In Memoriam: Katherine Deumling and Deborah DeBord

In this post, we honor two remarkable women who shaped the world of food around them: Portland-based cooking teacher and Slow Food USA leader Katherine Deumling, and Deborah DeBord, a visually impaired home cook and CSA advocate who wrote for this blog in 2019–2020.
Katherine Deumling

We start the year with sad news: The passing of two remarkable women who helped shape the world of food around them, including our own Bounty from the Box cookbook. One is Portland-based cooking teacher and Slow Food USA leader Katherine Deumling, and the other is Deborah DeBord, a visually impaired Colorado home cook and CSA advocate who wrote for this blog in 2019–2020.

Katherine Deumling
I first became acquainted with Katherine in 2015 when I was researching recipes for my book, and through Sauvie Island Organics, I came across Cook With What You Have, which she started to provide seasonal, healthful recipes that support local agriculture. Despite our potentially competing businesses, she generously allowed me to adapt a pasta dish with fava beans and to reprint her Fennel and Torpedo Onion Salad (page 535 in BFTB).

A few years later, along with my long-time co-cookbook and blog writer Martha Wagner, I met Katherine in person at the Portland CSA Share Fair. She was an absolute delight to talk to, engaging and warm, and wholly dedicated to helping people discover and enjoy nourishing, appetizing food.

I’ll let Martha Wagner take over here in remembering her:
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We spoke to her now and again about cooking and CSAs for our blog. The following paragraphs barely capture the fullness of Katherine’s 49 years, which came to a close on July 12, 2022, and the impact she made on so many people.

Katherine was born in Portland, Oregon, and graduated from Whitman College in Washington State with a degree in political science. Before she started college, she had spent much of her childhood in Germany and worked a year as a nanny in Italy. In her senior year at Whitman, she was awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to study abroad on a topic of her choosing, an opportunity she used to research the relationship between food and culture in rural Italy and Mexico. She was drawn to cooking and feeding family and friends from an early age, and she took joy in feeding her husband Brian and son Ellis, now in his teens, through the years.

Katherine was a founder and active member of the Portland chapter of Slow Food USA and eventually served as a director on the national board, its treasurer, and board chair. She loved the good, clean, and fair food and food systems philosophy of the Slow Food movement that began in Italy in 1986.

Her personal philosophy of cooking, which she called “Cook With What You Have,” turned into a website and business with hundreds of seasonal recipes geared toward eaters cooking with CSA shares. She also taught classes at local colleges and institutions on how to easily cook healthful, delicious meals.

Katherine was a gifted writer and artist. People loved reading what she wrote, both for its approach to food as well as for her honesty in sharing her thoughts and some of the poems that nourished her during the difficult time when she was first coping with treatment for breast cancer and then when she had a recurrence and had to do it all again. Here are a couple of links to her writing—one is about teaching kids how to cook and the other is an illustrated cookbook she wrote as a gift for her son.

As a card-carrying lover of vegetables, I delighted in Katherine’s breezy descriptions such as this:
“Who says winter vegetables are drab or boring? Grated watermelon radish, carrot, and thinly sliced celery, with parsley, cilantro, and scallion dressed with nothing but lemon juice, rice vinegar, oil, and salt and pepper. So crunchy, so good!”

Adapting to the pandemic, she wrote:
“Lucky for me, I get to invite you into my kitchen and peek into yours as I continue to teach live, virtual classes. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how warm and inviting even a Zoom event can be, though I’m still dreaming of a Smell-O-Vision feature or some crazy Charlie-and-the-chocolate-factory–type device that could transport the goodies I’m creating directly into your kitchens in real time!”

Katherine Deumling serving people at Street Roots

Although Katherine was best known for her work related to cooking, she also worked and volunteered with arts and humanities organizations, farming and farmworker organizations, and many other causes that inspired her. One group she befriended—dropping by their office with treats—was the people at Street Roots, a weekly Portland newspaper written, published, and sold by people experiencing homelessness and poverty. Here is their appreciative tribute to her that includes the recipe for the pumpkin bread she often brought them.

And finally, a tribute to Katherine from Thom Duncan, a former colleague in Slow Food USA:
“She had a knack for making you feel like an insider. She made everyone feel important and seen. She was moving the dial of change and she did it with joy … when she stepped down at the end of her term, we sought a way to make her stay, but wisely she had a more important calling: the calling of family and community and career. We were unsure for a time as she had been our strength for years. We hated to see her go. And now, all who knew her, all whose lives she touched, must feel a loss to know she’s gone. Katherine welcomed all, whether cherished or neglected. She had a place for you at the table of her friendship. If Slow Food were a church, Katherine would be our first saint. Saint Katherine of the Community Table. Raise your glass. She was our best.

