By Bob Hicks
Keep Portland Pickled. Or maybe, in honor of a certain shape of preserved cucumber, Keep Portland Speared.
Imagine a city where something called the Portland Fermentation Festival is such a mind-boggling hit that you can’t get in the doors. It’s like reporting that the Iowa City Haggis Festival or the Twin Falls Ukelele and Bassoon Blowout are SRO.
Such is the city in which we live.
Mr. Scatter recalls being impressed as a child by the tale of Noah, who after steering his ark at long last into port dipped into the wine cellar and got so snozzled that he stumbled into his tent, stripped off all his clothes, and fell into a deep naked snooze. This caused considerable consternation once he woke up, and somehow Noah, who after all was “a just man and perfect,” pinned the blame on his son Canaan, who as winemaker had apparently amped up the alcohol content. (He might have been the same guy making all those head-thumping California zins in the 1970s.) It was a pioneering instance of better scapegoating through chemistry.
On Thursday evening Mr. and Mrs. Scatter parked the Scatter corporate ark on a side street near the Pearl District’s Ecotrust Building and headed in for what they assumed would be a quiet and congenial gathering of fellow fermentation geeks — lovers of the likes of pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut, sourdough, and of course, wine and beer. Imagine their surprise to see a line of pickle fanatics snaking down the stairway from the second-story event, through the lobby and almost out the door.
“There’s an elevator in this building,” Mr. Scatter muttered softly, so he couldn’t be overheard. “Maybe they don’t know that.” He and Mrs. Scatter whisked upward and stepped out of the elevator car immediately in front of the Fermentation Festival entrance, only to be confronted by the stark reality that there were no cuts allowed: the end of the line was still far down below. “Let’s go get a drink,” Mrs. Scatter said sensibly, and walked back into the elevator for the swift descent to reality.
A quick walk away was Scott Dolich’s Park Kitchen, not only one of the city’s most inventive restaurants but also home to one of the Scatters’ favorite bars, a long and narrow copper-clad job with a generous vibe and seating for a fortunate few. It happened to be happy hour, and unlike Noah, the Scatters settled for a single drink each — he the house bubbly (go yeast, young man), she a bartender’s-choice, a mystery concoction that turned out to have bourbon, bitters, and a heady scent of orange. It was excellent, and next time Mr. Scatter will allow the bartender to choose for him, too. The drinks demanded a touch of food: a simple mixed-lettuce salad with a bracingly balanced shallot vinaigrette (vinegar=fermentation) and a trio of Park Kitchen’s fine salt cod fritters, glorious combinations of mash and crunch that are dipped in a prickly malt vinegar. Seated on their bar stools, the Scatters happily enjoyed their own private fermentation festival.
Back home, Mrs. Scatter dutifully picked up a book that frankly bores her though she is determined to stick it out (“I thought books were supposed to be enjoyable,” she grumbled as she flipped yet another page, a little forcibly). Mr. Scatter, still a bit hungry, checked the refrigerator and discovered the remains of the last quart of sauerkraut made by their friends George and Edie. He smiled. George and Edie call their kraut, in the French manner, choucroute, and it’s good enough to suggest a historical question:
If Noah had planted cabbages instead of grapes, might he have kept his clothes on? Or was it just too damned hot up there on the slopes of Mount Ararat?
ILLUSTRATION: “Grape-Shot,” 1915 English magazine illustration of a lady riding a champagne cork. Copyright The Lordprice Collection, reproduced with permission via Wikimedia Commons.