Sunday, October 25, 2009

Riley's Farms and Pumpkin Carving

For a couple of weeks in October, Mahina had been doing research on those farms that allow you to pick directly from the vine yourself. With Halloween right on the horizon, this weekend seemed like the perfect opportunity to head out and pick some pumpkins and whatever else grows on farms...

The farm Mahina found online was a great family-run operation that reminded us both a lot of Roloff Farms from the TLC show "Little People, Big World." To set the scene, imagine driving 80-90 miles due east from Santa Monica...where are you? The middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains and truckers. Now, this farm had a pretty sizable chunk of land buried back in the depths of this valley they call the city of Yuchaipa. As soon as you pull up you're greeted by staffers in true western wardrobe guiding us to the parking lot. There are all kinds of stations set up all over the property -- we would stumble onto a few fun ones during our time at the farm.

But first things first, let's get us some pumpkins. The entire hillside was filled with rows of pumpkins that hadn't been picked from the ground yet. The hillside had a pretty generous slope to it so it was no walk in the park...must add to the allure of picking your own pumpkin and dissuade people from trying to steal their business idea. Oh well, after a short trek up the hillside to where there were less people and of course better pumpkins we began to make our way through the rows. We were of course looking for a pumpkin that met a very particular set of guidelines: it had to be a tall and well rounded pumpkin with no blemishes or unsightly areas; it had to have a nice "vine top" that hadn't been sawed off into a nub; and finally, it had to have smooth ridges for easy carving. A couple of dozen pumpkins later we had managed to narrow it down to 3 pumpkins that fit the part. Once we had finally chosen, our conscience kicked into high gear screaming at us for not getting this pumpkin any company. Apparently Riley's Farms was way ahead of us as they not only grew your traditional pumpkins but also a variety of exotic pumpkins of all kinds of shapes and sizes. Of course, this meant that we had to get an exotic pumpkin too (did we just get hustled?).

The key difference, and let this serve as a lesson to all you exotic pumpkin shoppers out there, is that the vines on these pumpkins have thorns. Mahina found out the hard way when a bunch of them plunged their way into her hand as she grabbed a neat looking pumpkin...we retaliated by refusing to by it. A couple of exotic pumpkins later we had it! With a pumpkin under each arm we were headed down the mountain...err grade.

After dropping those off at the car we did some more exploring around the farm. Along the way we found a station where you could make a gallon of your own apple cider. Intrigued, we headed over, paid the requisite fee and started picking apples to crush. The genius behind this station was that the apples they were having us pick from to make our cider were the discards from the orchards - the apples with holes, bruises, discolored or that were too small to be sold. After collecting a box full of these runt apples we headed over to make our cider. Of course, Riley's Farms were going old school and had the old machines setup to crush apples that required one person to spin the grinder while the other sent the apples down the chute to be crushed. Fifteen minutes later we had both taken turns spinning the wheel and keeping a steady flow of apples coming to be crushed we had managed to fill a bucket with crushed apples. This is where the real fun began. The only way to turn crushed apples into apple cider is to crush them again. As we turned the press down on the crushed apples the bottom of the bucket began to spew out apple cider. We had clearly made way more than a gallon, but that was fine by us. Now, some of you may be wondering, as we were, what the difference between apple cider and apple juice is. Well, as the helpful Riley's Farms employee explained apple juice is lacking one things...apples, it's all chemicals. So you learn something new everyday.

After walking around the gift shop for a few minutes we decided to head back home and get ready to carve the pumpkins. All in all Riley's Farms was a lot of fun and a great place to check out if you ever feel the urge to pick your own fruit