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January 2014

Cook with the Best in the Northwest

The Ark Restaurant Cookbook,
by Jimella Lucas and Nanci Main

Reviewed by Mary Rose

Cook with the Best in the Northwest archive

 

Eating homemade Honey Bran Muffins with Cranberry Butter takes me back to my visits to The Ark in Nahcotta on the Long Beach Peninsula, a sliver of land in the southwest corner of Washington State. I ate there several times before it closed in 2004, and every meal was delightful, but the muffins slathered with Cranberry Butter are what I remember most clearly.

This book was published in 1983, but you will still be able to buy a copy online, even if the cover is not the same as the first edition I show here. There are two additional Ark cookbooks, The New Ark Cookbook (1990) and The Best of The Ark and More (2003), but I recommend this 1983 edition because it has recipes for Honey Bran Muffins and Cranberry Butter.

 


The Ark Restaurant Cookbook, by Jimella Lucas and Nanci Main

 

As much as I love the muffins, there are plenty of other choices in this cookbook. Because Chef Lucas specialized in fish, and because The Ark restaurant was situated near a towering pile of discarded oyster shells—Willapa Bay being a prime oyster spot from centuries back—there are many fish recipes: Smoked Salmon Pate, Scallops Nectarine, Clam Fritters, and Oyster Stew. If fish isn't your dish, try Cranberry Chicken Salad, Sautéed Zucchini Milan, or Fried Cheese in Marinara Sauce.

Desserts included my own favorite, Carmelo—a decadent but oh-so-luscious combination of caramel custard, whipped cream, and nuts. If you like a Snickers bar, you'll love this. Or go for Strawberries and Cream Mousse or Swedish Cream or Chocolate Cranberry Torte or . . . well, just know you'll get your money's worth.

Nanci Main, The Ark baker, also contributed recipes such as Butterhorns, Pesto Bread Sticks, and Oregon Blue Cheese Bread.

But this book is much more than a collection of recipes. Stories tucked between ingredient lists provide a history of the Long Beach Peninsula. From Native American potlatches to 19th-century sales of bushels of thumb-size oysters to the modern-day Ark restaurant, food has been an important part of the development of the area.

The Ark was a small restaurant created by a local woman, Lucille Wilson, in the 1950s. Folks in the area remember her as a "fabulous" cook. Oysters, pulled fresh from the nearby bay, were a large and popular feature on the menu. Local residents recall the long bar where oyster fans bellied up next to oystermen wearing hip boots to enjoy the all-you-can-eat special.

 

The following historic items courtesy of Olde Towne Trading Post, Ilwaco, Wash. Photos by Skyler Walker, Tangly Cottage.

 


An early restaurant sign.

 


Map of the Long Beach Peninsula, looking west.

 


Close-up of the northern tip of the peninsula, showing
The Ark restaurant location at Nahcotta.

 


The Ark menu from the 1950s.

 


Among the early offerings was a fried oyster sandwich for $1.

 

The original building was destroyed by fire in 1971, then rebuilt. In 1981 Jimella Lucas and Nanci Main took over the kitchen. Their updated menu attracted food lovers from afar and won critical acclaim and many food awards. As I recall, the view looking out over Willapa Bay was soothing, and inside white fairy lights sparkled.

In 2004 Lucas and Main sold The Ark and started another restaurant in nearby Ocean Park. In November 2013 Lucas died after a battle with cancer. Apart from being remembered for her cooking skills, another legacy Lucas leaves behind is the Northwest Garlic Festival, which she was instrumental in starting.

No matter what Chef Main does next in her culinary life, she will be remembered—at least by me—for her Honey Bran Muffins.

 


Honey Bran Muffins with Cranberry Butter

 

Cranberry Butter
from The Ark Restaurant Cookbook

Makes about 1 cup.

Whip 1 lb softened butter at high speed until it's pale yellow, scraping the sides of the bowl to make sure all the butter gets whipped.

Add 1/2 c raw cranberries, coarsely chopped (if they are frozen, chop them while they are frozen and let them thaw before starting), 1/4 c brown sugar, 1/4 c honey, 4 T ground walnuts, 1/2 c cranberry sauce, 1 T grated orange peel, 1 t grated lemon peel. Whip at medium speed until light pink.

Add 2 T buttermilk and whip until incorporated.

You may freeze this butter and re-whip it when you want—simply thaw and add 1 T buttermilk.

Single portions can be molded and frozen; just thaw them when it's time to serve.

The sweet tartness lends itself to waffles, pancakes, and french toast, as well as muffins and sweet breads.

 


Share the extras with a friend.

 

This recipe makes a lot of butter, so consider packing some into a jar and presenting it, accompanied by Honey Bran Muffins or any bread, as a special gift.

 

Mary Rose lives high in the mountains of Montana. She enjoys traveling to farmers markets in summer and making snowballs during the long winter. She is happy to find many locally produced foods, including lentils, cheese, and stroopwafels.

 

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