The Quest for the Perfect (Oyster) Picnic

A road trip to Bow-Edison.

We’re cruising down Farm to Market Road, in the vast sunshine, on our way to Bow-Edison, an hour or so north of Seattle. We’re on a quest for the perfect summer picnic—one in which oysters will figure prominently. Our basket does not yet have any food, only essential supplies: an oyster-shucking knife, a bread knife, a cheese knife, and a wine key.

We pass dairy farms with black and white cows, on green grass, grazing. Cornfields rustle in the wind. Rows of potato plants bloom in lovely lavender, and as we gain the gentle hills, Samish Bay comes into and goes out of view—like a welcome third passenger. We drive by beach cottages and peeling, hand-painted signs. At every turn are farm stands selling flowers, fruits and vegetables, and sometimes pies. We stop—and you should too, when you take this languorous summer outing—and begin to collect the goods.

Of course, you don’t have to picnic in Bow-Edison. Wonderful little eateries lead to the town itself and beyond (I’m thinking of Rosabella’s Garden Bakery, Tweeds, and, farther up, The Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive, with wonderful views from the bluff), but I prefer to picnic, and here’s why: If I stop for a meal at any one place, I’ll be too full to stop and sample at the next, and there are just too many gems on this route to try.

Bow and Edison have a lot of options, and history, for two truly tiny towns. As of the 2010 census, Edison has only 133 residents. Both Bow and Edison were homesteaded in 1869, and got a boost from the then-new railroad. In 1897 Edison became the headquarters of the Equality Colony, a national Utopian socialist project. By 1901 the colony had disbanded, and farming and agriculture became the main focus. It still is. Between Samish Bay and the Skagit Valley, local food is the focus everywhere you look. Maybe that’s why Bow-Edison still seems like a Utopia to me.

Usually by the time we arrive, I’m almost giddy with hunger and anticipation. I rush into Breadfarm, look around, breathe in, and say a prayer of thanks for the gift of good bread. Local ingredients; the smell of fresh yeast; healthy young people at work, their chins dusted in flour; hand-kneading. But this peaceful state is quickly followed by indecision. There are always too many things I covet: the cherry lemon loaf, the olive baguette, the Skagit Valley potato bread. Plus there’s the pastry, especially the hazelnut cookies.

Aside from my husband reminding me to save room, the only thing that tears me away from Breadfarm is Slough Food, right next door, and their wonderful cured meats, wines, and local cheese, which no picnic here is complete without. Pick out a very local (as in, made literally five minutes away) Samish Bay Cheese or Gothburg Farms’ goat cheese. You’ll also want some Golden Glen Creamery’s freshly churned butter for all that bread you just bought. Next choose a chilled white to pair with your main course: the oysters. (Last time we were there we got a lovely $14 white Bordeaux.) Oh, and don’t forget dessert. Assuming you passed on the hazelnut cookies (more power to you), try the cannoli. They are seriously the best I’ve eaten in the state: bite-sized and decadent, fresh and crunchy, not-too-sweet and filled on the spot. Now run for the door! Slough Food has a great little patio, from which paella filled with fresh Samish Bay seafood often perfumes the air—but resist the urge and don’t settle in there. You already have an armful of supplies, and are headed for your designated picnic spot: Taylor Shellfish Farms.

On Chuckanut Drive, you’ll cruise past cars lined up in front of a series of oyster restaurants tucked into the woods. While it’ll be tempting to stop at one, save that for another time and continue, keeping your eyes open for the sharp left turn and the Taylor Shellfish sign. Cross the railroad tracks, park, and let the salt air fill your lungs. Its scent reminds you of the briny goodness to come. On a point three feet, if that, from the bay are picnic tables on which to unveil your collection of culinary treasures. Your view: Lummi Island, the wooded, rural beauty in the San Juan archipelago. Grills are available free of charge, and charcoal’s for sale, though we won’t be needing either. My husband sets up the picnic while I take care of the trip’s true raison d’être: selecting a feast of raw oysters from Taylor’s.

Taylor Shellfish’s oyster farm is a working spot—and as you debate between, say, Pacifics and Olympics, you quickly realize just how fresh your food really is. Back at your picnic table, Taylor men pull in the next harvest as you shuck your own beautiful bivalves.

This is where the afternoon and the sunshine and the food all sink in. Slurp down a dozen oysters, discuss which variety is best, fill up on more fresh bread and fruit than you imagined possible. If you want to stretch your legs, get back in the car and drive up to Larrabee State Park for a quick hike down to the water or a more ambitious four-mile climb to the top of Chuckanut Mountain. But personally I’d just take it easy, maybe even lean back for a nap.

Because you can always come back. Bow-Edison, and the whole Samish Bay area, is so close to Seattle that you don’t need to rush. Once you’re sufficiently sated, get back in the car and stop by Snow Goose Produce in Mount Vernon for Lummi Island strawberry ice cream before you hop on I-5 South and zip home. Even if, after the cannoli, you don’t have room for it right then, it’ll be there in your fridge, a testament to a delightful day—and a reminder of how a food road trip is essential to any proper Seattle summer.

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