By Peter Moore
Breitenbush Hot Springs
When I found my way to Breitenbush, in the spring of 1978, just a few souls lived here. There were no divisions of labor between us then, so everybody worked to do everything that needed to be done—new foundations and roofs for cabins, miles of trenches for new pipes (drinking water, geothermal heating pipes from the hot water wells we drilled, septic pipes, electric conduit pipes), cooking to keep the workers going, and lots more. Our fledgling community, which grew to about a dozen in the first three or four years, consisted mostly of twenty-somethings, with a couple of teenagers and one or two over-thirty people. We all shared a lot of meals together.
The first-ever Breitenbush Kitchen was based on the principles we collectively lived by, which included purchasing only organic vegetarian food (no poisons or chemicals on food or soil/no eating of anything with eyes, except potatoes), no stimulants (alcohol or caffeine), and ‘from each, according to their means, to each, according to their needs.’ These principles were foundation pieces of our “Pioneer Period,” the years we worked to get code-legal so we could legally open to guests. Working at Breitenbush during those early years did not include getting paid for our labor so many of us would go out periodically to make money. For example, I’d do an occasional carpentry job or pick seed cones for the Forest Service. Then, every couple of weeks or so, we would pitch some money in “the kitty” to buy groceries that were shared by all. If a person didn’t have money, that was cool, they’d eat the same as those who had contributed, so long as their work supported the long-term goal of opening the ghost resort to the public someday.
In the beginning, our Kitchen was housed in one of the old cabins on the north side of the river, in what we now call the Community Village. There we kept big 25 and 50-pound sacks of organic flour/brown rice/oats, cardboard barrels of organic milk powder, bags of loose organic tea and herbs, and boxes of organic vegetables and fruits. To keep things stocked, one of us would periodically drive out of the mountains to the Willamette Valley to pick up these assorted goodies. Back at camp, every morning, midday and evening, a simple meal was prepared by one of us for the rest of us who were out working on projects of the day. This was before we developed our hydropower, geo-heat and other utilities so life was pretty simple then. We’d collect water from the river to heat up for tea or washing, and then sit together, eating and talking story. Evening meals were taken by the light of candles and kerosene lamps, and then we’d usually pull out the guitars and make music.
Towards the end of the Pioneer Period, in 1979 – 1980, we began hosting a few events, including Vipassana meditation retreats, two huge Communities Gatherings, and the first Summer Solstice Healing Retreat, a perennial event that continues to this day. Some 600 people attended those early Communities Gatherings and Solstice Retreats. We hadn’t developed our commercial kitchen yet, so to feed them we had to set up big outdoor kitchens near the Lodge and ask participants to bring food and help cook. These turned out to be giant Potluck/Potlatch events that somehow, through the miracle of the right amounts of the right foods brought in by hundreds of people with absolutely no pre-planning whatsoever, worked perfectly, with everybody eating well and having a great time. Our confidence was building for the Breitenbush Kitchen.
And then, at last, we went legal! By 1981 we had developed hydroelectricity from the river, geo-heat from the hot springs, and systems for domestic water and septic. We connected these new electric, heat and water services to all our buildings including the newly rehabilitated Villa on the south (guest) side of the river, and that is where we created our first commercial kitchen—complete with added walk-in cooler and pantry areas.
In the history of Breitenbush, the Villa has always been associated with food service. It is a storied building harking back to a time before the Lodge and cabins were built, when Breitenbush was a seasonal tent village. It is said that guests of that earlier period carried their own dishes and utensils to the Villa where a Chinese cook dished out hot food through the double window on the south side of the building. Our kitchen continues in the Villa even up to present time.
With the Villa finally established as a modern kitchen, the first Kitchen Team was formed and … a miracle happened! Suddenly meals were better and more consistent than they had been before. Aileen, Debra and others from our Pioneer Period expressed their love of service and good food, plus beauty in presentation, to our new guests, and the Breitenbush Kitchen, with its reputation for extraordinary ingredients, tastes and textures, was born.
I think it’s true that some of our best memories emerge out of emergencies. I remember one blizzard of a ThanksGiving night with the feast promised in the North Wing. Our Kitchen crew and other community members laboring through dense snow, hand-carrying steaming trays of food 100 yards from the Villa Kitchen to the Lodge. Candles lit on the tables all set in white linen. A roaring fire blazing in the great stone hearth. Crescent haloes of condensed moisture on the glittering windows. A hundred ecstatic guests seating themselves in comfortable arrangements carrying on joyful conversations. Toasts of appreciation, gratitude and hope with organic sparkling beverages. What a beautiful night to be a human on Planet Earth.
Through the years, the Breitenbush Kitchen has continued to serve vegetarian meals, presented beautifully, that reflect its roots. Vestiges of the Pioneer Period are retained in our commitment to organic foods (local/regional whenever possible) and the seemingly stubborn persistence in not serving stimulants (caffeine in the morning/alcohol in the evening). And although it has gone through many changes over the decades—some of them physical, others organizational—these evolutionary exceptions to the original structure of the Breitenbush Kitchen really only serve to prove the rule. At Breitenbush that rule is organic mega-meals made with creative flair and presented in a convivial atmosphere of lively social interaction. Meals are delicious, nutritious and fun—the way meals ought to be.
The recipes contained in the Breitenbush Cookbook were created and perfected by the people who contributed to the Breitenbush dining experience over these past many years. The people of our Kitchen Team today carry on the tradition. They are all confirmed “foodies” with excellent culinary backgrounds and skills born of experience.
Like everything at Breitenbush, a well-developed sense of humor helps to make it all make sense, together with a sense of the sacred in the natural world, not to mention a sense of optimism about the potential for human consciousness going forward in the inevitable evolution of our species. To get there will take a lot of time, and a lot of food to fuel the journey. The Breitenbush Kitchen serves it up every day.
This is the third in A Personal Story Told through Essays.