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Fall 2014

Things that fly in the sky

A slight breeze comes from the north, but it’s not enough to stir the sun-faded windsock above the tarmac near Mann Lake in Lewiston, Idaho. The sudden and unexpected gusts of wind, however, do. It’s a brisk 48 degrees, but of more concern is the smeared cloud taking up the southwestern horizon, out of place among its more defined, cumulus neighbors mottling the blue canvas above.

“We have about ten minutes,” says Chris Chaney, who earned a doctorate in mechanical engineering from WSU this year. “We’re going to have to time this right. This is probably one of the most dangerous flights we’ve done.”

» More …

Spring 2014

What about buckwheat?

Oh, no, no, no,” says Sonoko Sakai as she jets across the test kitchen at the WSU Mount Vernon Research Station to school a student on the proper technique of draining a freshly cooked hand-cut soba noodle.

“Don’t stir it. You have to pat it like this,” she says as she firmly whacks the bottom of the strainer.

Sakai, a former film industry executive, changed course dramatically a few years ago and left LA for Japan to learn the art of making soba, a traditional Japanese noodle made primarily of buckwheat.

She found her way to soba master Takashi Hosokawa and now travels the … » More …

Winter 2013

The Pear

Perhaps the most venerable of tree fruits, the pear is luscious, but can be difficult.

Maybe, say some, the Washington pear needs some new blood.

Ray Schmitten ’85 and I stand on a grassy bench above the Wenatchee River Valley, a forest of Anjou pears at our back, as he points and talks about the interplay between his family and the landscape of the valley.

In 1897, his great-grandfather had a sawmill up Brender Canyon. He started out taking the mill to the timber.

“He moved up to that ridge and logged it out. Finally in 1921, he moved the mill and everything down here … » More …

Winter 2013

Beans

“I was determined to know beans.”

—Thoreau, Walden

Having abandoned journalism and returned to her family’s farm on Whidbey Island, Georgie Smith ’93 started gardening, and one thing led to another. Smith had at least two things going for her, family land and a knack for farming. Farmer’s markets sales led to supplying restaurants, and ten years later, she’s still in business, farming 20 acres on Whidbey’s Ebey Prairie outside of Coupeville with four full-time employees and the same number of three-quarter time workers.

Even though Smith grows multifarious crops—greens, alliums, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, whatever—at the heart of her enterprise right now is a lovely … » More …

Gary Chastagner. Photo Robert Hubner
Winter 2013

Ask Mr. Christmas Tree

If you’re looking for Gary Chastagner around this time of year, you would do well to put out an all-points bulletin to Wherever Christmas Trees Are Sold. He’s perused trees up and down the West Coast, as well as in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Arizona, and Texas. Just look for the cheerful fellow taking clippings, bending needles, and chatting up the owners about things like moisture content and needle retention.

 

“My family knows that if it’s Christmas time, I’m usually around looking at Christmas tree lots,” he says.

Chastagner, officially a plant pathologist with the WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center, is … » More …

Spring 2013

How Washington tastes: The Apple meets Cougar Gold

Much of Carolyn Ross’s work involves training people to quantify their taste. The sensory evaluation panels that she and her graduate students organize assess taste attributes in fruit and other foods and beverages such as sweetness, acidity, bitterness, and astringency. And “mouth feel,” which contributes enormously to the taste experience.

But for these panels to arrive at a consensus of, say, how sweet a given apple is, or how tart, or how much it crunches in relation to other apples, everyone must agree on the intensity of those attributes.

Before the panel members can evaluate a given food, they will train for a number of … » More …

Lindsay du Toit with spinach
Spring 2013

Spinach is suspect: A pathological mystery

The case started a few years ago when a farmer approached seed pathologist Lindsey du Toit at WSU Mount Vernon wondering what was damaging his spinach seed crop out in the field. He had planted on clean ground that hadn’t had spinach before. He wondered if maybe the stock seed had a problem.

“It didn’t make sense,” says du Toit, explaining that what happened to the plants didn’t fit with the known diseases. At the time, du Toit and one of her graduate students were looking at fungal pathogens in the seeds of spinach plants. About 75 percent of the spinach seed grown in … » More …