: AltaMira, 2013). She is a contributing writer to the magazines ,i.TASTE, Portlnad Monthly, Render Feminist Food & Culture Quarterly and Roads & Kingdoms, and Narratively.

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Displaying 1 - 11 of 11 reviews
Profile Image for Vanessa.
Author 1 book8 followers
May 2, 2015
Heather Arndt Anderson knows how to make a subject that might otherwise be snore fest in someone else's hands (local food history) not only infinitely interesting but she also writes with the artfulness of someone who takes the the task of writing as seriously as she does her food. Which is to say, the book was compelling, interesting, fun, and an all around joy to read. I love her work. This book is a must-have for any self-respecting Portlander or anyone who has visited, is visiting, or one day dreams of partaking in Portland's gastronomical pleasures. Anderson will help you see past the of-the-moment Portlandia hipster food cart aesthetic, digging deep into the heart of Portland's food scene and serving to illuminate what we all know about Portland -- it's where outliers, rebels, and risk takers take refuge in the bounty that is Portland. T'was always thus and always thus will be . . .
Profile Image for Carole.
304 reviews4 followers
January 29, 2015
I thought I was just going to skim this book, but it was so interesting that I read the whole thing in just a couple days. This is especially interesting if you are a long-time Oregonian. It's the perfect combination of food and history.
Profile Image for Art Edwards.
Author 7 books24 followers
November 27, 2014
Heather Arndt Anderson came into her own with this one, which takes you back century or two into Portland gastronomy and brings you up to the present. Witty, down-to-earth, with a huge dollop of fun!
Profile Image for Becky Straub.
345 reviews1 follower
April 13, 2015
Absolutely my kind of book. Portland, food, history. Yep. Makes me want to try to dig up some info about my own house and neighborhood.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
Author 5 books95 followers
July 12, 2014
Tourists and Portlandia fans may have certain ideas about Portland's food scene. Visions of food carts, hippie vegan restaurants, grilled cheese buses, blue cheese ice cream shops, and mile-long brunch lines dance in their heads. Yes, those are all a part of Portland's bustling and dynamic culinary culture today--but how did it all begin?

In Portland: A Food Biography, Breakfast A History author and Portland native Heather Arndt Anderson starts from our fair city's not-so-humble beginnings, when the land was wild and teeming with native plants and animals. The book shows how the first Portlanders (from the Chinook and Kalapuya tribes) fished, hunted, and gathered Camas and wapato for sustenance.

Later, immigrants from around the world settled in Stumptown, bringing with them their own varied culinary traditions. What will be especially interesting to Portland residents today is seeing the remnants of this history in the corners of our current neighborhoods. Those fig trees dropping their fruit on the sidewalks of Southeast Portland? Those were planted by Italian families around the turn of the twentieth century. Commonly referred to as the whitest city in America, Portland--as revealed in this book--has a richer, more diverse culinary history than I would have imagined.

Portland was also home to its share of lovable oddballs, and Arndt Anderson found them all. Farmers, feminists, prohibitionists, teetotalers, vegetarians, barkeeps, restaurant owners, and canning factory managers populate these pages, often spouting off amazing quips about their love for Portland. Take this one, for example:

American publisher and early game law reformer Charles Hallock wrote effusively in 1891 of the variety of waterfowl that the Northwest has to offer, of “the exquisite preparation nature has made for their accommodation and the long season for hunting them, with which we sportsmen are blessed,” and insisted that the tales of Oregon’s duck-hunting affluence bore repeating until they “resolve themselves into blood-curdling, hair raising traditions similar to the Icelandic sagas and the mythical legends of the dark ages."

Hallock's rhapsodizing was not unique to him. Dozens of other newcomers found themselves similarly enthusiastic about the possibilities and abundance in this fertile land.

The journey from the past to the food cart and artisanal ice cream shops of twenty-first century Portland is a delicious, captivating one. Portlanders, especially, will find themselves swept up in this mouth-watering history. Outsiders are advised to read this book with caution, as they may feel the desire to pack up and move to Portland immediately. I have a feeling our mile-long brunch lines are about to get even longer.
Profile Image for Kate Belt.
1,019 reviews6 followers
February 25, 2015
If you have a passion for food, anthropology, history, immigration stories, nutrition, restaurants, Huber’s Spanish Coffee, commerce, or alcohol making, or Portland, this book is for you! I’m putting it at the top of the suggestion list for next year’s book group schedule and will cheat if needed to get it picked. I’m so certain that all of the foodies, urban farmer types, and history lovers in the group will find it as fascinating as I do. Unlike many books published in a series, Arndt Anderson’s own voice comes through strongly. Her sense of humor and creativity with words are woven throughout all the details and stories. She is a native Portlander, and her extensive research for the book is evidenced in nearly 30 pages of notes at the end. I was right in stating earlier that this is food anthropology. It takes us back to food cultures in this region from thousands of years ago. Eating has been connected with the creation stories and spirituality of the tribes who lived here long before the Europeans arrived, as well it should. If eating isn’t a spiritual experience, you’re not doing it right. Salmon, in particular, was discussed in relationship to religious traditions. The genealogy of berries reads like the begats in the Bible (see First Chronicles). In 1975, Julia Child went on a KOIN cooking show hosted by Horst Mager of Der Rhinelander and Gustav’s. All of these street names in Portland have people with stories behind them! Earlier books from the series are on New Orleans, San Francisco, and New York City. I look forward to getting my hands on them and hope they are as good as this one.
Profile Image for Ben Cornett.
3 reviews1 follower
February 7, 2015
This was a strangely compelling book about the history of Portland, told through the lens of food and the production of food. I tried to just skim it, but ended up reading the whole thing.
Profile Image for Theresa.
457 reviews1 follower
June 16, 2020
Interesting history of food in PDX. I liked reading about food pre western contact. Copious footnotes.
The book does not shy away from discussing the underside, seamy history of Pdx.
The book really did not deal much with contemporary food, mostly glossed it over.
Probably interesting mainly to people with some Oregon/ Portland connection.
Profile Image for Maggie.
15 reviews
August 28, 2023
Great collection of facts but not strung together in a very engaging way
35 reviews
November 25, 2015
Thorough history of Portland and the food produced and eaten from 1800's to present.
41 reviews
April 22, 2017
A subject with potential, but the book is in desperate need of an editor. It suffers from the same problem that all graduate student histories initially have, which is too much information and too many tangential asides. Just because you discover a real neat fact in an archive, or during your research, you shouldn't include it unless it is pertinent to the narrative.
Displaying 1 - 11 of 11 reviews

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