ZILLAH -- Karin Argo of Zillah didn't plan to write a cookbook but she's had an interest in cooking and foods since she was 9 years old and won a blue ribbon in a 4-H baking contest for her baking powder biscuits.
What she really wanted to do was to promote agriculture, specifically the crops and products produced in Eastern Washington.
"Look at any brochure or any website advertising Washington and you'll see a photo of Seattle and the Space Needle, seafood, one shot of a wheat field and one of an apple orchard -- sometimes they'll include a vineyard. That's all, and we have so much more," she said.
"Washington is unique in the nation in that we grow such a diverse number of crops. Too often we take it for granted."
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Her project -- The Secrets of Eastern Washington Cookbook ... and just how we all got here anyway -- began in the early 1990s.
"That's when I began to have babies. I wanted to stay at home with them but I needed an adult diversion," she said.
Argo began collecting recipes showcasing crops and products produced in Eastern Washington from agricultural commodity groups, wineries, breweries and specialty food businesses. It took her about five years, but she persisted. All without the internet or e-mail.
"Thank heavens my brother persuaded me to use a word processor. I had intended to use a typewriter and literally cut and paste everything together," she said.
Her first printing, just 2,000 copies, went to press in 1994. It took about five years before the last copy sold and about another five years before the second updated edition went to the printers in 2007.
"I seem to be on a five-year cycle," Argo quipped.
For the second edition, Argo upgraded the quality of the paper and chose heavier stock for the cover. She also made changes in the recipes, adding a couple and substituting new recipes for some she didn't care for.
"Like the Apple Walnut Pie -- I don't like nuts in my apple pie so why have that recipe in my cookbook? Why not give people a really good classic apple pie recipe?" she said. "So I did."
In the years between printings, she's seen a lot of changes in agriculture and people's relationship with food.
Argo, who admits to being 40ish, said, "I'm of a generation who learned to cook, who knew where the food on their plate came from and how it got there. That's not true of the generation who came after me. That's when fast food and processed foods were really catching on."
But she said there's been a real switch. People now want to know who grew their food -- and sometimes it's themselves.
The crops have changed over the years also.
"Asparagus and sweet cherries were important crops in Washington even just 10 years ago. Now it's apples and dairy products," she said.
Businesses have changed too. Some have closed their doors forever, others taken their place. When Argo first approached wineries for recipes, there were only a few dozen. Now the state has nearly 500.
Salted throughout the recipes are bits of historical trivia and photographs and information about the places and people who helped shape Eastern Washington.
Though she was born in Bellingham, Argo's roots run deep in Eastern Washington's soil.
She moved to Yakima with her family when she was a toddler, lived in the city for eight years, then moved to an orchard in the Buena area outside Yakima. She has a degree in human nutrition and food with a minor in horticulture from Washington State University. And she and her husband, Mike, another WSU graduate, grow apples and have a tree-grafting business.
The Secrets of Eastern Washington Cookbook, written by Argo under the pen name Scarlett Argo, is sold at Heritage Home Accents in Kennewick, Ariel Gourmet and Gifts in Richland, Kiona Vineyards Winery in Benton City, Melange in Sunnyside and the Pasco Specialty Kitchen gift shop. Cost is about $20.
Cooking classes planned
Staying close to home lately? Try some culinary traveling without going too far by taking a cooking class from Karen Scarlett Argo, author of The Secrets of Eastern Washington Cookbook.
She’ll demonstrate recipes from her cookbook while sharing background stories and information on Mid-Columbia crops along with some care and storage tips.
Classes run from 6 to 8 p.m. and will be held at the Pasco Specialty Kitchen, 110 S. Fourth Ave., across from the Pasco Farmers Market.
On July 7 she’ll demonstrate chicken salad-stuffed tomatoes, Gold-Diggers Fruit Salad and Peach Cookie Cobbler. On Sept. 8 she’ll do a vegetable lamb stew, Zucchini Buns and Chocolate Pear Pastry.
Deadline to sign up is two days before each class.
Buying her cookbook is optional. She’ll send students home with the recipes she makes in the class. Cost for one class plus the cookbook is $46.
The additional class, or both without the cookbook, are $30 each.
To sign up call 509-735-6722.