Cooler weather, fall rains and promising harvests mark the season of bounty and related celebrations on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula. Cranberries, wild mushrooms, Dungeness crab and Willapa Bay oysters are the stars October through December with foraged, farmed and fresh caught culinary adventures and feasts. Potential razor clam digs add to the rich food experiences from fall through spring.
“While autumn is a season of plenty throughout the Northern Hemisphere, it’s especially true here in our little corner of Washington State,” said Michael Lalewicz, chef/owner of The Depot Restaurant in Seaview. “The combination of harvest from land and sea is especially enticing.”
Here are the top ways to get a taste of the season’s best:
Cranberrian Fair (October 8 & 9) and Cranberry Harvest Days
A cranberry trolley takes visitors from food (think cranberry-peach pie) and artisan booths at Ilwaco’s Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum to the Cranberry Museum & Gift Shop and research bogs in Long Beach to learn and observe cranberry farming, harvest and processing.
Always-colorful wet harvest takes place throughout the month at century-old bogs scattered from Ilwaco to Ocean Park. Visitors can pick or buy cranberries at Cranguyma Farms and purchase Starvation Alley raw, unsweetened cranberry juice at local grocery stores. Cranberries also show up in craft cocktails, North Jetty ales, house-made desserts, and prepared foods in restaurants up and down the peninsula.
Wild Mushroom Celebration (October 1 through November 15)
Timed with the height of the edible mushroom season, the Wild Mushroom Celebration is a collaboration of top chefs, innkeepers, wine and beer makers and foragers to share and showcase the region’s most delicious wild mushrooms. Reserve a seat at a themed dinner, sample daily specials, attend talks and identification hikes, or book a wild mushroom lodging package.
Internationally renowned Willapa Bay has been famous for its oysters since Gold Rush days. While most of this pristine bay is commercially farmed, oysters can be picked and shucked at a public beds in Nahcotta, Tokeland and Nemah; a shellfish license is required. An easier option is to purchase oysters in the shell or already shucked or let local chefs do the work. Ultra-fresh oysters prepared in numerous ways can be found at restaurants and seafood shacks in communities around Willapa Bay including Tokeland, Raymond, South Bend (“Oyster Capital of the World”), Bay Center, Ilwaco, Seaside, Long Beach, Klipsan, Ocean Park and Oysterville.
Conditions permitting, recreational Dungeness crab season is year round from docks, jetties and boats (license required). The best time to catch these highly prized, succulent crustaceans is after molting and before commercial crabbing begins. Hi-Line Crab Charters offers family friendly crabbing on the Columbia River from mid-September into December from the Port of Chinook. Crab cakes and crab mac ‘n’ cheese are favorites featured at eateries and live or cooked crab at local seafood markets.
Delectable butter, Manila and native clams as well as cockles can be raked in state-owned tidelands off Long Island’s Pinnacle Rock and Diamond Point as well as Nemah and Tokeland. Pacific razor clams grow naturally meaty in the Long Beach Peninsula’s 20-plus miles of wide, sandy beach, the most expansive clam habitat in the Northwest. Lantern-tide digs usually begin in the fall, switching to morning digs in the spring. This subsistence tradition is also a social occasion for friends, extended families, and old timers who are happy to share a tip or two with enthusiastic newbies, clam guns, shovels and buckets in hand. Dig dates and daily limits are set by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. A shellfish license is required for both kinds of clams.
Equipment for clamming, crabbing and more as well as licenses are available locally as well as information sheets and tide tables at the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau at the corner of Highways 101 and 103 in Seaview.