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Crater Lake – A Feast for the Eyes, Sustenance for the Soul, and Palate-Pleasing Wild Food

October 11, 2009

Crater Lake - Like no place else on earth

Crater Lake - Like no place else on earth

“Crater Lake: overwhelmingly yet sublimely beautiful. Moody. At times brilliantly blue, ominously somber; at other times buried in a mass of brooding clouds. The lake is magical, enchanting – a remnant of fiery times, a reflector of its adjacent forested slopes, a product of Nature’s grand design.

Few places on earth command overwhelming awe from observers, but Crater Lake, in south central Oregon, certainly does. Even in a region of volcanic wonders, Crater Lake can only be described in superlatives. Stories of the deep blue lake can never prepare visitors for their first breathtaking look from the brink of this 6-mile-wide caldera which was created by the eruption and collapse of Mt. Mazama almost 7,700 years ago. Even seasoned travelers gasp at the twenty-mile circle of cliffs, tinted in subtle shades and fringed with hemlock, fir, and pine: all this in a lake of indescribable blue.”                                                  National Park Service

Crater Lake is undeniably one of the most popular destinations in Oregon, and beholding this natural site can be a profound personal experience. It’s a wonderful experience to share too. Linger there for days while exploring the surrounding area of the Rogue River.

Vic and I did just that late last summer and left feeling renewed, refreshed and more alive. While approaching the rim, we first-time visitors are armed only with expectations of what we had seen in photos and read. Suddenly we’re there and the beauty and grandeur take over. We listen to the wind as it moves through the leaves of the trees and watch the extraordinary blue water shimmer from the same wind. The ever-changing clouds remind us that nothing ever remains the same and yet, from our perspective, we’re reminded that nature’s clock has many tempos, and some things, like the lake, seem to linger forever without change. Air, fire, water and earth come together perfectly

A late summer snow storm entertains us during dinner at the lodge dining room.

A late summer snow storm entertains us during dinner at the lodge dining room.

Ideally we would have preferred to bed down in a lakeside room at the historic Crater Lake Lodge which opened in 1915 and was completely renovated in 1995. Alas, our spur-of-the-moment decision to visit would not allow this. Reservations are made months in advance, even the season earlier. We ended up bunking in the rustic Union Creek Resort, about 23 miles from the lake. The word rustic is taken seriously here. They offer individual cabins as well as their Lodge, which has private rooms with a shared bath allowing visitors to practice and hone up on their patience. Would we stay there again? In a minute, but only if we couldn’t score a lakeside room at the Crater Lake Lodge.

“A favorite of such dignitaries as Zane Grey, Jack London and Herbert Hoover, and built on the Crater Lake Trail used by pioneers as they crossed the Cascade Mountains in search of a better life, the Union Creek Resort is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”

Across the road is Becky’s Cafe where we enjoyed a surprise in the form of an expertly made wild huckleberry pie. This was our first encounter with huckleberries and we were seduced by the first bite. The huckleberry is related to the blueberry but imparts a pleasant tartness along with the sweet. According to my research, huckleberries are not cultivated and must be searched out. I read that they can be found in the forest clearings around Mt. Hood and in southern Oregon.

Upon deciding to write an article about Crater Lake and the food we enjoyed there, I knew I wanted to locate some huckleberries, even though the season had just passed. I called D Loos, the produce manager at the Roth’s Vista Market here in Salem to see if he could help. I told him I needed only a quart. D returned my call promptly and said I could have my huckleberries tomorrow afternoon. Great news! We’re having huckleberry pie this weekend.

When I was notified that my prize had arrived, I ecstatically went to fetch them. (Note to self: Always ask the price when placing a special order. My pie filling was going to cost me $13.99 a pound. Ouch!) I’m sure I set a Guinness record for the most expensive pie made in Oregon this year. When all was said and done, we did enjoy my efforts and expense greatly.

