Crazy Delicious Island Sips & Sweets
Delectable desserts and flavorful concoctions created by artisan producers in the San Juan Islands
Beautiful Raw Materials for Artful Food
The San Juan Islands are blessed with the perfect climate for beautiful food. The historic orchards of Orcas Island were award-winning top producers in the state a century ago. San Juan Island and Lopez Island have long histories of agricultural abundance.
The past decade has brought talented orchardists, farmers, chefs, chocolatiers, bakers, winemakers, brewers, distillers, and other culinary creatives who have fallen in love with the food of the islands. In summer, these artists are out in force, harvesting the islands' freshest opulence and preserving the plenitude. In the quiet season, we get a chance to taste summer preserved.
Here are some favorite sips and sweets, and some interesting new ways to enjoy them:
Pelindaba Lavender Farm's 250+ Lavender Creations
What started as a small land preservation project planted on a few acres by former doctor Stephen Robbins, has grown to a successful company with shops in Friday Harbor, Eastsound and LaConner, Washington. You can visit the original Pelindaba Lavender Farm on San Juan Island to wander the fields, take a self-guided tour of the lavender harvest and distillation process, and browse the farm's quaint little shop for dozens of products made right on site, including lavender-flavored honey that smells of summer flowers.
From the Bee, From the Sea - San Juan Island Honey & Sea Salt
Salt has been making its way into sweet treats in the past few years, and this image of chocolate chip cookies sprinkled with madrona-smoked sea salt inspired me to try it - and wow! The chocolaty bitterness of chips with the smokiness of the salt are an amazing combination. San Juan Islander Brady Ryan dehydrates Salish Sea water to make his San Juan Island Sea Salt, then flavors them with local flavors. In addition to the madrona-smoked salt, there is kelp salt, popcorn salt, taco salt, and others. The salted caramels are to-die-for, as well. Ryan has also started to market the honey his bees make - a beautiful golden souvenir from the islands.
Flavors of the Archipelago: Preserves, Shrubs & Bitters
Most people slather jam on their toast - not that there's anything wrong with that! But there are myriad delicious ways to use those jars of jams and jellies in the fridge. Girl Meets Dirt takes preserves to the next level, where Audra Lawlor has created a line of "archipelago preserves" made from fruit gleaned from Orcas Island heritage orchards (and beyond). Her Spoon Preserves are spoonable, thick but spreadable, and the Cutting Preserves are thicker, more of a solid membrillo-style preserve. Both are great with cheese because the flavors are focused on fruit, not too much sugar. It's hard to leave her Eastsound tasting room without gifts for all my friends because they need to taste this!
Chocolates & Baked Goods
A few talented chocolatiers and bakers have been quietly making their delicacies for islanders to enjoy, but visitors now stand in line to get some of these handcrafted goodies. Brown Bear Baking Company is the cutest little bakery on the corner of Main and North Beach Road in Eastsound. Standing in line gives you the chance to meet locals and visitors, see people walking out the door with various treats and get their opinions so you can make the optimum pastry choice. Across the street, Kathryn Taylor Chocolates sets out an array of handcrafted treats, from island mint-flavored chocolate truffles to luscious drinking chocolate. Chocolatier Susan Aspinall has been winning awards for her chocolates for years, and she's always finding new flavors to tempt me with.
Local Liquid Arts: Cocktails, Wine, Beer & Non-Alcoholic Sips
In the past few years, beverage producers have been closing the loop. With an abundance of heritage apples, pears, quince, rose hips, lavender, kelp and other foragables so readily available, many artisan producers are making them into drinkables, as well as using them to flavor spirits, beer, wine, shrubs & bitters.
Explore these island producers (and a few new shops of note):
Distilleries: San Juan Island Distillery & Orcas Island Distillery, both winning national awards for their cognac-style aged apple brandy and other spirits.
Breweries: Island Hoppin' Brewery on Orcas Island, San Juan Island Brewery and The Oar House/Friday Harbor Brewing Company in Friday Harbor, and Lopez Island Brewery (only available at Lopez Island shops & restaurants).
Cidery: Westcott Bay Cider is the oldest cider producer in Washington. In the mid-1990s, they replanted an original settler's orchard from the 1870s, and sold their first cider in 1999.
Sweet little shops: Island-boy-turned-fancy-sommelier, Cole Sisson, moved back to Orcas Island a few years ago with his wife Stephanie to open Doe Bay Wine Company. He offers wines from near and far, including a selection of liqueurs, sherries, ciders, ice wines and ports for dessert wine heaven. His own wine label, Orcas Wine Project, features a red and a white that are delicious and affordable. The Eastsound Liquor & Wine shop also is a good choice for spirits, local wines, beer & ciders.
Non-Alcholic Heaven: A few creative companies focus on non-alcoholic or flavor-enhancing goodies, including Girl Meets Dirt's vinegar-based shrubs, and Kari's Island Elixirs Bitters in flavors such as Lavender Citrus & Elderflower (sold at the San Juan Island Distillery).
Quiet Season Quality of Life
This winter I'm hibernating with good books in front of a fire, drawing oyster shells in cozy cafes, walking South Beach on San Juan Island to watch the stormy waves crash on the old-growth driftwood, and hiking around Mountain Lake on Mt. Constitution in a forest so green-smelling and quiet you can hear raindrops hit the duff. It's a love affair with life. For me, these special foods and drinks, drawn from the sun and sea of summer and made into edible art, sustain with the hope that another growing season is not far off.