10 May 2011

Natural, Local, and Fermented to Perfection

Fermentation at its finest

Finding a new idea that relates to food in Portland can often be a difficult endeavor. With countless amazing restaurants, products, chefs, and farms, Portland represents a sort of Mecca in the way of local food concepts. However, when I learned about Sandra Coggins of Cascade Naturals and her artisanal tempeh, I was immediately intrigued as I had yet to hear of a variety produced in Portland.

When I asked Sandra about how her interest in tempeh began, she explained that after learning the fermentation process at the Kushi Institute in Massachusetts, she soon preferred her own product to the imported varieties that were available in stores. 35 years later, Sandra has made a business out of selling her tempeh and other items both in and around Portland. Recently Sandra joined the market circuit and can now be found at PSU the last Saturday of every month.

“I am excited to be a part of the market. It is not only a great way to get the word out about my products, but I enjoy interacting with customers and educating the community about fermented foods and their health benefits,” Sandra explained to me at the PSU market.

And judging from the crowds around Sandra’s tent, and a caveat from her employee that the tempeh was sold out, it seems that the community is equally happy to have Cascade Naturals at the market. According to Sandra, the demand for her tempeh has continued to grow as more people seek a local, artisan version of the fermented food.

But tempeh is not the only interesting and healthy (and rarely produced locally) food that Sandra offers. I wasn’t able to part the crowd fast enough to try the tempeh, but I did sample her gomashio, a healthy Japanese condiment made out of sesame seeds and salt. According to Sandra, gomashio is a healthier alternative to salt, and because hers is fresher than the gomashio shipped in from Japan, it also tastes better. I hadn’t used gomashio in the past, but with the perfect blend of salt, spice, and tangy flavor, Sandra’s gomashio has definitely given me reason to try it out.

At the stove with Sandra

Cascade Naturals is not only about producing great tasting food. The products are all natural (hence the name) and use local sources whenever possible. She sees this not only as a way to support her community but also a guarantee that her products will be the highest quality and taste. In fact, one of the many reasons Sandra is excited to join the market this season is the chance to build relationships with vendors selling local cabbage for her handmade sauerkraut.

For me, someone who already loved tempeh and sauerkraut (and now gomashio), the addition of Cascade Naturals to the market provides yet another reason to wake up early in order to beat those Saturday morning crowds: getting a locally and thoughtfully made natural product before it sells out!

–by Laura Harrison

Laura Harrison hails from the East Coast following the Oregon Trail in search of greener pastures. Drawn by a desire to bring delicious, healthy, and sustainable food into her home and to the masses, she finds herself digging in the dirt and loitering around farmers markets more often than not. Her love for fresh and responsible food influences her life decisions, dinner plans and wardrobe. She currently works for Gee Creek Farm and volunteers with Growing Gardens as well as with the Portland Farmers Market’s Fresh Exchange program. Laura wants to continue helping bring farm-fresh produce into the cities as she enjoys bringing it into her own kitchen.