Weather cooperated, and the day was reasonably warm and partly cloudy as we made our way to the annual Fall Fruit Festival at Cloud Mountain Farm Center near Everson. Cloud Mountain has been hosting this festival at the farm for more than 20 years and our family looks forward to the event held in early October.
Several key elements go together to make the festival the remarkable event it is. The centerpiece is a tented area where an incredible variety of fruits are available for guests to taste. Apples are the main feature, but you can also taste varieties of quince, both wine and table grapes, plums, prunes, currants, gooseberries, pawpaws, josta berries, walnuts, akebia fruit, persimmons, medlars, cranberries, kiwi, blueberries, peaches, cherries, garlic and both sweet and hot peppers.
All these varieties have been grown in this area, from Skagit County to southern British Columbia. Many are available for home orchards and gardens from the Cloud Mountain nursery. It's an amazing assortment, and the ability to taste the fruit first makes it easier to choose what varieties a home gardener might like to take home.
This is especially important since fruit trees and berry canes require a long-term investment of time and space. For example, I enjoyed overhearing a conversation between a father and his daughter about the harvests they would get by the time she was a teenager from the small apple tree they were taking home.
Another regular feature of the Fall Fruit Festival is the Backyard Beans and Grain Project. Krista Rome brings the "best of the best" of bean and grain seeds she has trialed for the past several years as part of the project.
In her fields near Everson, Krista helps people learn how to grow and harvest these important sources of protein. She experiments with organic and heirloom varieties to find those that will grow well consistently in our climate, regardless of whether the growing season is wet or dry, warm or cool, etc. Her primary goal is to do the research that will allow others to farm these staple storage foods or grow them at home successfully.
Good food to eat on site or take home for cooking and storage is another aspect of the Fall Fruit Festival. Mallard Ice Cream is on hand with special flavors just for the festival. Notable this year were Aronia Berry, Red Star Peach, Lynden Blue Grape and Pioneer Cornelian Cherry.
Dashi Noodle Bar also had a food stand on site. They were selling soft steamed buns in a wonderful assortment of both savory and sweet flavors.
Free apple cider was available if you were willing to crank a few turns on a cider press (or if you just asked nicely). Free carmel apples were also being handed out.
Kids could paint small terra cotta pots and then plant small rosemary starts in them to take home. Between that, the hands-on cider making experience, the carmel apples, Julia's Pumpkin Patch (u-pick), and the live music, all the kids were having a great time (including my grandson).
Just before we left, I made a trip through the farm store to find something to feature for this week's recipe. I chose something not always recognized as "fruit" - peppers. I confess I love peppers. I love the look of them, the smell of them, and especially the taste of them.
It took me awhile to decide whether to try sweet peppers or hot peppers (I don't like too much heat). I finally chose some Krimzon Lees, a pepper labeled "sweet with just a little heat." They turned out to be perfect! See the recipe below to find out how I prepared them.
BELLEWOOD ACRES CIDERFEST
If you missed Cloud Mountain's Fall Fruit Festival, you can still enjoy the local fruit harvest at BelleWood Acres (6140 Guide Meridian on the way to Lynden). From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 1-3, BelleWood will be hosting their 3rd snnual CiderFest. This event will include orchard tours, cider making and tastings, micro-workshop, hard cider drinks, old fashioned apple presses, live music, games and much more. Check out their distillery, too, and have lunch at the bistro located in their farm store.
Festivals are a wonderful way for the whole family to celebrate the Fall harvest!
CHEESE STUFFED PEPPERS
1 cup yogurt (Grace Harbor Farms, Custer)
2 large Krimzon Lee peppers, or any long sweet pepper (Cloud Mountain Farm Center, Everson)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (home garden, Lummi Island)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil (home dehydrated with basil from Sumas River Farm, Sumas)
1/4 teaspoon smoked cayenne pepper, finely minced or ground (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
Start yogurt cheese the night before you make the rest of the recipe. Line a colander with clean muslin or several layers of cheesecloth and set inside a large bowl. The bottom of the colander should be at least an inch above the bottom of the bowl to allow room for liquid to drain from the yogurt. Put 1 cup of yogurt onto the muslin, and place all in the refrigerator overnight (at least 8 hours).
By morning you will have yogurt cheese remaining in the muslin, and liquid whey in the bowl. Yogurt whey can be used to replace some of the water in bread recipes, or can be used as a beneficial bacterial starter for fermenting sauerkraut. (See whatcomlocavore.com/homemade-sauerkraut for full instructions.) If you want thicker cheese, let it drain longer until it reaches the desired consistency.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper or covering with aluminum foil.
Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and membranes inside.
In a small bowl, mix the yogurt cheese and herbs well. Using a spoon, stuff the pepper halves with the cheese mixture and place on the prepared baking sheet.
Roast for 15-20 minutes until the cheese begins to lightly brown. The peppers will have softened, so remove them from the pan carefully to serve.
Serves 2 as an appetizer (two pepper halves per person).
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
Red Barn Lavender Farm (egg CSA), 3106 Thornton Road, Ferndale; 360-393-7057
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.