BY SUSAN WENZEL
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
Aug. 12, 2013
Whidbey Island is a land of plenty – plenty of delicious food, that is.
Pantries, freezers and refrigerators here can be easily filled to the brim with nutritious, wholesome representatives of all five food groups without the need to continually grab a grocery cart and traipse up and down the aisles of Safeway, Albertsons, or the Navy Commissary. All it takes is a little time, know-how, gumption and “the Four F’s” – Family farms, Farmer’s markets, Food festivals and Foraging.
Family farms, big and small, are abundant on Whidbey Island. Enjoy a sampling of what the agricultural community has to offer during the 2013 Whidbey Farm Tour, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 21 to 22, or at the Whidbey Island Area Fair, Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 15 to 18. For a comprehensive list of farms (as well as merchants and restaurants who feature their products) see the website of Whidbey Life Magazine member, Whidbey Island Grown.
Seven different farmer’s markets present island residents and visitors alike with six one-stop shopping destinations for seasonal fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses, baked goods, jams, honey and more. Both the Oak Harbor Public Market and the Thursday Market in Clinton are open on Thursdays. Fridays find the Langley Second Street Market open for business. If it’s a Saturday, stop by the Coupeville Farmers Market on the central part of the island or head south for the Bayview Farmers Market. Last but not least, the Farm and Flea Market at Greenbank Farm and South Whidbey Tilth Market are both held on Sundays.
Two annual island food festivals also endeavor to teach the whats, wheres and hows of local food. Come to Coupeville the first weekend in March to watch mussel cooking demonstrations, take a tour of Penn Cove Shellfish and taste mussel chowder during the Penn Cove Mussel Festival. Greenbank Farm hosts the Loganberry Festival in July. Sip loganberry wine, enjoy a single slice of loganberry pie or attempt to wolf down an entire flaky-crusted, berry-filled delight in the pie eating contest.
While many people like to forage for food in their own gardens and chicken coops, the wild food opportunities on Whidbey Island are nearly endless – and mostly free. Hunters and gatherers can find edibles among the ferns, seaweeds, dandelion greens, and rose hips growing naturally in the area, but seafood, berries and mushrooms are the slightly more popular (and arguably more tasty) chow down options.
The bounty of the sea – Dungeness crab, clams, mussels, salmon and more – surrounds Whidbey on all sides because, well, it’s an island. Freshwater lakes, including Deer Lake, Cranberry Lake and Goss Lake all boast fine fishing if patience is your name, and Rainbow and Coastal cutthroat trout are the choice for dinner game. Recreational fishing licenses, season information, maps, regulations and guidelines are available at the Washington Department of Fishing & Wildlife webpage or at many local stores.
Berries galore are ripe for the picking in the summer months. The first to appear are the golden to vermillion-hued salmonberries. If one can beat the deer to them, salmonberries make a lightly flavored tangy-sweet jam or pie filling.
Next along are black caps, Oregon grape – not a grape but another berry, huckleberries and thimbleberries. Thimbleberries, the most fragile of the Whidbey wild berries, are best enjoyed by the squishy, finger-staining mouthful on an afternoon walk. Both native blackberries and Himalayan blackberries grow seemingly everywhere on Whidbey Island. The larger, more aggressive Himalayans are classified as an invasive species, so help your food budget and the environment by turning the sugary globes into cobbler, pie, or jelly before the birds can propagate the seeds.
Morels, chanterelles, shaggy manes and other delectable edible mushrooms flourish on the island during the fall months. Many of these highly prized omelet additions have highly toxic lookalikes, thus hunting and gathering should not be done by the novice. The Puget Sound Mycological Society is a good place to start the hunt – for mushroom mentors and information.
(A final word on foraging: Education is key to avoiding accidental poisoning; know how to identify the good and the bad and ask an expert to be certain. Know the season and have a license to ensure all food goods are legally obtained. Seek permission prior to foraging on private property. Avoid over-harvesting a single species or area.)
Native plant foraging and gardening information:
Washington State University, Island County Extension Office
Canning and food preservation classes:
Food writer Susan Wenzel believes in the power of locally produced food to fortify the health and wellbeing of both the individual and the community as a whole.