Archive for June, 2014
Walking through Sellwood on a lazy summer day, agenda-less wanderers could indulge in the many facets of the local neighborhood economy: tasting the subtleties of a Portland microbrew at Laurelwood or Oaks Bottom Public House, getting their bikes fixed at Sellwood Cycle Repair, and finding treasures scrounging through the bins at the Bins. If at any point in their exploration of Sellwood they hear the faint, distinct sound of a hammer hitting an anvil, they would think themselves mistaken, submerged in a medieval daydream. However, that ancient sound is alive in SE Portland: local Pat Wojciechowski has breathed new life into blacksmithing, creating an urban oasis for the unexposed art form. Pat founded Oaks Bottom Forge, a business that sells hand-forged knives and also provides blacksmithing classes to share the old world skills with a wider community. While I was interviewing Pat and Whitney Mount, who is the manager, a woman walked in off the street, curious about the boisterous forge in the middle of the otherwise quiet, service-driven neighborhood. Pat said to her, “We make knives by day, and we teach by night. There’s knives up there, you’re welcome to walk around.” If you can’t make it down to their location at 8236 SE 17th St. to explore their handicraft, you can at least journey into the world of blade smithing and knife building by listening to Pat and Whitney in the interview below.
How did your interest in forging knives begin, and who helped you learn skills along the way?
Pat: I started taking an adult blacksmithing class at the Portland Waldorf School. Tom Meyers teaches that class, and he’s been there 21 years. He teaches all the woodworking and blacksmithing. Blacksmithing is a required class for every junior and senior there. When I would pick up my children, I kept hearing the blacksmith. And I’m going, “What are they doing? What am I hearing?” That’s how I got involved.
Are the blacksmithing techniques used by Oaks Bottom Forge fairly old in origin?
Pat: We definitely do an old world style; we call it a free hand style. People have been playing with fire for a long time. It’s a lot of work, that’s why most people don’t do it. Nobody here’s afraid of working hard.
Why do you have that commitment?
Pat: I just love doing it. I like the design and I like seeing results and I like working with people. It’s a great collaborative group here. We all live in the neighborhood, and this is what we do.
Pat: All of our knives are hand made. We hand forge knives one heirloom at a time.
Whitney: Most knives today are made using steel removal, so you end up grinding off the steel. You remove the metal to make the knife. We actually hand forge it so we are blacksmithing and hammering the metal to create knife instead of using the machine.
Pat: There is an art to steel removal too; we just don’t do it. They start out with a blank that is the size of that knife at the end and they very methodically remove that metal until it tapers out. They use a machine, while we hammer and hand forge ours. We hand trace each handle out of wood. There are no automatic machines here that make our handles.
Why hand forged instead of steel removal?
Pat: I don’t like shiny knifes (laughs). There is something about hand crafted that I like. Some people use big drop hammers. We use a hand held hammer and a forge and an anvil. There are plenty of other blacksmiths, but not many that make knives the way that we do.
Are there any other businesses like this in the US or in Oregon?
Whitney: Not many that are making actual hand forged without a drop hammer. Every single knife is unique because they are free hand hammered. Because we’re not using a drop hammer, not doing steel removal, every single one is slightly different.
What is the most challenging aspect of creating the knives?
Whitney: Trying to explain to people what we do. People will ask, “Oh, are these blades made in the USA?” And we always answer “Yep, they’re made right here in Portland at our shop by hand.”
Pat: Most people don’t know how knives are made. Period. They just don’t know. What they’re used to at any store is a flat, shiny knife. They see ours; they’re hammered. The material starts out an eighth of an inch thick and we hammer it. We compress all the crystals of that metal together, as opposed to just taking it and removing it. People who buy knives or know something think our knives are made out of Damascus. Damascus is layers of different metals that are pressed together, and then folded, pressed and folded, pressed and folded. It is beautifully done. Japan’s been doing it for thousands of years. So people look at our knives and say, “How many layers are in your Damascus?” We say, “It’s not Damascus.” There are drawbacks to Damascus. In the big picture, Damascus has multiple layers of metal touching each other. When you go to sharpen that, each of those metals has a different property. Some are softer, some are harder. So when you do it, you’ll still get a sharp edge, but some layers will stay sharper longer than others. It’s better for us to get brand new metal and hammer it down. Then, there is only one metal on the edge that we have to sharpen, and that is it.