Wild Huckleberry Pie

Adapted from a recipe on WhatsCookingAmerica

  1. Pastry for 9-inch (22cm) two-crust pie**Huckleberry Pie Whole
  2. 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  3. 1/4 cup (50g) firmly packed brown sugar
  4. 1 teaspoon (5g) ground cinnamon
  5. 4 tablespoons (75g) quick-cooking tapioca
  6. 6 cups fresh huckleberries (750g) , washed and drained*
  7. 1 tablespoon (15mL) fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  8. 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
  9. 1 tablespoon sugar

* If using frozen huckleberries, thaw first and then drain before using. Blueberries may be substituted for huckleberries, in which case you might add a tad more lemon juice.

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Prepare pie pastry. Using a floured rolling pin, roll pastry 2 inches larger than an inverted pie plate. Fold pastry into quarters and ease into pie plate, pressing firmly against bottom and side; set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and tapioca (making sure brown sugar is well crumbled). Gently fold in the huckleberries and lemon juice; let mixture sit for 15 minutes.
  • Spoon huckleberry mixture into pastry-lined plate; trim overhanging edge of pastry 1/2 inch from rim of plate.
  • Roll other round of pastry. Click on the following link for an illustration on creating the lattice top. Elise Bauer from Simply Recipes offers a beautifully photographed step-by-step method for this effect.
  • Cover edge of crust with aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning.
  • Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until crust is golden brown and juice begins to bubble through slits in the top crust. Remove aluminum foil during the last 15 minutes of baking. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack before cutting and servings. Serve warm or at room temperature.
  • Makes 8 to 10 servings.

** I used a butter pie dough recipe from Bon Appétit via

This was my first time with both the pie and pie dough recipes and I was pleased. Here is the individual result. We did surrender to the addition of a dip of Tillamook Vanilla Ice Cream which rounded out the prize.

Huckleberry Pie sitting proudly for its portrait.

Huckleberry Pie sitting proudly for its portrait.

Vic and I enjoyed our last dinner at the Crater Lake Lodge dining room during that late summer snow storm pictured previously.  One item on the menu stood out for me – “Grilled Venison, Sliced Denver Leg Accompanied with Sherry Berry Demi-glace, served with Klamath Gold Potato Mash and Fresh Vegetables.” Game meat is not a regular part of our culinary repertoire but we enjoy it and order it in restaurants when we feel confident we will be well rewarded. I wasn’t disappointed this night.

I did my homework on preparing game meat but I needed actual venison work with. I’m not a hunter nor will I become one. Enter Heather Dickey and her hunter hubby, Bill. They just happened to have some nice cuts of venison in their freezer and were feeling particularly generous. So home I come with a nice venison flank steak along with some back steaks.

I now had my venison so what am I going to do with it? I first called my personal chef friend, William Ritter of Willing to Cook Personal Chef Service. William gave me a terrific idea for an accompaniment for the venison. He told me  that on the spur of the moment he was given some venison at a party he was catering and asked to prepare it. He grilled it as kabobs and served it with a reduction of marion berries and balsamic vinegar. The guests went crazy over it. OK – I can manage that.

Now what about the gamy taste of wild meats I’ve heard about? I got several suggestions from friends from marinating with basil to red wine concoctions. I finally turned to my trusted and true Joy of Cooking. If ever there was a friend for cooks, this book is it. Sure enough, not only did I find the right marinade but a lesson on the “kill” as well. (I’ll let you research the “kill” on your own.)

Grilled Venison with Blueberry, Oregon Pinot Noir and Balsamic Reduction

Grilled Venison Flank Steak with Blueberry, Oregon Pinot Noir, and Balsamic Reduction

Grilled Venison Flank Steak with Blueberry, Oregon Pinot Noir, and Balsamic Reduction

For the marinade:

  1. 2 cups (480 mL) buttermilk
  2. 2 cloves of garlic crushed or pressed
  3. salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  4. 1/2 teaspoon (3g) fresh ground cardamom or to taste

Note: This marinade is called “Yogurt or Buttermilk Marinade” in my edition of Joy of Cooking from the 1980s. In addition to the buttermilk and garlic, it says “Season to taste with: Salt and pepper or curry powder or cinnamon or ginger or cardamom.”

