All-weather fun at Autumn Festivals

The “sun breaks” that blessed Harvest Fest-goers this weekend provided just enough warmth and rain-free moments to enjoy the many outdoor aspects of the event.

The wet weather might have the reverse effect, too: Fair Manager Clara Rice thinks it encouraged people to attend the Gorge Fruit and Craft Fair, where warm and dry buildings at Hood River County Fairgrounds enclosed the vendors and activities.

In Odell and Hood River, crowds gathered despite the weather, knowing that a few raindrops would not interfere with true apple and pear connoisseurs’ annual pilgrimage to the home of so many taste varieties.

“These are the most delicious apples,” said Sitiveni Unga as he proffered juicy slices of Elstar apple to passers-by. “Or, try these Mt. Rose, they are just beautiful.” The unexpected beauty of that particular apple was seen in the bright pink interior flesh, accenting the sweet tang of the apple’s flavor.

Overall numbers were down because of the weather, but Facebook postings of blue sky photos over the Gorge helped encourage Sunday visitors from Portland and Vancouver, according to Kerry Cobb, Hood River Chamber of Commerce executive director.

“People said they had a good time, and our vendors were happy, so we’re happy,” Cobb said. “We had people from everywhere – Tri Cities, Portland, Bend, the east coast,” Cobb said.

Hood River’s Joy Ingalls said, “I thought, ‘Oh, it’s under tents, and it’s going to be cold,’ but I came down and actually it was very nice. I really enjoyed myself.”

She sampled pizza, and bought some apples, as well as gifts for Christmas, birthdays, and herself, from Harvest Fest vendors.

“I also got a Senior Center pie – a Harvest Fest must,” Ingalls said.

Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers greeted visitors with information and slices of red Starkcrimson and yellow Bartlett pears.

The red fruit won out, said Fruit Growers’ director Jean Godfrey.

“I brought 12 boxes of the Starkcrimsons and eight of the Bartletts.”

Another winner was the Hanners Jumbos, apples weighing between a pound and a pound and three-quarters per apple — just one of the special variations available to buy. (See photo, page B6.)

“No, we don’t have to thin the trees any different than other varieties to get them this big. It is just how they grow,” said Linda Hanners, whose husband’s family helped develop the giant beauties.

“These are good,” said Nixie Asbury, 2, of Portland, as she struggled to see into the tasting bowls placed at eye-level. The dozens of apple and pear varieties provided a true taste test for the adventurous.

Harvest Fest and the Fruit and Craft Fair both experienced large numbers on Sunday, with fewer visitors on Saturday. Lions Club volunteer Kelly Govro organized the parking control this year, and said Saturday’s light turnout was made up for by a busy Sunday.

Clara Rice of the fairgrounds said Saturday was “a good crowd, and it was steady on Sunday.”

She said 53 recreational vehicles spent at least one night at the fairgrounds, “which gave us a built-in set of clientele,” she said.

People would make the rounds in one building and watch for a letup in the rain and dash across the way to another building, Rice said.

Numerous visitors to the Hood River valley included Portland-area and Vancouver residents, including Cathy and Ken of Wilsonville (who declined to give their last name). They purchased a plate from White Salmon artist ceramist Jim Diem.

“We’ve always wanted to come here, but never did, so we took off this morning and decided to see what we’d find,” Jim said.

The food was a big attraction at the Odell fair and at Harvest Fest. The FFA barbecue sold out both days, and the salmon feed sold out on Saturday, Rice said.

At Harvest Fest, Hood River’s Mike Caldwell of Hood River found a delicious and filling local delicacy that will also helped keep him on his weight loss regimen: quinoa curry from Lula’s Lunch, among the mix of local and out-of-town food vendors.

“I filled up waiting for the ribs to come off the grill,” said Caldwell, who attended with his wife, Shawna, and children Sophie, 12, and Griffin, 10.

Two 90-year-olds from Trinity Lutheran Church in Vancouver, Mildred and Lavina, shared a caramel apple parfait from Ryan’s Juice, and Ron Grave and his son, Caleb Graves, were seen walking across the grounds with two other delicacies: Caleb, 15, ate an elephant ear and Ron carried a caramel apple — a birthday present for his wife, Kaetha.

“We walked around the tents about 20 times and decided to get some air and a snack, and this was her request,” Ron said.

Will the caramel apple make it all the way to its intended?

“We were just joking about that. I was tempted. But it’s okay, I got some peanut brittle for myself,” Ron said.

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