Yesterday (Sunday)I went to the Portland Nursery's Apple Tasting Festival. I had no idea it was such a big deal, there were lots of folks there. It also runs next weekend. The Nursery is located on SE Stark at SE 50th.
The big feature was a table, with a very long line leading to it, of over 40 varieties of apples and pears (incl. asian pear varieties!). WOW. It was great! They had sheets with descriptions of all of the varieties (including the types that were crossed in order to get them) on it and pencils so that you could make tasting notes next to each description as you went along. It was about a 20-30 minute wait to go through the line, but it was free, and well worth the wait. (I suggest you go off hours to skip the long wait!) There was free popcorn there too, so at least you could munch as you waited to get to the table of apple samples. They have most of the varieties for purchase there as well - very reasonable - 59 cents/lb for apples, 79 cents/lb for the pears, I think.
It was nice because I am from NY and I was able to find some of the varieties I like from there that I miss here...mostly because they aren't available in stores and even the farmers markets don't usually specialize in them. Like - Empires, Winesaps (although the best winesaps I ever had were in Michigan), Cortlands (nice for baking). Also, I found a new variety (for me) - the Winter Banana Apple, with a subtle banana flavor...very nice. Also I am developing a deep feeling for Cascade pears, a red local variety which is very soft and doesn't ship well and so, you usually only get them around the Hood River/Willamette Valley area...very tasty!!
There was also a guy pressing apples into cider on an old press as you watched, and then you got to sample it..also for free. Folks selling (with free tastes) sweet apple mustard (very good, but so is anything when you add enough sugar to it, you know?), mulling spice concentrate, and local honey were also there.
One of the OSU outreach agri-groups was doing a pear tasting. Yummy stuff those pears, and you got a $5 gift certificate to use at the nursery after tasting. That means that you can go and spend nothing and come away with $5 worth of apples and pears (or plants, or gardening supplies, or anything else they sell there $5 off)...for free! How can you lose??
For kids they had a play area with games, face painting and they had little mini pumpkins for the kids to paint faces on - also for free.
There is also free live music pretty much all day. There was shaded seating around the performance space and lots of hay bales all over the nursery to sit on.
In addition to the booths with items for purchase and all of the apple and pear varieties for sale there, there was also for sale: gallons of apple cider, apple strudel with or without soft ice cream (I enjoyed it, but it wasn't stellar), coffee, and everything they usually sell at the Nursery (which is a damn nice nursery with huge amounts of plants, trees, etc. for sale).
Should be another nice weekend coming up. If you have no other plans, it sure is a nice way to spend a couple of hours!