Alma chocolate squirrelShoppers snacked on pickles and chocolates and sipped vinegar and whiskey at Portland’s fourth annual Season’s Eatings event last Saturday. The get together in New Deal Distillery hooks up local producers with local consumers—and traveling consumers if they’re lucky enough to be in Portland that day. But even if you travel to Portland at a different time of year, artisan foods make the perfect souvenir for yourself or gifts for your catsitters, relatives and friends back home.

The select group of a dozen or so businesses at Season’s Eatings are companies New Deal owner Tom Burkleaux knows from the craft and artisan food community. “Portland is blessed to have a lot of fun, small food vendors,” he said. Admission to Season’s Eatings is free, but everybody is asked to bring a non-perishable food item to support the Oregon Food Bank.

While all the artisans were high quality, here are a few of my personal favorites.

Albina City Nuts

Albina City NutsFive years ago, Scott Bell was working for New Seasons when he realized all the nuts they sold had been imported from Spain and Turkey. Which doesn’t make sense when you live in the country’s leading state for producing hazelnuts. Bell started experimenting with roasting and flavoring nuts in his home kitchen. Eventually he and his partner Heidi Timm launched Albina City Nuts. Their sweet and salty hazelnuts – flavored with cinnamon, honey, organic sugar and ancho chili – are divine, as are their candied walnuts.

 Unbound Pickling

This pickle business had an unassuming start: “Excess beans one year,” revealed Jesse Hancock. He and his wife Katie began pickling various vegetables in 1998, and started selling them at the Portland Farmer’s Market. Their Cajun spice pickled green bean won the 2013 Good Food Award. Their bread and butter pickle, sweetened with locally grown pear and blueberry juice, is also notable.

 Masala Pop

Masala PopMasala Pop started with Mom’s recipe, said popcorn entrepreneur Neha Patel. What began as a snack grew into a hobby and then a business. Patel devised various spice combinations incorporating Indian flavors. Some even include papadam chips, a crisp lentil-based flatbread. Shoppers can choose from tamarind sesame, chai masala, saffron rose, coconut curry and several more. Patel created a limited edition flavor that incorporates New Deal’s Hot Monkey pepper-infused vodka, pineapple and cardamom.

 Pok Pok Som

I’ll admit this one scared me a bit. Drinking vinegar? Could that possibly be good? Turns out, yes. Andy Ricker, owner of the fantastically popular Pok Pok restaurant and winner of many awards, started a retail line of drinking vinegars in 2011. This concoction has a Japanese and Chinese rather than a Thai origin. You add just a little of the concentrated flavored vinegar to soda water or your favorite type of alcohol and get an unusual drink with just a little vinegar bite. Any of the flavors mix well with seltzer water or vodka. Operations manager Dylan Myers suggests the following cocktails: Thai basil vinegar with gin or rum; tamarind vinegar with tequila; pineapple vinegar with rum or gin.

River Wave Foods

After 30 years of catering to the whims, needs and safety of airline passengers, Rebecca Kawanami retired from her career as a Delta flight attendant. But the respite was brief. She decided to start a business marketing her sauces. “I’ve probably never worked harder in my life,” she said. But she looked pretty happy about it as she and her daughter shared samples of their gluten-free sauces and tapenades at Season’s Eatings. Their top seller is a versatile Thai vinaigrette. Kawanami said you can add peanut butter to make a peanut sauce, add ketchup for a spicy Thai ketchup or use it to pickle vegetables.

Alma’s Handmade Chocolate

Chocolate only needs to taste good to make people happy. But how about when the chocolate is shaped into exquisite Northwest motifs like squirrels and pine cones? Then you have a fabulous gift for the chocolate lover back home. Or for yourself. I hear their habanero caramel sauce makes a perfect hot buttered rum.

Water Avenue Coffee

coffee liqueurPortland abounds in small coffee roasters. Water Avenue Coffee roasts exquisite small batches of beans and also has a conscience. The owners have built up strong relationships with coffee farmers. Not only do the owners visit the coffee farms in El Salvador and Costa Rica, but they bring employees along with them. Have you ever had a barista make you a latte while describing firsthand the farm where the beans came from? Impressive. Gift ideas: a bag of coffee beans or a bottle of New Deal’s coffee liqueur, made with Water Avenue Coffee’s beans.