Apple of Whatcom County's Eye
By Kate Ferry
Tips and tastes from BelleWood Acres
Apples are one of the quintessential signs of fall in Washington state. The colorful hues range from deep, crimson red to vibrant green and bashfully pink-kissed golden yellow. The eating possibilities range from scrumptious apple pies to sharp-cheddar-adorned salads to the can’t-be-beat fresh from the tree orb that is perfectly crunchy and bursting with juice.
One of the best resources in Northwestern Washington when it comes to apples is BelleWood Acres in Lynden. The farm’s first apple trees, Jonagolds, were planted in 1996 by John and Dorie Belisle. The farm has grown to include 31 acres on two plots in Lynden, numbering 25,000 trees. The varieties grown on the farm have expanded from the single Jonagold to 18 total apple varieties for the 2011 season and now include pears, pumpkins and fall squashes.
The varieties and growing season of apples vary with location, climate, consumer demand and historical prevalence. BelleWood Acres focuses on varieties that do well in a maritime climate, and supply local grocery stores including Haggen and the Community Food Co-ops in addition to the on-site farm store and farmer’s market booth.
The apple season starts in late August with the Gravenstein, a delicious apple renowned historically for its baking and preserving tendencies, and the newly popular Sansa and Tsugaru varieties. The middle of the season brings with it the fresh delights of the Honeycrisp and Gala and the baking beauty, Belle de Boskoop. Apple season comes to a close in October, before the first heavy frost, with the Idared, Fuji and Orin. This year the farm is bringing two newcomers, the Hidden Rose and Pink Pearl. Both are pink-fleshed apples that will serve up beautifully in salads and other dishes where presentation and taste are key.
How does a novice choose a good, perfectly ripe apple for picking? And, what is the best way to enjoy a plentiful harvest for weeks or months to come? In addition to advanced testing as a commercial grower, the Belisles recommend relying primarily on taste. After focusing on trees that are in season and producing edible fruit, the best way to find the perfect picking apple is to eat what you pick. If the apple tastes scrumptious and has a firm texture, pay attention to the details including its size, color nuances and texture or firmness. Employ these characteristics for future pickings.
The ideal condition for storing apples over the long haul is a dry and cool environment. Apples will suffer when exposed to temperature fluctuations and moisture, like a cement floor or drafty basement. There is also truth to the saying, “One bad apple can spoil the bunch,” says Dorie Belisle. Keep a close eye on bad apples and remove them from the group. Mother nature also knows best and the late season varieties keep for the longest period.
When it comes to family-friendly, classic fall activities, BelleWood Acres is where it’s at in Whatcom County. The farm is open from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31 and has u-pick apples, a pumpkin patch and a variety of value-added products including homemade peanut butter, apple pies, caramel dip, apple chips, fresh-pressed cider and vinegar to name a few. The u-pick portion of the farm is intended to be a hands-on combination of “education and entertainment at the same time,” says Dorie Belisle, because you come away with a better understanding of how to pick apples and an appreciation of the different varieties.
Find a new passion for apples this fall and enjoy the bountiful harvest when the fruit is at its freshest!
Did you know? - The Origin of "Upper Crust"
In early America, when times were hard and cooking supplies were scarce, cooks often had to scrimp and save on ingredients. Apple pie was a favorite dish, but to save on lard and flour, only a bottom crust was made. More affluent households could afford both an upper and lower crust, so those families became known as "the upper crust." www.usapple.org