Within five minutes of entering the Salt, Fire & Time kitchen, I witness owner Tressa Yellig dump 30 pounds of pork belly and pork shoulder and several cups of lard into a giant pot, pull several sheets of citrus-cured beef jerky from the dehydrator, grab three jars of lacto-fermented sodas from the walk-in and begin boiling a pot of water for tea. She then doled out tasks—Brehen Crawford, a steak-T-shirt-wearing local, was sent to the pork, Chris Pelletier, a twentysomething with gauged ears, to a pile of squash, and me to the soda.
"Tressa," Crawford giggled while stirring the pots of simmering pork, "this is the fattiest pot of fat I have ever seen." Snickering to himself, he continued for another few minutes to be transfixed by the pots of pork destined to become lard-preserved rillettes before he was sequestered into the less sexy task of re-jarring kombucha. What is this crazy place? And what was I, a home cook with no real training, doing in a commercial kitchen?
Yellig's delicious, nearly-four-month-old oasis off of East Burnside Street is a volunteer-driven community-supported kitchen, an educational resource and distributor of handmade food products, one of only four of its kind in the U.S.
What does that mean? Salt, Fire & Time gathers products from local farmers to make foodstuffs—everything from herbed yogurt cheese to kombucha—available for sale on a weekly basis ($5 for a cup of lard for baking, for example, or $15 for a quart of lamb stew). Volunteers come to help cook, and in return leave with a full belly and a bit more knowledge about food preparation. Yellig, 28, also offers more formal cooking and nutrition classes, and holds affordable four-course feasts every Friday. These events are crucial to covering the cost of maintaining the kitchen as well as getting picky Portlanders to actually eat Yellig's food.
Called a "whole foods traditional diet," her cuisine consists of foods that could have been prepared pre-Industrial Revolution, emphasizing the preparations' healing powers. The Ohio native first learned this style of cooking while a student at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York, a cooking school focusing on nourishing foods, and continued to perfect it while working at Three Stone Hearth in Berkeley, the nation's first community-supported kitchen. While she also worked in ritzy kitchens on the Northern California coast, she continued to be drawn to traditional foods. "I loved this idea of this old-fashioned information, the culture of our grandmothers. It just felt so normal."
While many Diet Coke-drinking skeptics out there may scoff and accuse Yellig of crunchy, return-to-the-earth bohemianism, in truth, a traditional diet is worlds away. Vegetarian diets, Yellig contends, "are totally products of an educated society" and they cannot provide the nutrients needed to sustain a healthy lifestyle. "You could eat 10,000 pounds of kale and it would never come up with the same amount of vitamin A you would just find in a cod liver oil," she says. OK, but cod liver oil?
Yellig believes that by eating this way, we can return to a personally sustainable relationship with our food, but the typical eater needs something of a re-education first. She wants to teach people "not to be afraid" of a new diet full of fat and probiotics. The best way to teach? Feed. "People need the experience of eating this food before they're ever compelled to learn how to do it for themselves."
From Portland's first Fermentation Festival this summer to the newly forming Portland Meat Collective, our city seems already headed in this direction. Indeed, Crawford needed no coercion to try Yellig's cuisine. He's training to be a naturopath, and so was naturally drawn to her food. "I met Tressa playing kickball. She told me about what she was doing, and I thought, 'This is so cool, I've got to try it.'" He's been volunteering regularly for about a month.
But back to the lard. How can that be healthy? Good-quality saturated fats (coconut oil, lard and, of course, butter) have gotten a bad rap, Yellig says. "Your body needs a stupid amount of fat. It loves it. Once people have these better-quality fats, they're not eating as much as they did before because they're able to reach that degree of satisfaction faster." She tries to sneak it into as many foods as possible. Handing me a truffle, she grins. "These are just another tricky way of getting coconut oil into people." Chock full of dates, ginger and, of course coconut, it coats my mouth with luscious, velvety fat. I could get used to this.
Tressa Yellig’s Chicken Soup with Hearts and Kidneys
Wanna try your hand at cooking a Yellig original for your own dinner party? We recommend the chicken soup—it's great for the rainy weather and is full of crazy cuts of meat. And it feeds
2 gallons chicken broth with a splash of apple cider vinegar
1 gallon pork bone broth
5 3- to 4-pound chickens
6 onions, sliced thin
2 pounds each carrots and celery, sliced thin
1/4 cup butter
Half a handful of bay leaves
Salt to taste
1 piece of kombu (Japanese kelp)
3 pounds chicken kidneys, cut in thirds
3 pounds chicken hearts
2 bunches parsley, picked off the stems
1. Melt butter over medium flame in a large stockpot. Add onions and cook until sweet and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add celery and carrots and cook for about 5 minutes, or until they begin to soften.
2. Add chickens, broths, bay leaves, kombu and all of the organ meats and cook about 30 minutes or until the chicken meat is cooked through. You can test the chicken by poking one with a knife. The juice will be clear when the chicken is cooked.
3. Pull out the whole chickens and pick off all the meat (once they are cool, of course) and take the kombu out of the pot. Add the picked chicken meat back to the soup with the parsley leaves and salt to taste. Discard the spent carcasses or grind them up for dog food!
Salt, Fire & Time, 609 SE Ankeny St., Unit A, 208-2758. Visit saltfireandtime.com for more info, to sign up to volunteer, buy foodstuffs or to reserve a seat at a dinner or class. Dinners 7 pm every Friday with guest speakers, $25.