Saturday, March 27, 2010

Made in Montana: the mother lode

I expected to spend maybe two hours walking through the Made in Montana trade show in Great Falls today. I was there over four hours and that really wasn't enough time to see everything along four aisles filled with items all made in Montana.

Of course I was interested mainly in food items, but there were also furniture, jewelry, pottery, soaps, music CDs, t-shirts, photographs and cards, toothpicks made from porcupine quills . . . the creativity of Montanans is as wide as our vast blue sky and, well, just plain unique.

The purpose of the annual two-day show is to introduce Made-in-Montana products to retailers (Friday) and then to the general public (Saturday). I found that the vendors treated the general public, who appeared to have maybe more interest in sampling than buying, with as much generosity and enthusiasm as they must have shown to retail representatives who could buy their products in vast quantities.

The fabulous thing about this show is meeting the people who actually own the companies. Often they are the entire staff, creating products, cooking things in small home or commercial kitchens, marketing, selling, etc.

These were also the people who could and did explain the details of how mead is made, exactly where cherry trees grow in Montana, their personal experience using non-gluten products, how beekeepers survive the challenges of their industry, and so much more.

The following is a quick tour of some of the foods I found.

Proudly Made in Montana

Becky's Berries from Absarokee produces jams and jellies from a wide variety of Montana-grown berries and fruits. Favorites include hot jalapeno mixed with berries or apricots or other sweet fruit. Spread this on a cream-cheese-topped cracker and you are in snack heaven.

Stevensville is lucky to have the Charbonneau's Chocolate Company.

Cream of the West, located in Harlowton, has, among other things, delicious wholegrain hot and cold cereals, a flapjack mix, and a breading mix. New flour products will be introduced soon.

I fondly remember my visit last summer to the Helen's Candies shop in Libby. Huckleberry makes its appearance in truffles, and their novelty shaped chocolates (my favorite being the foil-wrapped state of Montana) make delightful gifts.

I learned that the meads made by Hidden Legend Winery in Victor consist of fermented honey, fruit juice, and a touch of water. They are a sweet treat indeed. My favorite: the peach!

Ravalli's High Mountain Huckleberry jams and sauces were delectably served on freshly made waffles.

There were several coffee roasters, but I liked the cute labels of Hunter Bay Coffee of Lolo.

Another company in the well-represented huckleberry category was Larchwood Farms, located in Trout Creek. They sell candy, syrup, pancake mixes (including gluten-free), and a very, very tasty line of jams, which include mouthwatering fruits and berries like huckleberry, strawberries, pie cherries, and apricots. My friend who loves tart tastes found their huckleberry products to her liking and was especially pleased to find the rare pie cherries in a product.

Oh what fun to meet the proud owner of Lissie's Luv Yums in Great Falls. Lissie, an Assiniboine Native American, said her profits go right back into her business, with a percent given to charities fighting fetal alcohol syndrome. Lissie has received numerous business awards and is a well-traveled speaker at self-employment development conferences. Her dog treats are handmade from Montana-grown products. If you have a dog, you must buy some of these for him or her. You just can't go wrong with a product made with 100 percent love! (In the photo, Lissie is shown with her foster mother, Sister Johnelle Howanach.)

An unusual gluten-free product was offered by Montana Gluten-Free Processors, in Belgrade: Timtana flour. Go to the Web site to learn more. The baked sample I tasted was like a light wholewheat bread. Very nice. I bought a 3-pound bag and am looking forward to experimenting.

I have used Montana Grassland Mixes of Nashua and was happy to meet the women behind the product. They are a happy bunch! Today they were serving samples of their Indian frybread mix. I mentioned that I avoid deep-frying -- what a mess! what a greasy result! -- and I was told not to be afraid. Just make sure you use a pan about 3 inches high, with grease at the proper temperature. It sounds easy. I might try it someday. Meanwhile, I'll just keep using their plain bread and biscuit mixes.

