Funky, Homegrown, and Fun
We sat on a porch, eating barbecued pork on fresh country white bread. Before us, spread a view of snow-covered Mt. Baker framed by the low rolling hills of Washington State’s San Juan Islands. To make the scene even more picture-perfect, a B.C. Ferry chugged by down on the water just as a float plane flew overhead.
You couldn’t invent Salt Spring Island in a novel. Killer scenery, weird history, and even a few ghosts. Over the years, artists, writers, bakers, slackers, wanderers … they all somehow found their way to this 16-mile-long spit of land off Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Originally, there were the Coast Native peoples. Then, disillusioned gold miners. They were followed in 1857 by nine freed black slaves who arrived from California, followed by more blacks and Hawaiians and Japanese. And, in the 1970’s, came the hippies.
Over the years, Islanders have blazed their own path. They even printed their own money, Salt Spring Dollars, a few years ago. You get the idea — this place is funky and a little off the beaten track.
Each fall, they hold the Salt Spring Island Apple Festival. It’s not some commercial thing; it’s just a hand-printed list of farms, a map, and good wishes for your appetite. Salt Spring boasts a ridiculous 350 varieties of apples, all grown organically. Who knew?
So we stopped at Apple Luscious, where 120 types of apples were laid out on tables with knives for cutting and tasting. The Belle de Boskoop is sweet and crisp. Tye de Man’s Late Orange is a bit too sweet. Hansons are red all the way through. Geneva tastes more like a pear. There are maybe five varieties of apples here that you’d find in a supermarket because they’re consistent in size and they ship well. But do they have flavor? Not always.
Heritage apples, on the other hand, like many of those featured in the Apple Festival, tend to be tasty, but fragile. You’ll find them at farmer’s markets like the ones here on Salt Spring Island and probably in farmer’s markets in your own neighborhood.
But apples aren’t the only thing to munch on during a trip to Salt Spring Island. There are also cheese tastings, bread tastings, and wine tastings. We drank and supped on the local fare, mostly among friendly locals.
A Ghost of an Island
Oh yes, and there are also ghosts. You’ll find a clay pot buried beneath the fireplace of the Hastings House, a really beautiful inn on the Island. It’s to ward off witches. It apparently doesn’t work on ghosts. Michael, a server at Hastings, says he’s seen a translucent woman in a white gown (unsettled female souls always seem to wear them!). Also, he swears, pictures move and things go thud in the night.
Over the years, Island residents – both the dead and the living – have organized themselves somewhat geographically. Salt Spring Island is divided with farmers to the north, hippie free souls to the south. For many years, the island was also divided by telephone prefix. A local song, describing a man and woman who meet in a bar, captures it best: “Her clothes said 537. Her lips said 537, but her gumboots said 653.”
Whether you come for the apples, for the scenery, or to catch a ghostly apparition, be careful about visiting Salt Spring Island. Way too many residents here originally arrived on vacation.
If you’re going:
In 2010, the Salt Spring Apple Festival will be held Oct. 3.
For Salt Spring Island information: www.saltspringtourism.com
For the apple festival information: www.saltspringmarket.com/apples
For Apple Lucious Organic Orchard: www.appleluscious.com
For the Hastings House: www.hastingshouse.com
Ferries serve Salt Spring Island from Vancouver Island, the BC mainland, and from Washington State.
Four companies also fly in regularly including Kenmore Air, Salt Spring Air, Seair and Harbour Air Seaplanes.
—Text and photos by Yvette Cardozo and Bill Hirsch, a writer/photographer team in the Seattle area. (See their full bio in RFT Contributors.)