Tamarack Time!

By Beacon Staff

BI love Tamarack Time! No, I’m not talking about that magnificent annual color change that spreads across the Montana hills and mountains, lighting the forest plumage like flames of a torch. I’m talking about the fall festival that celebrates its 25th anniversary this year in Bigfork. For that event, I’m literally salivating.

I was new to Montana when I discovered Tamarack Time. “Want to be a judge?” someone asked me. Huh? What’s that? “You can do pies. How about the cream ones? You know, banana cream, chocolate cream, key lime, peach cream cheese.” So what do I have to do, I asked, playing it cool.

“You have to taste a piece of each pie and identify the three you like best. Shouldn’t be more than a dozen or two.” I’m known to have something of a sweet tooth, but the prospect of tasting two dozen pies made by some of Bigfork’s best home bakers left me speechless. The expression on my face, though, was a clear yes.

Tamarack Time is the creation of Elna and George Darrow. Elna, by all accounts, had a passionate sense of community and was widely known as a major force in shaping the Bigfork we see today. Tamarack Time, an event she spearheaded to foster a sense of community among the local residents, is one of her lasting legacies.

I recently had coffee with Gretchen Gates, who in collaboration with Donna Lawson, took over Tamarack Time after Elna died in 2009. “We didn’t so much take it over,” she clarified. “George Darrow drafted us.” Gretchen and Donna now collectively do much of the community-building work Elna used to do. Gretchen lists the events they co-chair. “There’s Taste of Bigfork, Festival of the Arts, Tamarack Time, the CFBB auction, the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. Oh, and don’t forget, we’re the Beverage Babes when the Elves decorate Bigfork.” Everyone who’s hung lights and garland during that yearly event knows the Beverage Babes. High-octane coffee and hot chocolate served from the back of a golf cart, a kind of antifreeze for the chilly morning.

So what is Tamarack Time? “It’s like the food competition at a county fair, but without the fair,” says Gretchen. “We’ll have about 200 different dishes in 14 categories, each category with judges who taste every entry and award medals for first, second, and third places. After judging, we open the tasting to members of the festival.” Members? “It’s easy to become a member. Show up, pay four dollars, and you’re entitled to sample everything.” Lunch for four dollars? “Oh yes, the food goes pretty fast, but generally everyone gets enough.”

Has the festival changed much in 25 years? “Some. Elna’s idea was for an event for local residents. We’re trying to make it bigger, a reason to spend the whole day in Bigfork. A family-friendly event, we’re making it more kid friendly. We have a category for food made by kids. And we’re having a pumpkin carving contest right after the food tasting. There are also new things for adults, including a fashion show at The Mountaineer, Oktoberfest at the Garden Bar, and a Putt-putt golf contest and music at Brookies Cookies.”

Does Tamarack Time raise any money. “A little bit,” Gretchen says. “It was never intended to be a fundraiser, but we make about $1,000 each year, and that goes into the CFBB fund that may someday buy the land that the Swan River Trail is on.”

“Chili and desserts are usually the most popular categories,” Gretchen notes. Usually? “Well, it depends on who is in charge of the category. The category chairperson recruits the entries in that category. If he or she has lots of friends who are good cooks, then the category will have many tasty entries.” And how do you find people with lots of friends who are good cooks? Gretchen smiles, “That’s what Donna and I are here for.”

Tamarack Time will be Saturday, Oct. 12, rain or shine. Food entries should arrive between 11 a.m. and noon. Judging begins at 12:30 p.m. and member indulgence will begin promptly at 1 p.m. It all happens on Electric Avenue in downtown Bigfork. For more information, call Toot Sward (837-7283) or Heather Burnham (314-3142).

And say “Hi” if you see me there. I’ll be the guy with pie on his face.

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