Sunday, November 15, 2009

Food finds in Skagit Valley: Rosabella's Garden Bakery and Skagit Valley Co-op

For a nostalgic autumn getaway, I head north to Rosabella's Garden Bakery at 8933 Farm to Market Road in Bow, Washington. Owned and run by Rose Ella Merritt, this barn-like farm store is like stepping into the past with aroma of freshly made apple pastries, cider doughnuts, and Rose's signature 5-pound apple pie. But the store wasn't always part of this farm's plan.

When foreign frozen juices from China and Brazil flooded the market in the 1990s and falling wholesale apple prices bit another chunk out of hard-earned profits, Rose Merritt didn't give up. This charming farm store was her idea for saving husband Allan Merritt's apple farm.

Allen Merritt grew up in Skagit Valley. He always knew he wanted to farm and says that when he was young, farms were everywhere. Farming in Skagit Valley was booming back then. Apple, berry, row crop and dairy farms defined Skagit Valley. Allen lived down the road from Judy Jensen who now helps run Golden Glen Creamery an artisan butter and cheese company that sustains her family's dairy farm. Rose Merritt said she traveled to other farms and learned what they were doing to help preserve their farms as wholesale food prices plummeted.

Once you pull into the lot and head towards the store, check out the variety of apples in baskets and bins on the old fashioned front porch before stepping inside. Once inside, I'm immediately transported back to the 1950s with the colorful green, orange and yellow Formica tables. Shelves and pantries are lined with pickled green tomatoes, country corn relish, quince jelly, gooseberry preserves and blackcurrant jam--most are products with the Rosabella's Garden Bakery label. The fragrance of home baked apple strudel, tarts, cider doughnuts wafts through the air.

I suddenly got a craving for pie when I spied Rose's 5 pound apple pie. It's almost too perfect to eat.

I couldn't resist trying one of Rose's apple tarts with steaming coffee. This day trip is the perfect ticket to cheer up the rainy day blahs. I browsed the store, checking out cards, cookbooks and gadgets. I bought Rosabella's jalapeno mustard, habanero salsa and a trio of berry and cherry preserves. I also got a couple bottles of Skagit Fresh sparkling blueberry juice.

Skagit Fresh, was started by Allen and three other local farmers as a way of selling more of their fresh fruit. Other flavors besides blueberry include: blackberry, strawberry and raspberry. The three farmer company launched their sparkling juices in 2008, right before the stock market collapsed and the country experienced one of the worst economic years since the Great Depression.

Sales for the sparkling juices are picking up, with store after local store carrying it. (Get it at PCC Natural Markets in Seattle and the Bellingham Co-op in Bellingham.) Allan says he's learned how big companies like Pepsi pay more money and get better shelf space. Skagit Valley Co-op in Mount Vernon also carries it. I stopped there before heading home.

Skagit Valley Co-op carries lots of local products--produce from Ralph's Greenhouse, Mother Flight Farm and Gibb's Organic Produce to local bakeries like like The Bread Farm that makes the best breads in Washington. I'm crazy about their Skagit Valley potato bread. You can also get local cheese like those made by Golden Glen Creamery. The co-op's deli is always busy, and if you want to do your holiday shopping in one stop, check out the mercantile department on the upper level for more local products, including my book.
The revised edition, published by Timber Press and due out in spring 2010, includes a profile of Allen and Rose's farm and store and includes Rose's Apple Crumble Pizza Pie, as well as long-time Skagit Valley Co-op mercantile manager Cheryl Harrison's Nut Cake recipes.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

I think a road trip to Rosabella's is in my future. Love to get a taste of her pie!