Even when we tell people that we make our knives with a fire-burning forge, an anvil, and a hand-held hammer, they will always be like, “What’s that texture on there?” What is it, it’s a hammer! Some people think that you just hammer it to get a texture.
Whitney: A year after my boyfriend and I started dating, he finally asked me, “Besides just putting texture on the knife, what does hand-forged really mean?”
Pat: See? People really just don’t know. We use a charcoal forge instead of a coal forge. Charcoal is a renewable resource. Most of it is made out of trees that have been removed anyways, palates that have been discarded. Wood is a renewable resource; coal, once you take the coal out of that hill, it’s no longer a hill. Much of the country is being destroyed by coal. We are anti-coal. We do what we do with wood. There is something about the sound of a hammer smacking an anvil that is good. It’s just good, hard work. There’s nothing easy about sanding a handle. But there’s something that is very satisfying and very zen about this thing. You can’t buy this knife at Gerber. They’ll never make this knife at Gerber.
Do you get all the wood and all your other materials from close by?
Whitney: Yes, other than the stuff that we are making for Big Game Hunters. We’re definitely not getting water buffalo horn from Portland. But otherwise, most of the wood that we use is reclaimed and local. We used some of the wood that came from the building of the light rail that’s coming through SE Portland. A guy got some of that wood, kiln dried it, and donated it to us. There was a lady who got a steak knife set made out of it actually.
Pat: We get zebra wood from folks. People come buy and are like, “Do you need wood? We’ve got a lot of wood.” We’ve gotten pink rosewood from Japan, tiger wood, all kinds of different woods. The guy at Saturday Market who makes the wooden puzzles, he has wood pieces from thirty years of making those same puzzles. We trade.
Where do you get the metal?
Pat: We buy it brand new from Pacific Machinery. When we first opened, we tried to repurpose some metals. It just doesn’t pay off though because you don’t know how it’s been stressed. Brand new metal is the way to go.
You all do custom knives too?
Pat: We do! We’ve made things for people’s sixtieth birthdays. We put silver quarters on each side, hammered them flat, and then engraved on them.
How many different kinds of knives do you all make?
Pat: We started at about twenty-two different styles, but we’ve narrowed it down to right about twelve styles. We are designing a folding knife, which we’ve never done. It’s a very old design. Very simple, there are no springs, nothing to break on it. It’s low technology. I am old, so I like old things. Most people are always trying to recreate designs with tactical knives, etc. You can make knives now with colorized, anodized metal now and people are always trying to get some crazy electronic machine that will etch orange tiger strips on the side of that knife. It’s weird. This is a much older art. We are not reliant on much high technology at all. It’s a hot fire and a hand-held hammer and that’s all.
What sort of workshops does Oaks Bottom Forge offer, and how can people get involved in the educational aspect of Oaks Bottom Forge?
Whitney: When Pat started the shop, he said, “I want to make knives and I want to make our living making knives, but I want to offer classes because I want to give back to the community and I think that’s really important.” So we don’t really make money off of our classes, but we try to keep the prices low. We really want everybody to have access to it. That is something that is special that is here that is offered at a more affordable price than other places.
Pat: Some people can’t afford the knives that we make, but we’d just as soon teach them how to do it. It is all utilitarian. We have blade smithing classes, so people who come out and really have an interest in making knives, they can do that. We have knife-building classes where Mom or Dad can bring a son or a daughter and together with their hands, build a knife to make Father’s Day gifts, Mother’s Day gifts, things for grandpas, uncles. They get to spend three hours without Ipods, texting, DS games, or email, and it’s one great opportunity to do that. Those are really successful; we have three of those classes per week.
Their classes include various levels of blacksmithing, knife building, and woodworking. Check out the full list and schedule here.
How does Oaks Bottom Forge support, and receive support from, other organizations/individuals/businesses in the local community? Is Oaks Bottom Forge a part of any collaborative projects?
