I'd been looking forward to the annual BelleWood Acres Ciderfest for weeks, and I finally got there on Sunday afternoon. When I came in the door I was enveloped in the sweet, fruity smell of fresh apples and the lively sounds of the fiddle and guitar combo of the Gallus Brothers.
I got there just in time for a late lunch, so I made my way through the crowd to the Bistro area. Fresh cider, hard cider, cider cocktails - the beverage menu options seemed endless. It was clear that the heart of this event was an apple orchard farm.
It was easier to choose a sandwich than a beverage. For me, "The Gobbler" was the clear standout. Sliced turkey, apples, fresh bread, veggies, and - the clincher - chipotle apple raspberry sauce. 'Nough said.
While I waited for the sandwich to be made, I sat down to look around and see what was happening. The country blues sound of the Gallus Brothers had everyone tapping their toes. In fact, I enjoyed watching people come in the door. They would pause for a moment to listen, smile, and then start bobbing and swaying as they crossed the room to see who was playing.
The Gobbler turned out to be as good as it sounded. BelleWood owners Dorie and John Belisle care about sustainability, and the Bistro serves meals in compostable cups and utensils. There's virtually no waste.
After lunch, I did a slow walking tour of the building. A hard cider bar stretched across the back wall with bright paintings of farm vehicles hanging behind the counters.
In the main room, there was a large bin of apples, and visitors were invited to try to guess the weight. The person with the closest guess would win a prize.
From there to the other end of the room were more bins containing many varieties of large, crisp, brightly colored apples. The front counter offered free slices of each variety so people could taste the differences before deciding what they wanted to take home.
In the back coolers were jugs of freshly pressed apple cider. There were a few other fresh fruits available, too, including the largest Bosc pears I've ever seen.
Bakery racks were full of apple pies, apple cookies, and various other apple and fruit pastries, all freshly baked. The fragrance was tantalizing.
In the meeting room, a class about making hard cider was underway. The instructor and the subject were obviously engaging, because people were listening intently.
I headed for the stairs to the art gallery. Just to the side of the stairs were beautiful handcrafted gourds made by Barb Maloney in Ferndale. The exquisite dyed colors and elegant decorations sent me to my first thoughts of a holiday gift list.
In the gallery, the works of three artists were on display. Watercolor paintings by Candace Buethorn interpreted scenes of farms and natural settings. At the other end were mesmerizing constructions made of layers of different woods by Bellingham cabinet maker Jim Holz. Throw pillows with Native American style designs made by Heidi Holz-Ness were the third art offering being featured.
While in the gallery, I spent a few minutes looking through the window into the distillery where BelleWood makes vodka and Eau de Vie in its gleaming copper equipment. Labels were being placed by hand on bottles.
Outdoors were several family play areas and photo locations. Farm tours, pumpkins, and u-pick apples were busy centers of activity.
On my way out, I ran into Dorie Belisle. I asked how she managed to organize so many activities. She said she trusted her employees, that they knew what to do and how to do it.
During peak season BelleWood employed 65 people this year, 20 of whom were seasonal pickers. That's a lot of jobs created by a family who planted their first apple trees in 1996.
Besides jobs, the Belisle's family farming and retail operations contribute to the quality of life of a much larger number of people. Hundreds of people took home healthy food, enjoyed good music, and had fun with their friends and loved ones. Thanks, John and Dorie!
Today's recipe is inspired by fresh apple cider from BelleWood. However, it also includes a beverage experiment I tried several years ago.
I was living in a cabin with a huge walnut tree just outside the door. Every year, I'd watch for the walnuts to ripen, but every year I'd awaken one morning to the sound of blue jays. That was the day the walnuts would all be gone. The jays were faster than me when the walnuts were ripe.
One year I read about an Italian liqueur called nocino, which is made from green walnuts steeped in vodka for a couple of months, sometimes with added herbs and spices. At last! I'd found a way to enjoy at least some of the walnuts before the jays ate them.
At first, the nocino I made tasted bitter, but everything I read said the flavor would get better with age (as in years). It did.
Normally cider would be spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, but those are not grown locally. I remembered that the taste of apple combines well with sage, so I decided to try that instead.
My daughter and I really enjoyed this warm toddy in front of a crackling wood fire. If you want to avoid alcohol, try heating just the cider and sage.
HOT CIDER TODDY
2 cups Honeycrisp apple cider (BelleWood Acres, Lynden)
1/2 tsp ground sage (home garden, Lummi Island)
1 Tbsp butter (homemade with cream from Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy, Lynden)
1 tsp raw honey (Backyard Bees, Bellingham)
2 shots nocino (green walnut liqueur) (homemade)
Put the cider and sage in a saucepan over medium-high heat. When the cider just begins to boil (bubbles around the edges), reduce the heat to low and add the liqueur, butter and honey. Continue to heat and stir until butter and honey are melted.
Serve hot, and savor slowly. Top with a dollop of whipped cream sprinkled with sage, if you like.
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 Co-op, 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 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.