  • Mix together the buttermilk, garlic and the ingredients of your choice.
  • Rinse and pat dry the venison and place in a seal-able bag large enough to hold the meat and marinade.
  • Pour the marinade over the meat and seal the bag. (I always open the bag slightly and squeeze as much air out as possible.)
  • Re-seal tightly and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
  • If you’re grilling over charcoal, light the coals.
  • Remove the meat from the marinade and wipe off any remaining marinade with paper towels.
  • Grill until the meat is done to your liking. (We cooked ours to a medium rare or until a meat thermometer read 140-145° F.)

For the blueberry, wine and balsamic vinegar reduction:

  1. 3/4 cup (50g) fresh or frozen blueberries. If using frozen, the addition of the liquid ingredients will thaw them in a few minutes.
  2. 1/3 to 1/2 cup (80-120 mL) balsamic vinegar
  3. 1/3 to 1/2 cup(80-120 mL) pinot noir wine or a fruity red wine of your choice
  4. 1/3 cup (65g) sugar or to taste
  5. 1/2 teaspoon (3g) fresh ground cardamom or to taste
  6. 1/4 teaspoon (2g) or more cinnamon
  • Using an immersion blender, whiz all the ingredients together
  • Bring to a simmer over medium heat
  • Reduce heat to the lowest possible setting and let simmer, uncovered until reduced by 1/2 or 1/3

Taste frequently to adjust sweet and sour to your liking.

Note: My stove has a tiny burner and I was able to simmer for more than two hours to achieve my desired consistency. If your heat source will not adjust to a very low setting, I recommend using a “flame tamer.”

Serve along with your grilled venison and enjoy!

We enjoyed a 2006 Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Pudding River Wine Cellars. Vic and I visited them last weekend and I knew then this was the wine I wanted for this meal.

“With an initial aroma of earth and spice leading to a dark and rich black fruit mid-palate this wine is very representative of the 2006 vintage. It is full-bodied with a refreshing acidity that leads to a finish of firm tannins.”

— Charles Price

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Bill and Heather Dickey permalink
    October 11, 2009 10:12 am

    We cannot wait to try this !! Even the kids say the recipe and pictures are making thier mouths water and my kids don’t care much for Dad’s hunting prizes for the most part ! Can’t wait to pass this on to the rest of the family !! Great job, and as usua your poetic writing styles melts my heart and leaves us longing for a road trip ! Heather

    • charlesprice permalink*
      October 11, 2009 11:11 am

      Bill and Heather, Thank you so much for making this possible. I have heard that you can purchase farm raised venison from Fitts Seafood but I’m glad I could use wild meat.

  2. Kathleen permalink
    October 11, 2009 10:48 am

    I really enjoyed reading about your adventures, and fun with cooking. It seems so many cooking blogs are hard for me to follow, but you have a knack for making it a fun read as if I’m there with you experiencing your wit. Looking forward to hearing more about the west coast I love so much and miss so dearly.
    Bill & Heather have been life long family friends, and she sent me the link to find you 🙂

    • charlesprice permalink*
      October 11, 2009 11:09 am

      Kathleen, Thank you so much for your kind words. We are so lucky to have friends like Heather and Bill. Charles

  3. Victoria Linton permalink
    October 11, 2009 11:23 am

    I’ve never been a big fan of game meat, but you do have a way of making it sound delicious. My boyfriend is off hunting this week, so if he comes home with a prize of his own, I will certainly turn to you for guidance. I just might have to find some huckleberries as well. Thanks for another enjoyable blog. 🙂

  4. October 11, 2009 11:44 am

    Charles, my mouth is watering…. Love your blog!! Now to go find something to eat…

  5. Vivian Plank permalink
    October 11, 2009 12:20 pm

    I am Heather’s Mom and the best mother-in-law Bill will ever have.
    Heather has talked about you for years and I know she cherishes your friendship. The recipes you have used are fantastic. We live on game meat here in WA State and I am excited to try your recipe!
    You are multi-talented and it is wonderful that you can share with your friends and family.

  6. Ginny Renaud permalink
    October 11, 2009 11:23 pm

    You are amazing w/the volume of knowledge you have tucked in that head. Great photos help to paint the picture. Don’t know that I’ve ever had venison nor did I know that Heather had a meat market. 🙂 Coldwell Banker Mt. West is blessed to have the most generous hearted people around. Thanks to both of you.

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