Whitney: We shop local, we get all of our charcoal from the True Valley Store down the road. We used to make our own charcoal, but we lost our chimney. In the big picture, we support our local groups. We’re part of the Sellwood-Moreland Business Alliance, the Northwest Blacksmith Association, the Artisan Blacksmithing Association of America, the Oregon Knife Collector’s Association. We have donated a lot of knives to schools and organizations. We have done a lot of school auctions. The Portland Homestead Supply Store is really great about advertising our classes.
Pat: They were actually the first store ever to sell our knives. Back then, it was just me hammering and sanding handles and doing the work. It was before Christmas. My baby’s mama said, “You should go down there, and I did.” Kristl, owner of the Portland Homestead Supply, bought a dozen knives right there; she has always been our biggest supporter. So cool.
Pat: We opened the shop last spring. Our first fire was last March, at the spring equinox at 6:00 a.m. in the morning. Everybody came and wrote things on pieces of paper and put them in the forge. We started our fire that morning.
It’s amazing that you all are this close in in Sellwood.
Pat: The landlord actually wanted us here. We went looking for a lot of buildings. This landlord, who owns a lot of buildings, didn’t have to rent us this building. He called me and said, “You sure you don’t want this building? I really like what you’re doing, making hand-forged knives. I like that you’ll be teaching; our community really needs that.” He said, “I just don’t think we need another nail salon in Sellwood.”
We hoped that the difference between having the forge in the window instead of tucked away in a warehouse would be to sell a few more retail knives a month. We can make a fair living for all of us. My big goal was for blacksmiths and artisans to make a living, which is something that no one else is doing. Anyways, we got a window front kind of like a fishbowl. It’s nice to be able to share it. When children walk by, they love watching the fire. It’s not a lost art, it’s just not a very exposed art.
What is Oaks Bottom Forge’s next step? What is your vision for Oaks Bottom Forge ten years down the road?
Pat: We’re into more stores now. My big goal is I’d like us to be Portland’s destination for hand-forged cutlery. If you’re looking for a unique, hand-forged gift, I’d like to be Portland’s choice. We would like to be more well known.
Go Africa, which is an African safari group, likes our knives. They’ve been field tested from Oregon to Africa. Our knives passed with flying colors. If it works in Africa on the biggest game out there, it certainly works in your kitchen.
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?
Pat: People my age come in and say, “My grandfather was a blacksmith.” Well, yeah, back then, everybody’s grandfather was a blacksmith. That’s what they had to be. Back then, there wasn’t IKEAS, they wasn’t box stores, everything was custom. If you needed a dining room table for your house and you didn’t have the woodworking skills, you went to the family that built tables. That’s what they did. It is a primitive skill. It’s a good thing to know. I think some people just want to get back to their roots, to what their grandfather did. They remember seeing their forge at their grandfathers or they got to hang out with grandpa while he was hammering. I think it’s a really good skill. I think people are interested.
Whitney: Beyond that, if you can’t take the classes, having something that you know is handmade is important. Our products appeal to the DIY community, knowing where your food comes from. You know nothing is imported from overseas, not only in the US, it’s made in your city here, and you can come and see it. You know how it was produced and who made it. You know it’s going to last for a long time, which is totally against the culture and buying something cheap and having to buy it twenty times in your lifetime.
Pat: Our knives last for generations. That’s what it’s about. It’s nice to know that you’re making something functional that someone will inherit. Every kid wants their grandfather’s knife!
More than ever before, customers have been in the shop asking about low and no sugar jams. I’m glad they’re doing their research, because jumping into low-sugar jams involves a little more than simply cutting out sweetener. Sugar isn’t just in jam for the flavor, it serves a very real role as a preserving and thickening agent. When heated, the sugar actually binds with water and pectin, thickening the texture. If you’ve ever tried converting your favorite old-timey recipe by skipping the sugar, you know that the result is anything but gelled.
The classic product that we carry for low and no sugar jams is Pomona’s Universal Pectin. This company has been around for over 30 years, and creates a great product with no preservatives that is certified GMO free.
Though I’ve made classic jams, I hadn’t dabbled in low-sugar recipes before. I needed to give this stuff a try. I had heard there was an extra step of mixing up “calcium water” (provided with the pectin) to provide gelling assistance. Would be complicated to work with two ingredients? I whipped up a quick batch of strawberry jam at the shop to find out, and I’m glad to say that I’m completely happy with the results.
