Weather on the opening day of the Apple Blossom Festival April 27 at BelleWood Acres (Lynden) could have been described as "less than optimal." The clouds were moving fast and ranged from fluffy white to ominous black. Rain alternated between open faucet mode to the merest of sprinkles. For a finishing touch, a frisky wind was swirling around out of the fields.
Undaunted, we joined other intrepid folk from Whatcom County to enjoy the spring festivities at BelleWood's big farm store (and bistro and distillery and bakery and more), which has been open just over a year now.
A playground had been set up outside complete with giant farm tires to crawl through, a sign for kids to measure their height and have their photos taken, and of course the assorted giant size wooden rocking animals (rooster, goat, cow, etc.). Under the roofed area was the apple donut stand, picnic tables, and bean bag toss games. Apple bin train rides through the orchard had also been planned so visitors could enjoy the beauty of the apple blossoms themselves.
Because of the weather, though, most of the action remained indoors. Tables were decorated with large bouquets of apple branches, and the play area for kids was well equipped with farm puzzles, farm vehicles, and enough fun to keep quite a group of children playing together happily.
Staff had thrown themselves into the spirit of the festival by dressing in bee costumes. Older children and adults could explore beehives that had been turned into informational exhibits about bees, honey, and the all important pollination they provide. Much of the fruit in Whatcom County is dependent on honey bees, native bees and other pollinators (even including some kinds of flies).
We did a little shopping, pitched some bean bags, showed my grandson how to swing a whiffle bat, and wandered around to see the baked goods, apple products and gift items available for the occasion. I especially enjoyed browsing their old-time games, many of which I'd enjoyed in my childhood, and the farm and nature oriented children's books. There was something wonderful for everyone.
Upstairs, overlooking the distillery, the works of two talented Bellingham photographers, Elvira Butler and Alma Alexander, were being featured in the gallery. Themed "Into the Light", the photographs focused on flowers. The beautiful and colorful exhibit will remain on display at BelleWood through May 30.
Finally, we settled in at a table in the bistro for sandwiches. The menu had changed some since our last visit. Fish and chips were a new item, for example, but original favorites still appeared, too, such as my personal favorite, the Gobbler. (Try it, you'll like it!)
Dorie Belisle, owner of BelleWood Acres along with husband John, stopped by our table to say hello. She told us about a couple of new apples they are trialing that might become available this fall. They've chosen both because they are supposed to keep well through most of the winter in a refrigerator, while also providing exceptional taste. In fact, one variety has a bland flavor until it has been stored for a couple of months. These varieties will help BelleWood continue to offer their customers fresh apples almost year round. By comparison, they are completely out of last year's apples at this time.
Just as Dorie left to check something in the kitchen, a live bluegrass band, the Shadies, began setting up to play. By then a large crowd had gathered at the bistro tables. The atmosphere was definitely festive as friends and families met to enjoy and share the lively music, good food, and cocktails featuring BelleWood's own spirits and hard cider.
John, Dorie and their staff are masters of local farm-style hospitality. They clearly made every effort to make the day enjoyable for all, regardless of the weather. Their warmth, and caring encouraged a friendly, convivial atmosphere among their customers as well. In short, it was a wonderful experience of community.
As I was driving home later reflecting on the day, I felt an overwhelming gratitude for the strong awareness of rural community we residents of Whatcom County are privileged to share. Whether we live in the city or in the rural areas themselves, these special experiences, deeply connected to the land and the seasons, are made available for us all to enjoy, thanks to the generosity of our local farmers. For me, that's a precious treasure, and it's become an essential part of my life as I continue to explore local foods.
For information about BelleWood Acres and upcoming events, see their website at: bellewoodfarms.com or visit the store at 6140 Guide Meridian.
Today's pie recipe, inspired by apple cider vinegar, has a long and somewhat obscure history. Originally I suspect it came from eastern Europe. At least, the concept was introduced to me by friends from Slovakia.
In the U.S., American pioneers would often run out of fruit before spring. This led to experimentation with the flavor of apple cider vinegar because it offered a fruity taste along with a practically unlimited shelf life. Combined with flour, sugar (or honey), and eggs - ingredients which were more readily available year round - the vinegar pie gradually evolved.
Now there are dozens of versions. Think of it as a kind of faux lemon pie. I hope you enjoy this little known but delicious traditional dessert.
VINEGAR HONEY PIE
1 cup honey (Red Barn Lavender, Ferndale)
11/2 cup cold water
2 large eggs (Red Barn Lavender, Ferndale)
11/2 tablespoons flour (Fairhaven Organic Flour Mills, Burlington)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (BelleWood Acres, Lynden)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon balm leaves, minced (home garden, Lummi Island)
1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Put honey and water in a mixing bowl and stir until honey is dissolved. Add eggs, and beat briefly. Add the vinegar and minced lemon balm leaves, and stir to mix well.
Pour into the pie crust.
Bake for 75 to 90 minutes. When done, the center will be the texture of soft pudding.
Let the pie cool completely before slicing. As it cools, the texture will thicken until it is similar to very thick pudding or a custard.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or email@example.com. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.