I think the first made-in-Montana product I consciously bought was a package of dried cherries from The Orchard at Flathead Lake. The dried cherries are not currently available, but the chutney, syrup, and jams are. The apple butter is amazing. The Orchard, like most Montana cherry orchards, is located near Bigfork on the Flathead Lake. Thus, Montanans will refer to "Flathead" cherries, which designates them as unusually tasty fruit, but this is not a cherry variety, rather a geographic reference. I also learned that any cherries you buy within Montana are probably from this area. The season is a brief two weeks in late July/early August, so get them while you can!

Pauline, of Drummond, was enthusiastically serving up samples of her lively BBQ sauce and proudly pointing out her BBQ sauce fountain. What a clever idea! If you see Pauline's Rocky Mountain Premium Barbecue Sauce for sale, grab a bottle and have a party!

Smoot Honey is an almost-50-year-old family-run business in Power. They provide bees and honey where needed. Although you may not see their brand name or even the word "Montana," Smoot honey is used in many products across the nation. Montana honey is light and Southern honey is dark, so the two are often mixed to a happy medium and sold generically.

Last, but by far not least, is Western Trails Food in Glendive. I have enthusiastically reviewed their Niterider Chili mix and baked beans made from their Rustler BBQ Bean Sauce and Buckaroo BBQ Bean Mix. I also wrote about my tour of the factory. I can't say enough good things about this small company and their products.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Jolie's lollies

Eight-year-old Jolie is a third-generation resident of Big Timber and a fifth-generation lollipop maker. The set of cast iron molds in whimsical animal shapes, along with a handwritten original recipe, have been handed down among daughters of a group of friends, with Jolie recently becoming the fifth recipient. She has also followed tradition by selling her first batch at area bazaars during the recent Christmas season.

Jolie made the first batch with her mother and grandmother and others who had made the lollies before, and the event was interwoven with memories of the woman, now deceased, who started it all. It seems that a warm community can be formed around lollipops.

With six flavors (cinnamon, bubblegum, butterscotch, pina colada, root beer, and tutti frutti) and 60 lollipops in each flavor batch, that's a lot of candy. But then, whatever doesn't sell, Jolie gets to eat, and there is no complaint there!

Two years ago Jolie began her sales career by making puppy treats with her grandmother to sell at the Big Timber farmers market, and now she also sells bags of creamy, soft caramel corn and other goodies.

Sitting outside at Christmas was no fun, but customers were grateful.

The warm indoor bazaar was much nicer.

She can't remember when she started cooking, but even at 4 years old she was inventing colorful healthy dishes like Jolie's Pasta (carrots, grapes, and cheese sticks, each sliced and put in a serving dish) and Jolie's Stew (grapes, carrots, and raspberries from the garden), proudly serving these to her mother as an after-work snack.

Jolie's goal is to earn $1,000 in a single year from her cooking. She still has a way to go at present, but she is working hard to get there.

Apart from cooking, Jolie is a very busy gal. She also enjoys riding horses, drawing, painting, playing baseball, volleyball, and basketball, reading, fishing, playing piano . . . Whew -- well, you name it, and she's probably getting ready to go do it!

Her advice for other kids wanting to cook: "Sometimes when something doesn't look fun to bake, it can be fun."

Jolie certainly enjoys cooking, but she is limited in what she can do on her own, and sometimes that is frustrating. "The non-fun part is when mama just has to do it," she said. Jolie definitely does not like sitting aside and watching her mother pour molten sugar for the lollies or stir the hot caramel corn.

Jolie has big plans simmering, so watch for her this summer at the Big Timber farmers market -- and perhaps the Livingston market -- and at the winter bazaars.

Of course Jolie wouldn't share her secret recipes for the other goodies she makes (what I was thinking to even ask!), but she generously gave me this zucchini bread recipe.

Zucchini Bread

Cream together 3 eggs, 2 cups sugar, 1 cup oil, and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

In another bowl, sift 3 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg, and 3 teaspoons cinnamon.