Each pack of Pomona’s comes with directions inside. These directions are also available to download for free on their website. The recipes aren’t fancy, but they allow you to make jam with the bare minimum ingredients. I chose strawberries, as we’re nearing the end of the first flush here in the Portland area. The directions give clear ingredient lists for whichever type of fruit you choose. I followed the following recipe, but skipped the water bath at the end. This test batch will be gone soon!
Ingredients (for a 4 cup yield):
4 cups of strawberries, hulled and mashed
1/2 to 1 cup of honey OR 3/4 to 2 cups sugar
2 tsp pectin
2 tsp calcium water*
*From the Pomona’s packet, put 1/2 tsp. white calcium powder and 1/2 cup water in a small, clear jar with lid. Shake well. Lasts many months in refrigerator. Freeze for long-term storage. Do not discard unless settled white powder discolors or you see mold. Shake well before using.
If you’ve got the basics down and want to try a more involved recipe, Pomona’s has many delicious versions on their website (Sweet Cherry-Rhubarb Jam is next on my list). If you’re more interested in a book on the subject, we carry Preserving with Pomona’s Pectin, filled with additional recipes and tips for working with low sugar recipes, or using honey, fruit juice, or other alternatives to sugar.
We’re happy to introduce our guest writer Anna Daggett to the blog. Anna will be interviewing local businesses and individuals connected to urban homesteading, posting them here for you to learn a bit more about us and the community that surrounds our shop. Enjoy!
Portland’s spastic early summer weather shepherds in desires of hotter days when the first fruit harvests are rushed into grocery stores and farmer’s markets and our own palms. Have you imagined the first peach or plum of the summer, juice dripping down your chin with no abandon? Have you ever imagined a fruit CSA, fresh, scrumptious fruit of intriguing varieties being delivered straight from an orchard to you every week?
Oregon City’s Home Orchard Society delivers that and more to the Portland community. The Portland Homestead Supply is one of three pick-up spots for the Home Orchard Society’s fruit CSA. Below is an interview with Tonia Lordy, the manager of the Home Orchard Society, which is a non-profit nonprofit educational organization whose mission is to “assist both novice and expert fruit growers, preserve heirloom fruit varieties, and promote the science, culture, and pleasure of growing fruit at home.”
When did your interest in growing fruit begin and where did you acquire the skills that you have now?
I’ve been working with plants for the last fourteen years. I moved from Detroit, Michigan out here five years ago. I was already in horticulture school in Michigan, and I came out here to finish up my schooling at Clackamas Community College. As part of the curriculum, you have to do an internship. I had taken a fruit tree course with the old manager of this orchard and fell in love with fruit about three years ago. I fell in love with the trees, how they grow, how amazing they are, and how they responded to my care. And then I started tasting the fruit. And it’s like, “Wow, you trees really are special!” Ever since then, I’ve interned here, and then I was hired as a gardener under Monica Maggio, who was the second manager that Home Orchard Society has had. Now I’m the third manager!
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?
Not a lot of people know how to grow fruit. Many more people are familiar with how to grow vegetables, but growing fruit remains a mystery to the majority of people. If one tomato fails, people can rely on the other tomatoes that they have planted or look forward to the next season. However, growing fruit is a long-term investment in time. It takes three to five years for most trees to bear fruits. If fruit is not grown properly, people don’t know what to do when they run into problems. It is scary! We train and teach people who are interested in growing fruit in their backyards how to do so successfully.
There’s over 500 trees. There is over 200 kinds of apples, 80 different kinds of European pear, 30 different kinds of Asian pears, 60 or 70 different kinds of grape, 3 different kinds of kiwi, 5 kinds of figs, probably 15 different kinds of cherries, 15 kinds of blueberries, 12 different kinds of quince, and then there’s medlar, goumi berries, honey berries, which are actually haskaps, a honey suckle that has edible fruit. They look like an oblong blueberry and they taste like a cross between a strawberry and blueberry. They’re amazing! We harvested them three weeks ago.
So they’ve already gone..
