It’s sad but true — as a Washingtonian, I am most decidedly a wet-sider. I’ve lived pretty much my whole
life here on the damp, evergreen west side of the Cascade mountains. And while we get over to the Yakima and Tri-Cities area every year or so to visit friends, that feels like quite the trek. The extra hour for Walla Walla means we get there seldom, while I know Seattle-area folks who weekend in Walla Walla without giving it half a thought. Spokane, Pullman and other points to the far east of the state are just not on our hit list of local jaunts we’re  often likely to make.

But that may change here pretty soon after flipping through every page of the new The Crimson Spoon cookbook from Washington State University. I’m ready to head to Pullman right now to get a scoop or two at Ferdinand’s Ice Cream Shoppe. And of course I’d come home with loads of cheese made there on campus as well.

This lovely book was written by Jamie Callison (along with my friend Linda Augustine), executive chef and culinary instructor for WSU’s School of Hospitality Business Management, which with its partner program focused on Wine Business Management, is part of the university’s College of Business. The state is lucky to have this institution in our midst, a land-grant school that is long renowned for its work in agriculture and animal sciences. That it has, too, a hospitality program (founded in 1932) is some kind of delicious kismet, thanks to the various academic arenas that just happen to produce amazing products for students to learn about and work with. How many other culinary schools are in such close proximity to an organic farm (Department of Crop and Soil Sciences), a creamery (producer of the famous Cougar Gold cheese among other things), a cattle ranch (Department of Animal Sciences), an orchard (Department of Horticulture) and an apiary (Department of Entomology)?

This is far from your average campus cuisine. And those are some darn lucky students!

The book is clearly and openly a love letter to the region around the city of Pullman, WSU’s home. With its the endless rolling hills of pasture land and farm land, the Palouse is a region rich with a range of foods. Perhaps most famous for lentils (at least that’s always one of the first things that comes to mind when I hear “the Palouse”), though in recent years chickpeas have taken over. I knew that shift had taken place, but I didn’t realize until reading this book that now 75% of the country’s chickpeas are being grown in that area. But farming and ranching of many types can be found here. And the book is peppered with insights about local products from this lush place, from the Rainier cherry to local durum wheat.

Lush can describe the book itself too, and not only because of those beautiful rolling hills pictured now and then. The design has some enchanting touches, with lots of striking visuals (both food and landscape) and a great echo of the personality of the school. I haven’t had a chance to head into the kitchen with this book yet, but I can promise you the MAD Chicken will be high on my to-cook list: chicken thighs marinated with balsamic vinegar and seasoned with coffee-based spice rub, then grilled. And I’m keeping an open mind about that Chocolate Lentil Molten Cake; the chef notes that the lentils “give a surprise texture and nutty flavor.” Chef knows best, so I’ll give that a try!