Fall Bounty in the Inland Northwest
Story and photos by John Blanchette
n late autumn the rolling hills of the Palouse
Washington and North Idaho turn to gold as wheat ripens over thousands
of acres and massive green combines crawl over the fields like giant
locusts harvesting grain.
Combines move through the fields like giant locusts
Rain is scarce in this region and wheat, barley, legumes,
especially chickpeas and lentils, respond well to the dry farming.
When irrigated the rich earth will grow most anything
and fruit orchards are plentiful, providing pears, plums, cherries,
peaches, apples, etc. World-class vineyards take advantage of the terroir
and 22 varieties of vegetables, from carrots to tomatoes are commercially
farmed along with grass, vegetable and flower seeds. Berries of all
types are a major crop including wild huckleberries, which cannot be
cultivated and are also coveted by deer, elk, moose and bears, who freely
roam the land with an avian brotherhood that includes wild turkeys,
hawks, eagles, ducks and geese. With so much abundance of flora and
fauna, hunting and fishing are popular pastimes along with water sports
and white water rafting in this land of 76 lakes and numerous wild rivers.
Three mile bridge over one of Coure d'Alenes
is the major city in the region with a population of 210,000 and half
a million in the surrounding area, the largest urban hub between Seattle
and Minneapolis. It is also the home of Bing Crosby and the local theater
stage is named for him.
There are 20 wineries in Spokane, most with tasting
rooms, and I indulged at Barrister.
The owners are lawyers, accounting for the label. Headquartered in a
historic brick building you enter off a back alley, like you might a
There are a number of excellent universities in the
Inland Northwest including Gonzaga, Washington State, University of
Idaho, Eastern Washington University, Lewis and Clark, North Idaho College,
Whitworth, etc. It is a rural but enlightened community that emphasizes
agricultural science and puts its products into the hands of some great
chefs, restaurants and specialty food producers whose creations I fully
enjoyed as I traveled the Inland Northwest along the corridor of Eastern
Washington and the North Idaho panhandle.
Farmers with their organic produce
Shaped like a little house on the prairie with the
panhandle forming its chimney, Idahoans are particular about area names.
It is North Idaho and not northern and Moscow is in Russia (as I was
told several times), Mosco(h) is the way they pronounce it in North
Idaho. No matter how you say it, the countryside is rich and abundant
and the cities and towns have retained their architectural heritage.
Fifty percent of Spokanes downtown buildings are protected as
Over several days I explored the bounty and inviting
landscape of the area on a culinary tour of the vineyards, farm stands
and restaurants, first driving north from Spokane towards Sandpoint,
Idaho, about 80 miles, I then circled south through the lake lands and
farms toward Coeur dAlene (a term applied to the Indian traders
by the French for their sharp business skills, literally heart
of an awl) and then south 70 miles to Moscow, home to the University
of Idaho and the Co-Op, the largest grocery store in town and full of
all local organically produced products. Traveling west seven miles
to Pullman, the city is home to Washington State University and one
of my favorite stops, Ferdinands Creamery for Cougar Gold cheddar
cheese (which comes in a 30 ounce can for $18) and the ice cream parlor,
all run by students.
Heading north again 50 miles I finished the loop in
Spokane, where I stayed at the historic and some believe haunted, Davenport
Hotel and at the Northern
Quest Resort and Casino near the airport www.northernquest.com.
Lobby of the Davenport Hotel
Other hotels included the Coeur dAlene Resort
with spectacular views of the lake, mountains and harbor off the bedroom
porch and the University Inn in Moscow, across from the campus.
Homemade salamis and charcuterie at Santé
with co-owner Kate Hansen
Two of the best dining experiences were in Spokane;
breakfast at Santé, which specializes in organic local products
and spectacular homemade charcuterie, and at Italia Trattoria in the
restored Brownes Addition section of the city. Chef Anna Vogel
trained with Tom Douglas in Seattle and her gnocchi is the best Ive
Chef co-owner Anna Vogel (right) and co-owner Bethe
Bowman of Italia Trattoria
Harley Inabinet, age three, carries off her
Halloween pumpkin at Walter's Fruit Ranch
In the town of Colbert, Washington I visited Green
Bluff Growers and Walters Fruit Ranch, where children can take a wild
train ride through the orchards, play with the farm animals or pick
their own pumpkin from the patch while adults shop in the farm store,
pick their own fruit in the orchards or eat the best apple pie in the
Northwest. Down the road in Post Falls, Idaho is Doma Coffee Roasting,
a must stop for a weary traveler.
In Coeur dAlene I dined al fresco at Settlers
Creek farmstead on wood grilled meats, fish and vegetables from local
farmers, accompanied by local beer and wine.
In Moscow, Nectar in old town near the University has
a talented young chef in Nikki Woodland.
David Blaine, the chef not the magician, although he
is magical in the kitchen, prepared our lunch at Latah Bistro in Spokane
serving breads made with local wheat. The farmer who grew the crop also
dined with us.
Rosey cheeked server Cindy
at Pend d'Oreille Winery
and her Huckleberry Rose
I met a number of farmers on the tour, all tall, knowledgeable
and eloquent in the descriptions of their life and work. Men who love
and care for the earth they tend, sow and plow and the crops and animals
they harvest for food.
Back in Spokane I had my final meal at Masselows, the
elegant restaurant at the Northern Quest Resort and Casino, prepared
by chef Robert Rogers.
Wineries visited included Arbor Crest, which offers
a panoramic view of Spokane from the vineyard tasting room at Eagles
Nest estate, former home of inventor Royal Riblet. Trazzi farm, located
north of Spokane, specializes in Italian style wines, Bistro Rouge Cafe
in Sandpoint has an extensive pizza and salad menu using locally sourced
ingredients and the attached Pend d'Oreille Winery makes an extraordinary
rose, blending huckleberry wine and Riesling ($17). Coeur d Alene
Cellars is located in an industrial park within the city and winemaker
Warren Schutz is a master of Rhone varietals.
Vineyards above Spokane at Eagle's Nest
Another product made from grain at Dry Fly
Northern Lights Brewery in Spokane makes a nice India
Pale All and next door is Dry Fly Distilling for Vodka, Gin and Whisky
made from local wheat and other grains, if you want a chaser with your
When You Go
For a sweet adventure check out the famous soft peanut
butter brittle produced by the Davenport Hotel Confectioners, Amy Es
Bakery in Moscow for sinful organic almond toffee and the wide variety
of caramels created at Ellies Edibles in Colbert, Washington.
If you want things spiced up a bit look for Chukar Daves herbal
seasonings in Post Falls, Idaho.
For brochures, wine guides and further information
to successfully conduct your own culinary tour of the Inland Northwest
border areas of Eastern Washington State and North Idaho and to discover
the fresh, locally sourced meats and produce prepared by farmers and
chefs who understand the importance of doing it right when cultivating
an evolving food and beverage landscape, dig into www.visitspokane.com
Potatoes and beets at Latah Bistro
Fresh tomato salad at Masselows
Pizzas and Salad at Bistro Rouge Café
Pullman & the Palouse; Palouse
Scenic Byway; Olympia,