_______________________

Deborah DeBord

Deborah DeBord
I first became acquainted with Deborah when she approached me to write for our blog in 2019. She had been a long-time member of Stonebridge Farm in Longmont, Colorado, for which she also wrote their CSA newsletter. But I soon learned she was an accomplished gardener, tireless volunteer, and dedicated home cook—a go-getter who was blind and had written a remarkable 328-page cookbook for visually impaired people, called Cooking with Feeling…and Other Useful Senses. This is one impressive volume.

I found Deborah’s writing utterly captivating, even just in our email correspondence. She once wrote to me, “I actually have a handheld color finder to tell me if my clothes match or to find that tee shirt I wanted to wear hiking. It works on the color of tomatoes if ever I should need just the yellow ones.” I was hooked.

Deborah wrote about food like it was an old friend, whether it was choosing the best greens for smoothies, tips for how to make the most of a CSA, or giving a recipe of what she called “summer salad tiny walkabouts”—a salad course that wouldn’t be awkward to eat while roaming and schmoozing during a grill cookout. Her writing is hilarious, deeply caring, and practical. Most of all, she makes you smile.

Some choice lines:

“Visit the farm a bit hungry. Inspiration will come to you.”

[On cutting corn off the cob:] “Visually impaired and blind cooks enjoy getting a sink scrupulously food-grade clean. They perform their chosen method in the sink, letting kernels fly sans souci, collecting them all in the end, confident that the countertops are kernel-free.”

“We enjoy making mistakes for you in advance as well as tweaking techniques for better results.”

“Invite extra hands. Kids, neighbors, and friends lend a festive fringe. The kitchen is not a desert island. That said, a bit of time to yourself can be restorative.”

“Supper was nothing short of delicious. Simple, naked steamed spinach. Covered with a firm layer of yummy eggs, scrambled very low and slow in a smudge of butter, also otherwise nekkid … We will now sit by the woodstove with its fire, watch the forever falling snow, and be grateful for the feeling of fed, fat, and happy.”

Deborah succumbed in December 2020 but not from the coronavirus; it was from complications of a heart condition that started from a bout more than two decades before with West Nile virus, of all things. When her husband Jim informed me last year of her passing as he was clearing out her email accounts, my heart became broken as well.

As she would say, “All the best from a woman high in the Rockies. In a forest. On a river.” Well, Deborah, from whatever mountain peak you’re standing on or river you’re tumbling down, I know you’re eating well in heaven—and feeding scores of others while you’re at it.

Basil Pesto

We leave you with a last gift—a pesto recipe that her husband was kind enough to share with us.

Basil Pesto by Deborah DeBord
Kathryn and I have silently conspired to tread different paths our entire sister-lives. Her glittery Barbie dolls faced off with my ventriloquist dummy. And she knew to scout for her missing aces, jacks, and kings on the spokes of my paper-girl Schwinn. Yesterday, Kathy telephoned from her glass-top desk littered with consultation notes for Neiman-Marcus brides, not that far from her beloved Gulf Coast beaches. I answered from my writing studio in a Rocky Mountain forest. We wiggled toes to punctuate our talk. Hers, recently escaping magenta Prada pumps; mine, from walnut Birkenstocks. I don’t remember what we said. But content to fit as snugly opposing puzzle pieces, we complemented one another splendidly.

Planted in opposing seasons, basil conspires with garlic, and together they are pesto. 

Makes ½ to ⅔ cup

2 cups gently packed, fresh basil leaves
3 garlic cloves, peeled
½ to ⅔ cup good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
¼ cup pine nuts
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground white pepper to taste

Place the basil and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. With the motor pulsing, drizzle the olive oil slowly through the processor tube. Process until the ingredients are fully puréed. Add the Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, salt, and pepper, and pulse a few times to blend.

Suggestions for Using the Pesto
•  Toss ½ cup with 9 ounces of fresh pasta.
•  Drizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons over pizza sauce before adding toppings.
•  Add ¼ cup to minestrone during the last 10 minutes of simmering.

Cook’s Tips and Tricks
Pesto means “to pound” in Italian. If for only once in your life, try making this preparation with a mortar and pestle. Pesto freezes quite well and offers the memory of a summer’s day on a wintry night. Freezing pesto in a covered ice-cube tray for cubed portions ruins the tray for any other use, but the sacrifice is worth the pleasure.

_______________

Photo credits: Katherine Deumling: featured photo by Shawn Linehan and Street Roots photo courtesy of Street Roots; Deborah DeBord, courtesy of Deborah DeBord; pesto photo by OlgaMiltsova, iStock.

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Discover how to get the most out of your CSA box, sign up for our free 3-Day CSA Share email course.

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