I glanced back at the low gray building with sadness and a bit of envy. For once, I found something worth trading my freedom for. A lifetime of hard work, friendship, fruit and being part of the lives of a group of intelligent women who share their days together.
I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself here. There is a story here, on their side and on mine.
Since 1935 a small company called Oregon Fruit has canned our best and most beautiful northwestern fruits. The labels were almost apologetic at first, as they believed processed fruit could never live up to the standards of fresh. They were wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Most of us Oregon Fruit fans know this as soon as we open a can. We look at 75 years of perfection.
“These are the best cherries in the world”, my mom would exclaim every year when she made her special cherry pies. My small mother seemed so tall then as I stretched high on my toes to peer over the counter to watch the magical pie making process. The highlight of our holidays, we waited for those pies for agonizing hours. The thickened cherry syrup was always the best part and I’d impolitely lick it off my plate every time. Now I know it’s the syrup in the cans my mother was after. Syrup that makes pies so perfect. I still can’t make a cherry pie like hers, but I’m getting closer.
My husband, daughter and I arrived in our RV, Otto the Travel Box, bright and early that late June morning. We’d slept at a rest stop just so we could get to the factory in time to meet my wonderful friend Terri and tour this sacred place. For me a passage, for Terri and friends, another day at work. Although this time, I got to finally meet my new forever friend.
Terri wrote to me many months ago when I posted a plum pie. I read her message stunned. How could someone from my favorite company find me? Even better how could they find me, make friends with me, invite me to Oregon and offer me my favorite fruit? All I can figure is I must have done something right in the world.
When I entered the building, Terri ran out and hugged me. I adored her at once of course, and she showed me to the welcome sign they made just for me. Terri then led me around and introduced me to everyone, including JoEllen, who took Jesse and I on our tour. Clara not being twelve yet, got to stay behind and play with Terri. I don’t think she minded too much, although she can’t wait to see the place when she’s older.
JoEllen was amazing, fun and with this spirit of knowledge we got to ask her everything from history details, to the old wood floors, to the canning and recycling process and then she proudly took us to see the giant osprey nest just outside the far building. She told us about the baby birds’ first flight fiasco and safe return. Ospreys being a favorite of mine, I took this as an omen.
There is so much more too. I met Ardis relabeling cans to go to food banks and discount stores. She’s a hoot! What I didn’t realize is if the cans don’t weigh quite enough they get relabeled and sent to people who can use them under a different name. Nothing is ever wasted.
Dressing up in sanitary gear, we finally entered the processing building. Workers lined the place making sure everything was perfect and clean before processed into their new product called Berry Up, created by JoEllen herself. Fruit syrup with fruit bits to be used in drinks. It smelled so good in there. Clean and fragrant with strawberries. I just wish we could buy the stuff; right now it’s only being used in restaurants because of the high price to put it on grocery shelves. Oregon Fruit being a small factory cannot afford to sell it to us as of yet. I hope someday they will. I have one little bottle left I’m hoarding in my freezer.
Speaking of hoarding, I stock Oregon Fruit Plums like I’m in a WWII rationing situation. They’re my favorite in the world, as the cherries are my mothers. It’s gotten so bad, I only give pies with Oregon Fruit Plums to the people who will share a piece with me!
I suppose my life is here in Idaho, but there are days I wish things were different. Days I wish I could have chosen to live and work in Salem, Oregon in a little privately owned fruit factory where turnover is nearly nonexistent and people take care of each other. The place where processed fruit is worthy of the best pies.
Blueberry Plum Pie Printer Version
Oregon Fruit’s canned plums perfume this blueberry pie with rich fragrant syrup and beautiful soft ripe plums. If you think canned fruit is substandard, you’ve never tried Oregon Fruit. As a small company, they only process absolutely perfect fruit, or they won’t can it at all.
1 egg white
1 teaspoon water
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 can (15 ounces) Oregon Fruit Whole Purple Plums in Heavy Syrup
3 cups (1 pound) blueberries
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 double pie crust
2 tablespoons butter
1. Move the oven rack to the lower quarter of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. In a small bowl mix together the egg white and water, set aside.
2. Mix together the sugar, flour and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Do not skip this step or you’ll have starch lumps.
3. Drain the plum syrup into a large bowl. Remove the plums from the can and take out the pits. Chop the plums and add to the bowl. Add the blueberries, white vinegar, almond extract, vanilla extract and sugar mixture. Toss together and set aside.
4. Place a dough in a 9” Pyrex pie dish. Brush with egg wash. Pour in the fruit and dot with butter. Top with the other dough and crimp and seal pie. Brush the top with egg white, sprinkle with sugar and cut vents in the top.
5. Bake pie for 30 minute. Reduce heat to 375 degrees, cover with a pie shield and bake 20 to 30 minutes or until pie is bubbly and bottom crust is golden. Cool for several hours before serving.
Recipe and photographs by Laura Flowers.