In a small bowl, mix together 2 finely grated zucchini, 8 ounces crushed pineapple, and 1 cup chopped walnuts.

Alternate adding flour mixture and zucchini mixture to creamed mix.

Fold into a loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Birthday candy

This is my birthday weekend and my best friend sent me what appeared to be a box of Seattle Chocolates truffles. That is, she used them as a kind of packing material around the presents she sent. Aren't they pretty?

The bag the truffles came in says: "What happiness tastes like."

Truth in advertising.

I have long been a fan of Seattle Chocolates, my favorites being their smooooth mint and milk chocolate flavors. When I lived in Seattle, my favorite hostess gift for friends outside Washington State was a collection of truffles in a Celebrate! box or one shaped like a ferry boat. Always a big hit!

But since moving to Montana, I'd forgotten how much I like these truffles. Right now I am luxuriating in flavors like peanut butter, coconut macaroon (they didn't put enough of these in this mix!), strawberry creme, blackberry creme, and rainier cherry. I still have at least 10 flavors to try.

Aren't birthdays wonderful? Aren't friends who send you chocolate to celebrate with even more wonderful!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pickle Soup

Yes, there is such a thing as pickle soup, although cookbook author Ginny McDonald suggests serving this as an appetizer, in a cup eaten before the meal.

The recipe comes from Ginny's cookbook, "Recipes to Warm the Heart: Soups, Stews, and Breads." She has also written two others, "Recipes from the Heart" and "Recipes from the Heart of Montana." All three books contain original recipes, most from the kitchens of her grandmother and great grandmother.

Ginny says it was a lot of work translating the recipes for modern cooks. After long experimentation she decided that "butter the size of an egg" meant about 1/3 cup and a "teacup" of something measured out to 1/2 cup.

Some recipes came from other sources through Ginny's unrelenting efforts to discover how to make things she has enjoyed eating while dining out. The Dill Pickle Soup, for example, was originally savored many years ago at a gourmet restaurant in Oregon.

Over occasional protests from her then-teenagers, Ginny persevered to test each recipe on her family until it met unanimous approval. Because of this, I can highly recommend these as tried-and-true recipes that come out tasty every time I make something.

And all ingredients are things you are likely find in your own kitchen; if not, feel free to substitute.

"Be creative," Ginny urges. "I do that a lot. If I run out of this or that, I use something else."

Ginny also recommends finding ways to cut back on trips to the store. One tip she finds helpful is to buy bulk cheese, shred it, and store it in serving-size bags in the freezer.

"Through the years you kind of learn all these tricks," Ginny says.

One trick you'll like is to make this soup and watch the expression on your guests' faces. "Surprise" is the key word here. I took a pot to my church's Lenten Soup and Bread night, and everyone agreed it tastes way better than it sounds. I describe the flavor as heavy on the dill but not "pickley."

[In the following recipe, my comments are in brackets.]

Dill Pickle Soup
This soup sounds unusual, but it is a delicious surprise.
Traditionally, a winter soup, it can be served all year.

1 cup butter [yes, this is a lot of butter, but Ginny insists it is necessary for the roux that is the basis of the soup; you can experiment with less.]
1/2 cup flour
1 - 1/2 quarts chicken broth
1 - 1/2 cups dill pickles, shredded or finely chopped [about 3 large pickles]
1 cup white wine
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3 to 4 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dill weed
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
2 bay leaves [in my opinion, optional]
2 cups warm milk
Dash of green food coloring [I left this out, preferring the natural yellow color, flecked with dark green dill]

In a large kettle, melt butter. Add flour; cook and stir until bubbly. Gradually add broth. [Use a whisk to incorporate flour and broth. Keep those lumps away!] Add next 12 ingredients and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat; add milk. Remove bay leaves. Add food coloring and garnish with croutons. [In the photo, you see my clever idea was to add more pickles.]

Yield: 2 quarts, or 8 to 10 servings.

