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A slice of local life: Tammi Packer keeps it fresh

TAMMI PACKER takes a breather at her Odell business. The jams and other canned products are a local favorite, and the fruit stand boasts plenty of fresh seasonal fruit.

Photo by Trisha Walker.
TAMMI PACKER takes a breather at her Odell business. The jams and other canned products are a local favorite, and the fruit stand boasts plenty of fresh seasonal fruit.

This weekend (Aug. 16-18) is the Fruit Loop’s Summer Fruit Festival, and Tammi Packer is ready.

Packer Orchards and Bakery, located along Highway 35 in Odell, has a host of goodies ready for hungry customers, including apple pie, apple cinnamon rolls and applesauce.

Packer has created an apple pie ice cream sundae — vanilla ice cream in a homemade waffle cone cup topped with warm apple pie filling — and has Gravenstein apples for those who want to make their own tasty treats at home.

While only early apples are out now, this weekend “is the turning point from summer to fall,” Packer said, “so after this weekend people will start seeing apples.”

The farm stand will also offer six varieties of peaches, as well as doughnut peaches, Bartlett and Starkrimson pears, and the last of the cherries and blueberries grown on the family farm in the fruit stand. Corn, Hermiston watermelons and green beans will make a showing, too. Because the farm doesn’t grow vegetables or melons, Packer brings them in, mostly from vendors in the Portland area (the melons are the exception to that) whom she knows personally.

“We try to keep it as local as possible,” she said.

Packer has been operating the farm stand for the past 16 years, but the business goes back much farther. Packer Orchards is a 100-year-old family farm, with acreage that spreads throughout the mid valley, including the original farm on Willow Flat. Packer “married into the family” to husband Larry, having grown up in eastern Washington and graduating from Prosser High School. But she wasn’t a stranger to the area — her father had Hood River roots, lived in Parkdale and she “came up to visit all the time,” she said. “I’m more than happy to stay, too.”

Packer’s baking is what led her to opening the farm stand. She got her start selling homemade cinnamon rolls (the same rolls made in the bakery today) at Farmers in the Park in 1993. When she noticed someone selling cherries, a light went off in her head. The next week, she started selling cherries too.

Opening the farm stand gave Packer the opportunity to sell fruit grown in the family’s orchard, as well as her baked goods. Some fruit, like nectarines, apricots and plums, are grown specifically to sell at the farm stand.

As the business grew, Packer added homemade jam to the shelves, and from there, the bakery grew. “We thought, ‘If we can make jam, we can make pies,’” she said. Now, they make pies and hand pies, cinnamon rolls and the ever-popular cookies.

In the last couple of years, Packer has added canned fruit — cherries, pears and peaches — as well as pickled products: radishes, garlic, beets and asparagus. Everything is canned as seasonally as possible. Starting in September, they will start canning spicy, bread and butter, and dill pickles.

And yes, they still make jam. Last year, they began canning four-ounce “wedding favor” jams, which brides can special order in a variety of flavors. This has proved to be a hit with couples planning Gorge-area weddings.

It’s a family affair, and not only for the Packers. “Everyone in the bakery has husbands out on the farm,” she said, adding that the kids also get involved. “It’s a big, huge family. This business lets me involve my entire family.

“We’re really blessed to have this.”

Even past generations are in on the deal. The pie crust is husband Larry’s Grandma Packer’s recipe, and many of the cookie recipes are originals from Packer’s grandmother, who was a caterer in California. But they still try new recipes “all the time. We love to search old cookbooks.”

August, said Packer, “is one of the best months on the Fruit Loop.” Weekends are always busy, but festival weekends can be crazy, and she encourages locals to come on weekdays or to come early on weekends. As for the Summer Fruit Festival, Packer is happy to be one of the many stops on the Fruit Loop.

“There are so many activities this weekend,” said Packer, referring to the Fruit Loop’s festival. “Barbecues, live music, lots of great fruit is available … there’s so much to do.”

Packer Orchards and Bakery will be open until Oct. 30.

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