Way gone! Sorry. And then there’s pawpaw, which is a native fruit to North America, which people liken to a banana custard. We also have pineapple guava, which are very tiny and usually ripe by early December. The flesh is very tart; they taste like a Sweet Tart! They’re pretty amazing. Then there’s the currants. We put in 30 strawberry currants this year. We are planting raspberries and caneberries back into this orchard because we used to have them and then they got diseased. We are trying to put in different varieties that are more suited to this site.
Tell me about the CSA that Home Orchard Society will be delivering to Portland Homestead Supply this summer.
This will be our second year doing the CSA. I started it last year because it was very hard to market the apples we have been growing. People at farmer’s markets get confused and overwhelmed by the varieties we grow. The CSA was a good way to force people to try new varieties. We plan on placing notes in each CSA box with information on the variety and the recommended use of each variety. For example, one of the varieties that we might include in a CSA box is Ashmead’s Kernal, which is an English style desert apple with russeted skin. It is not very pretty, but it is crisp, tender, and tart. I like to eat it right off the tree.
There will be three CSA pick-ups: one right here at the orchard on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 9:00 – 3:00, one in the Cully neighborhood on Wednesdays, and one at the Portland Homestead Supply on Fridays. The CSA will run for seventeen weeks from July 29th to November 18th. An individual share will cost a total of $225 and will be 3 -5 pounds of fruit a week. A family share will cost a total of $375 for 7 – 9 pounds of fruit a week. In the first week, the CSA box will have plums, figs, and early apples. Later on, the boxes will have European pears, Asian pears, more apples, grapes, kiwi berries, and unique fruits such as goumi berries, medlar, and quinces.
What fruit would you recommend for Portland homesteaders or people who are just starting to grow fruit?
Figs. Definitely. Desert King or Lattarula figs because they are disease and pest resistant. The apples that are out there; they have some good ones that have some really good resistance to pest and disease. They’re not people’s favorites, but there are some good varieties that are disease and pest resistant. Being open and aware of those varieties is key. Asian pears are pretty well suited for our area and they have a lot less disease and pest issues than most pears and apples.
What kind of apple varieties would you recommend?
Akane is a good one. There is Mcshay, and Duchess of Oldenburg is also great. As far as European pears, I would recommend Orcas, Rescue, and Suji, which is a winter pear.
Where can you buy these varieties?
The Akane is pretty popular. The places that I would recommend to buy fruit trees are One Green World and Rain Tree Nursery. One of the most important things is to make sure that whomever you are buying a fruit tree from can tell you what rootstock its on.
Why is that important?
People will put that it’s a semi-dwarf or dwarf tree, but then I always get calls saying “I bought this dwarf tree and now it’s twenty feet tall. Now what do I do?” So the rootstock imparts dwarfishness. You have to find out what the rootstock is. The rootstock will also impart disease and pest resistance and ability to live in different soils. So if the grower or retailer is not reputable and does not know what rootstock the tree is on, I would never buy it from them because you’re going to end up with problems with the tree. And it is an investment! It is a tree that is going to be twenty feet tall when you are expecting one that is going to be six feet tall. I get a lot of people who call me and say, “Oh, I got this great deal on fruit trees from Home Depot and they’re twelve dollars.” And it’s like oh my gosh, don’t buy the cheapest tree you can find just because it’s a cheap tree. You’re going to pay the same price at One Green World, but they’re going to have more knowledge of what the tree’s characteristics are going to be.
Do you have any resources to share with a wider community of how people can get involved?
We do a lot of classes; I’m slowly adding more classes to our roster. A lot of the stuff that we do with the board members is workshops, but I’m trying to do more hands-on classes. We also take volunteers without registering, just show up with gloves! There’s always something to learn here. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the Arboretum is open to volunteers. Everything that we do and learn is seasonal. So the volunteers that came out last week learned about fruit thinning and why we thin fruit, the volunteers that come out in January and February learned about winter pruning, the ones that come out in August will learn about summer pruning. There’s a lot of weeding that goes on. When you’re in a group of people doing menial tasks and everyone’s asking questions of each other, everyone has had a different experience. So the person next to you could be an expert apple grower. Especially in this place because our volunteers are generally pretty skilled so they have a lot of knowledge that you can glean from them. That’s how I learned everything. Just ask a lot of questions!