Find all of Ginny's cookbooks at:

2821 2nd Avenue North
Billings, Mont. 59101
(406) 248-1722

Note: Neecee's is a fascinating shop filled with unusual women's clothing and accessories. You'll need to ask for the cookbooks, which they are happy to show you, since they are selling them as a special favor to Ginny.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Is it coffee?

Look around and you'll see many non-edible items that are tempting to eat. This candle by Shannie looks and smells like the real thing, a glass mug brimming with the finest of coffee beverages.

And it's made from soy rather than petroleum products. Although soy is healthy, Shannie warns that the candle is not edible because of scents and other additives.

You can't eat any of her other soy-based products either, but I'd recommend you try them as cosmetics, especially if you are sensitive or allergic to commercial lotions and lip glosses. Shannie found herself in that position and carefully created products that she could use on her own skin.

The scent-free lotion absorbs easily into my skin, and the lip gloss is smooth and soft. I find it difficult to get used to a lip gloss with no taste because I enjoy trying ones made for kiddies and that smell like grape juice and bubble gum. But if you're all grown-up, you'll like Shannie's version.

I haven't tried the soap yet, but the Pink Rose Petal bar I bought is calling to me from the bathroom shelf where it is stored.

I sampled Shannie's products at the Spring Fling in Big Timber, a first-time event that promoters hope will become annual. Similar to the popular November Big Timber Women's Bazaar, vendors were selling a variety of handmade jewelry, felted items, handcrafted furniture, and -- of course! -- baked goods and other edibles.

To order any of Shannie's products, contact her at:

Country Bumpkins Candles
P.O. Box 603
Bridger, Mont. 59014

Monday, March 1, 2010

Spicy Squash Burgers

I'm always on the lookout for cookbooks that encourage use of local foods. Eat Local, Feel Noble, by Lauren Caldwell, does that in the most enticing way.

This small book includes 52 recipes, one for each week of the year, along with information about Western Montana food movements, what types of food are available each month (again, in the western part of the state), and general encouragement to seek out locally produced foods.

"Yes, that's right, even through a tough Montana winter, one can enjoy delicious, nutritious fare grown close to home," notes Lauren in the introduction.

Although published in 2006, this book is timely now and will be timely for years to come.

With Lauren's permission, I am reproducing the recipe designated for this week, a spicy vegetable-filled burger that is a Montana-style falafel. The photo above shows it served plain with a side of orange cauliflower. But you can get the pitas out, stuff them with this burger and perhaps some chopped cucumber, and then drizzle with tahini sauce for an exotic Middle-Eastern meal.

Spicy Squash Burgers

1 1/2 cups cooked winter squash*
1/2 cup dry lentils, or 1 1/2 cups cooked
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or bread crumbs)
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon dry parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sesame oil

1. Wash squash; cut in half; remove seeds and strings; place cut sides down in a baking dish filled with 1/4 inch of water. Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees F for 40-45 minutes, until a fork pierces the squash easily.

2. Bring 2 cups water to a boil; add dry lentils and chopped onion; simmer until soft -- about 40 minutes.

3. Put cooked squash and lentils in a bowl. Add flour, salt, herbs, spices, and oil; mix well.

4. Form burger dough into patties. Fry on a griddle on the stove, flipping over when halfway done -- or -- bake at 375 degrees F for 40 minutes.

* This is a great dish in which to use leftover squash, beans, or any other kinds of vegetables that can be cooked until tender. Be creative and throw in whatever you have on hand!

* * *

My own notes: I baked my burgers, and they were nicely crisp on the outside and lusciously soft on the inside. (I recommend putting them on parchment paper; they stick to ungreased foil. Or simply grease a cookie sheet.) I used pumpkin from my own garden, but canned pumpkin or any substitute, as noted above, would do.

I also used Montana-grown organic green lentils from Timeless Natural Food in Conrad and, of course, Wheat Montana flour.

As a matter of interest, sometimes ingredients create an artistic array. Be sure to watch for this when you cook!

To obtain a copy of this cookbook, contact Lauren at