There are stud fees in the world of Hubbard squash, or at least there is when the sire belongs to Tony Danelo and the soil is Ron Ramm’s.
The two men farm beside each other on a borrowed plot in Spokane Valley. Ramm is new to the business this year. Danelo is the godfather of squash. There’s more than a 50 percent chance that if you’ve bought cut squash in the local grocery stores, it’s Tony’s.
So it’s midsummer and Ramm’s squash have started to swell, and the junior farmer has begun talking up the crop at none other than the “table of knowledge” at the Something Sweet Doughnut House in Otis Orchards. The table gets its name from the 10-or-so men, mostly retired, who meet there daily at 7 a.m. to solve their world’s problems over Styrofoam cups of coffee.
Nothing ever really gets solved, and there are actually two tables. One is known as the farmer table, which is frequented by Ramm and Danelo, though not everyone sitting there is a farmer. The other table, on the opposite end of Something Sweet, is known as the cowboy table, which is occupied by more than just cowboys, though half the men sitting there wear cowboy hats.
The two groups of men stick to themselves, the farmer table talking mostly about water rights, new subdivisions and the days when land was $400 an acre. The cowboys talk about the stock market – the other one, not the Wall Street one – the odd jobs they’ve worked to keep their boots in the stirrups and the places they’ve been that can’t be found on a map.
Ramm’s hand gestures, however, which give his squash the proportions of small children, get Danelo worked up. Soon the farmer table sounds like the cowboy table.
“If you have a male dog and I breed him with my female, you get pick of the litter, right?” Danelo says.
“You’re not getting my biggest squash,” Ramm says.
“Yeah I will,” says Danelo, “You won’t even know it.”
At the other table, Cal Baze is talking about a quarter horse broodmare he’s acquired for a song from a man over whom the mare rolled. Some horses do that, Baze says. They can look like Seattle Slew, but if they roll over on their riders, they’re deadly and not worth a bucket of oats.
“I don’t think it was the mare’s fault,” Baze says. “I think the rider was liquored up.”
The doors to Something Sweet open with such frequency that a subtle breeze pushes the sweet smell of batter and sugar around the store as the farmers and cowboys talk. It’s the scent of a true Spokane Valley doughnut. As surely as there are french fries on every lunch menu, there are boxes of fried dough slathered with icing next to the coffee pots of many Valley offices. It is a maple bar kind of town.
The farmers all know the genealogy of Valley doughnuts and cite it like a parochial catechism. First there was Darrell Jones, a north Spokane doughnut maker with the neat trick of mixing cake batter into his doughnut mix to keep them moist. Jones’ shop, the Donut Parade, begat Mike’s Old Fashioned Donuts, of Spokane Valley. Mike Britton, of Mike’s, was wandering the desert of vocational reassignment, looking for a new career after ending a brief stint as an insurance salesman when Jones gave him a job. Through Mike’s, moist doughnuts became the Valley’s gold standard.
The story’s been told so many times, it has its own rhythm. And Danelo, who’s on his second doughnut shop of the day, having stopped by Mike’s at 6:30 a.m. before heading to Something Sweet, is practically singing it. Then, it comes up that no one at the table has actually ordered a doughnut in the two hours the men have been here.
“I eat breakfast at home,” says Chet Holman, who arrives at the table late with heavy lidded eyes after playing pinochle until 2 a.m. Around the table, the men nod in agreement with Holman.
You can’t eat doughnuts every day, the men agree. Doughnuts make you fat, or fatter, as some of the men, like Ron Ramm, exhibit mild cases of Dunlap disease. Ramm typically shows up for coffee in a white T-shirt and ruler suspenders – that is, his elastic suspenders are pencil yellow and feature lines denoting quarter-, half-, and one-inch marks. Over his midsection, the inches become inches and a half.
But no one at the table is calling for a weigh-in or suggesting that Something Sweet’s doughnuts are bad. Something Sweet’s doughnuts are pretty good, the men seem to agree. And besides, is there really such a thing as a bad doughnut? On this subject and the matter of stud squash fees, the table of knowledge digests silence.