Skies keep honking with geese and sunlight keeps fading faster with every passing day.
Despite these harbingers of fall, a taste of summer still bursts with flavor at Hunter’s Moon Farm, north of Oak Harbor.
Blueberries. Blueberries. Blueberries.
Rows and rows and buckets and buckets of late-blooming blueberries, deep in color, tart or sweet and still succulent, there’s plenty of the purple gems headed to local and regional markets — and to a particular Oak Harbor restaurant.
“We still have 500 pounds to pick,” says Hal Jackson, walking among the three species of blueberries grown around the 8-acre farm that he owns with his wife, Claire, and runs with help from his adult children.
The blueberries also popped up in ice cream, sorbet, sauces and sublime taste sensations at one of Oak Harbor’s finer diner establishments the past two weeks.
The organically-grown fruit from the North Whidbey farm has been delighting diners at Frasers Gourmet Hideaway courtesy of a new farm-to-table partnership formed during Whidbey Island Grown Week.
One pork belly dinner and two delectable and artfully-decorated desserts — a Baked Alaska and an almond cake — feature the blueberries.
The Baked Alaska is a wonderment of layers. Sponge cake, soaked in Grand Mariner, is filled with rhubarb sherbet and a blueberry sorbet center, topped in a crust of meringue and finished in a swirl of raspberry.
Its creator is chef Michael Tsosie.
“We light it with brandy tableside,” said owner Scott Fraser.
The almond cake is served with blueberry ice cream and strawberry jam created by Patrick Salgado.
While the recipe ingredients for the entree are mostly French and fancy and froufrou (save for the roasted corn fritters) — Sous Vide Pork Belly, aigre doux style, with charred shishito peppers, white balsamic onion jam, topped off with pickled blueberries and charred asparagus — the reaction is universal: Wow.
“This has been one of our most popular entrees the last week-and-a-half,” said its creator, chef Kyle Campbell. All three took up Fraser’s challenge to create a bold new blueberry dish.
“Aigre doux means bitter and sweet, sweet and sour,” explained Fraser, a transplant from British Columbia.
“It’s used on pork belly and game. It brings out the flavor and cuts the fatty taste.”
Jackson, a member of Whidbey Island Grown, said he’d never met the mustachioed man behind the Frasers name until he popped in a few weeks back and proposed the farm-to-table collaboration.
Fraser initially ordered 20 pounds of blueberries from Hunter’s Moon. He’ll need another 20 pounds, or more, if people keep clamoring for the late taste of summer.
The three species of blueberries grown at Hunter’s Moon, called Legacy, Elliott and Aurora, are known as late season bloomers and each offers a unique and distinct flavor, Jackson explained. (The farm canceled it’s popular U-pick Blueberry this summer because of a fungal disease in one orchard but the outbreak didn’t affect all the crop. )
Just like apple farmers with a heavy late crop, Jackson said he and his wife are weighing the options of how much to pick for how long.
“Some of the farmers just let the fruit fall on the ground because it’s not economical to pick,” he said.
“They’d lose money.”
Hunter’s Moon Farm blueberries can still be found for sale at a few Whidbey retail outlets, such as 3 Sisters Market and the Star Store.
It also landed new regional wholesale clients where many of its berries are still bound.
The first Whidbey Island Grown Week, which was Sept. 29-Oct. 7, was a great success, said organizer Sherrye Wyatt. “Most all the classes and dinners were sold out right away and the Whidbey Island Cider Festival had a huge crowd, especially for a first year event.
“We found there is a strong desire for cross promotion and creative ways we can work more closely together,” she added.
“The potential exists for a year-round effort, in addition to the week-long celebration.”
Whidbey Island Grown, a group of local farmers, buyers and residents formed in 2009, came up with the idea of 10 days of farm and food-related activities as a way to re-boot its brand.