Marionberries are Oregon’s favorite food.
We can’t say we’re surprised—everyone loves the locally bred blackberry cultivar. So when we asked readers to vote for what should become our state’s official edible, the marionberry easily bested its challengers.
And yet, in Salem, the marionberry can’t catch a break.
Back in 2009, the blackberry hybrid looked set to be enshrined as the state’s official berry. But then a farmer who grows the rival kotataberry—a hardier hybrid originally intended to replace the marionberry—successfully lobbied lawmakers to abandon the bill.
“It would be like if the state of Oregon declared the Chevrolet its car,” he said.
None of this seems right to us. And so today, as we end our 50-day odyssey to sample culinary oddities from other states, we begin another mission, one we hope ends with the marionberry getting the honor it deserves from our state Legislature.
In case you’re just tuning in, on July 4 we began a culinary tour of the country, making daily stops at Portland restaurants serving a distinctive food from each of the 50 states. We found ourselves sitting down to eat potato dumplings on a Styrofoam plate in a Sellwood church basement, sipping wine over a plate of Virginia’s famous country ham at the Bent Brick and eating West Virginia’s beloved pepperoni rolls on a patio in Montavilla. You can get a little nibble of each here, with links to the full reviews.
When it came time for Oregon, we hemmed, hawed and argued. Candied hazelnuts and IPA at Higgins? A maple-bacon doughnut from Voodoo? James Beard’s onion sandwich at Expatriate? Rather than issue our own decree, we decided to solicit suggestions from readers. Hundreds poured in, and we narrowed the field to 11: marionberries, kotataberries, beer, hazelnuts, Tillamook cheddar, a maple doughnut topped with bacon, pemmican, Dungeness crab, Chinook salmon, jojos and Beard’s onion sandwich. We opened the polls. Marionberries, beer and Dungeness crab advanced to a runoff. In the final round, the mighty marionberry won more than 60 percent of the vote. (The kotataberry, meanwhile, got a total of two votes.)
And so the marionberry represents Oregon in our 50 Plates tour. We couldn’t pick just one place as the spot to get it, so we put together a survey of Portland’s best marionberry dishes.
But we’re not going to stop there. Because this isn’t just about a berry, but about standing up to special interests, about seeing that a state treasure is honored over the objections of one cranky farmer who has a financial interest in a rival product. The marion is Oregon’s berry, and the next person who opposes it will be dealt with harshly—see here.
The marionberry is ripe. It’s time for Salem to make the right pick.