Take hands-on classes because people who just read the books tend to be really shy about pruning and caring for their trees. Then it gets to be five years old and the tree is already overgrown. Start pruning and training from the moment you put it in the ground. You let them get too old and crazy, they’re not going to behave like you want them to.
Are there any good challenges or anecdotes that you have about growing food that you would want to share with people?
It’s not something to take lightly because a lot of issues are going to come up. There are going to be pests, no matter what. You can manage an orchard organically, but do your research, do your homework, hang out with other people that grow fruit or have experience. Don’t be scared of the trees. Trees are pretty forgiving. Right plant, right place. That is the first thing they tell you in any horticulture program. You know, if you’re putting a sun plant in the shade, you’re going to have ten times more problems. You think you’re going to grow an olive in Oregon successfully, you not. Think you’re going to grow a mission fig in Oregon successfully, you’re not. So, right plant, right place. We’ve got some weird varieties of figs that can grow in Oregon, so grow those ones instead of the favorites! Right plant, right place.
A lot of the trees here are stone fruits. They don’t do well in heavy soils. They get extremely diseased, and we have a really hard time managing them. Stone fruits have a stone in the middle: cherries, plums, peaches, etc. We only have one peach tree because they are so disease ridden in this neck of the woods. They cannot handle so much rain. The peach orchards that you see in the area spray very heavily in order to get local peaches in the Willamette Valley. Most of them are not organic. If you are finding organic peaches, they are probably coming from California or the east side of Oregon. The east side of Oregon is about as local as you’re going to get an organic peach.
How would you recommend people get involved if they want to get involved?
They can go to our website. www.homeorchardsociety.org. There’s a link on there to the Arboretum and it has all my contact information.
I hear a lot about asparagus this time of year, and for all you asparagus lovers out there, I ask your forgiveness. This post isn’t an ode to your favorite spring-time vegetable, but rather a tale of an asparagus skeptic. Yes, I love spring. Fresh greens, radishes, spring raab…But asparagus? I can’t seem to muster the same excitement for this vegetable, despite it’s ancient credentials.
As manager at the Portland Homestead Supply, I’ve had the opportunity to learn and practice many skills over the past year and a half. Water bath canning is one of them. Two weeks ago at the Milwaukie Sunday Farmers Market, I decided it was time to start brushing up on my canning skills. I (gasp) picked up several bunches of the most tender asparagus I’ve ever seen, took them home, and pondered their fate.
While I may be skeptical about asparagus, I wholeheartedly love spicy. After looking for a spicy pickled asparagus recipe, I adapted this recipe from Marisa who writes for Food in Jars. I found that the two pounds of asparagus I brought home fit into three jars rather than the two she recommended. I also increased the amount of pickling liquid (and spices) because the amount listed wasn’t enough to fill my jars.
Many of the recipes I found called for blanching the vegetables before canning, but these spears were so thin that I worried blanching would be too much for them. If you start with thicker asparagus, be sure to blanch them for 60 seconds in boiling water, then rinse with cool water before canning.
After waiting a week for the flavors to mingle, I dug into the first jar. And, I’ll admit it: (pickled) asparagus is delicious.
- 2 lbs asparagus, trimmed to fit jars (Ball’s 24 oz Pint & Half jars are designed for asparagus)
- 2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 3 Tbs pickling salt
- 6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 3 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- Prepare a boiling water bath canner. Add three 24-ounce jars to sterilize them before adding asparagus. Place lids in a small pan of water and bring to a bare simmer.
- Combine apple cider vinegar, water, salt, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, and cayenne pepper in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Wash asparagus and trim to fit in your jars.
- Remove jars from the canning pot and drain. Pack asparagus spears into jars.
- Stir pickling liquid to evenly distribute spices, then pour over the asparagus, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Tap jars gently to remove any air bubbles. Add more liquid to return headspace to 1/2 inch, if necessary.
- Wipe rims, apply lids and rings, and process jars in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.
- When time is up, remove jars from canner and let them cool on a folded kitchen towel.
- Let them cure for at least a week before eating.