Oh, how I love an Indian summer! And while I was skeptical about seeing a day of sunshine again after the typical Northwest drizzliness sunk in this past week, I was elated to be out in the fields for the Harvest Celebration Farm Tour under clear blue skies.
Growing up in upstate New York, I have a soft spot for warm September days where the colors start to turn, when corn is at its sweetest, & the smell of cider donuts frying up is the ultimate Proustian madeleine. Give me a hot paper bag of these bite-sized autumnal treats shaken with cinnamon & sugar and I am a kid in New England again.
"We're going to live our five-year-old dreams," Ken told his mother on the phone as our truck ambled out to the Snohomish Valley. "No, not dreams we've had for five years," he explained. "You know, dreams that five-year-olds have. Petting zoos, corn mazes, hay bale rides..." to which I gave him a sharp jab with my elbow. Honestly, I wish I could've borrowed my three adorable nephews who live back in the New York to take on the farm tour, but I don't know that they would have been as giddy as I was to drive 30 miles to get a free lesson in goat milking.
When I read that Fall City Farms was giving cider making demonstrations, I held my breath (could there be cider donuts here in Washington?? we grow lots of apples) & marked it as the first stop on our list. BINGO! So while Ken rounded up some golden beets & butternut squash from their country store, I stood in line for a taste of childhood.
Turns out the real action at Fall City is in the "u pick" garden & families of tattooed Seattle hipsters, locavores, and valley folk waded through the tangled greens with pitch forks & baskets, harvesting missile-sized zucchini or rotund root vegetables straight from the earth. "You can't get fresher than this!" beamed one farm-goer, & I couldn't agree more.
Next on the list was a visit down the road to River Valley Cheese... In late spring, I had been in contact with cheesemaker Julie Steil about working one of her farmer's market booths before I knew I was going to be hired (& subsequently fired) by Bella Cosa. I've always respected Julie's cheeses, and while perhaps being on the farm adds something extra to the flavor, I was truly taken with where her cheeses are going. Julie's mom & kids were on hand to pass out samples (I'm assuming the cheesemaker was busy trying to keep with the demand), & by the time we finished voting on our favorites, I had a sampler of four different varieties safely tucked aside to take home as things were quickly selling out to the crowd at their tasting tent.
My recommendations? Naughty Nellie, a semi-soft raw cow's milk cheese with a pleasant hoppiness, thanks to the Pike Brewery ale-washed rind, BoVino, a creamier version of Drunken Goat only made with raw cow's milk soaked in local cabernet wine, fresh mozzarella (made one hour before--how can you resist that?), and my personal favorite, the Ranch Reserve, a perfectly rustic goat cheese (surprisingly pasteurized) brushed with honey dark rum that had all the personality of a French cave-aged cheese, & went exceptionally well with the Sauvignon Blanc we had chillin' in the fridge when we got home from our journey.
And while Ken had fun taking pictures of me getting a lesson in goat milking with the cute farmhands, I think I'll leave that up to your imagination, lest you decide that raw milk cheeses are not for you. Here's the poor goat that put up with me... Sorry, gal, it was my first try!
The day would not have been complete without a stop at Full Circle Farm in Carnation, folks that have really made their mark on Seattle's culinary community, working hard to connect the consumer & the chef with the land. In the tradition of Berkeley's Chez Panisse, restaurants such Lark started the trend here of crediting local growers on their menus, & a dish with Full Circle's name attached to it has always a sure stamp of quality and exceptional flavor. Go to any of our neighborhood farmer's markets & Full Circle's booth is packed with luscious greens, crayola orange carrots and a knowledgeable staff member who clearly loves their veggies.
The farm is as gorgeous as their produce, & has grown to nearly 300 acres since the original five acreage purchase by husband & wife team Andrew Stout & Wendy Munroe. True do-gooders, the farm has donated over 200,00 pounds of produce to food banks, schools & daycares, & participates in innovate programs like fueling kids' brains with fruit instead of junk food during WASL testing. Smart thinking!
As bluegrass musicians plucked away, we gathered around to watch chef Seth Caswell (formerly of Stumbling Goat & soon-to-be Emmer) sautee up lobster mushrooms with fennel & sun-sweet cherry tomatoes in a creative combination. Inspired by our few forkfuls, we took our over-sized canvas bag to the vegetable stand to load up on the harvest--a beautiful head of escarole, two curly-q eggplant (a miracle that they can grow on the eastern side of the mountains), & outrageously fragrant poblano peppers for stuffing with fresh corn & goat cheese. We ended up with so many treasures from the farms that I had to cancel our Sunday night reservation at Poppy as I couldn't bear the food-guilt & let it all wilt in our produce drawer. Oh well, another time.
Right now, nothing's more precious than these gifts from the late September sun...
Fall City Farms
3636 Neal Rd SE, Fall City WA
River Valley Cheese
34920 SE Fall-City Snoqualmie Rd, Fall City WA
Full Circle Farm
31904 NE 8th St, Carnation, WA
Get out of the city, it's good for ya!