Friday, October 11, 2013

Fall Festival Fenomenon

In the last couple of decades a new festival phenomenon has evolved during the Autumn of the year. I don't recall this happening during my childhood nor during my children's childhood, but each year bigger and more extravagant Fall festivals, pumpkin patches and corn mazes spring up - some free and some for a fee.  It has become part of our culture, sort of like the 4th of July.

These days what child doesn't make a trip to the pumpkin patch to select their favorite pumpkin, visit the petting zoo, go on a hayride or a train ride, or get lost in a corn maze?  And speaking of pumpkins - we're not talking about your regular, garden variety pumpkins anymore - no - most patches offer unbelievable variety in shape, color, and texture.

Last year I wrote a post called "Autumn, the Changing of the Guard" and I told you about a harvest festival which took place at Heiser Farms on Grand Island north of Salem, Oregon.  I was particularly fascinated by this fall celebration because of their pumpkin cannons.  These are huge cannons which shoot out pumpkins  propelling them in the air maybe 100 yards and then the pumpkins hit either a barricade (maybe an old car) or the ground and then just go splat.  It's surprisingly exhilarating to watch.  And I'm not the only one who finds this entertaining.  The place is packed. Wonder if this says much about the state of the American mind.....

Nevertheless I thought I'd attach a little video just to show you how absurd it is.
So here goes.........

Aside from pumpkin cannons (and there are many such machines working overtime in October) there is also the corn maze.  Now the corn maze has become a really big deal all over the country.

Located in Spring Grove, Illinois, the Richardson Farm boasts the world's largest corn maze and an experience your family won't find anywhere else.  This experience has something for everyone with slides, a corn bin cabin, pedal trikes and a goat walk for the little kids, and 4 separate corn mazes winding through 33 acres of living corn, a 700' sip line, ORBting (rolling around inside an huge 11foot ball), for everyone else.

East year  the Richardson family designs their ginormous corn maze in intricate detail recognizing a special or significant event. This year the design is a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Beatle's first album.

Although the Richardson Farm claims to have the world's largest corn maze, sadly they have been trumped by a West Coast maze at the Cool Pumpkin Patch in Dixon, California.  Coming in at 53 acres (13 acres larger than 2007's Guinness Book of World Records layout) this year's design is bigger and more challenging than ever before.

Now the Cool Pumpkins Patch promises that this year's maze will have new twists and turns to confuse, confound and delight.  There is even a Starbucks station in the middle of the maze. Wow!  Along with the World's largest corn maze, they also have endless varieties of pumpkins, a scarecrow exhibit and last year's pumpkin-pulverized VW bug.  That's really cool!

As you can see the corn maze craze is becoming an integral part of the fall festival phenomenon. So much so that there is a corn maze website called Corn Mazes America. This site includes a directory and a Google Earth app for checking out all the corn mazes in America on GE.  They also provide services to corn maze owners such as corn maze smartphone GPS app, smartphone games for the customers, design services and, of course, the how-to book - Corn Mazes: Is there a Pot of Gold in Your Cornfield?  Phenomenal!

If you happen to live in the upper Willamette Valley there are many places to visit.  I'm just listing a few locations, so if you live in another part of Oregon go to the link listed at the bottom of the page for many more listings. And if you live in another part of the country, check out Corn Mazes America or use your browser to find a local event.

Willamette Valley Pie Company Harvest Festival open from 10/3 to 10/31 includes Pumpkin Patch, Corn Maze (some wind damage), Hayrides, Hay Mountain (with hay tube and slide) and much more.  Salem area, admission fee.

Heiser Farms open the month of October with pumpkin patch, hayrides, petting zoo, hay pyramid and slide, pumpkin cannon viewing, etc. Grand Island near Dayton, no admission fee

The Pumpkin Patch on Sauvie Island open form Labor Day to the end of October.  Corn maze, pumpkin patch, haunted corn maze, hayrides and more. Admission fee.

Fazio Farms open all of October for their Halloween Festival.  Corn maze, tractor hayrides, monster school bus, pumpkin patch, and much more.  Portland area, admission fee

Go to  Oregon Harvest and Halloween Festivals and Events to see many more Oregon listings. There are dozens of harvest festivals going on from the Oregon coast on over to Central Oregon, and from Portland on down to Southern Oregon.  Check out what's happening in your neighborhood.

Ok Jimmy, where'd you put those croissants!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Apple Cider - Happy Juice

The other day I ran into some old friends that I hadn't seen in quite a while. Once co-workers from a past life, I know how busy they are with demanding full-time careers, plus running a small farmstead outside of Corvallis, Oregon.  They've chosen this lifestyle because not only do they enjoy their work, but they also have a passion and joy for the science of turning raw food into preserved delicacies through experimentation and discovery.

All year long they're trying their hand at some new version of a vegetable pate, fruit preserve, or spicy chutney - everything from soft-fruit jams and jellies in the early summer to quince and pear pastes or butters in autumn.
I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't have lovely plum wine bubbling away in the cellar right now, clarifying to a rich beautiful rosé.

Knowing this about my friends, I was intrigued and surprised when I heard that they had gone and planted a small orchard full of apple trees for the soul purpose of making apple cider (in it's various forms).

And these apples are not your run-of-the-mill commercial varieties, but true heirlooms with wonderful old world names like Liberty, Enterprise, Ashmeads Kernel, Golden Russet, Hewe's crab apple, Wickson's crab apple, Florina, Dabbinet, and Porter's Perfection.
This diversity is important, because the best ciders are blended using juice from several apple cultivars - apples not grown for eating, but for cider making. A truly complex and well balanced cider is a blending of four main types of heirloom apples which include sweets (high sugar), sharps (high acid), biittersweets (high sugar and tannin), and bittersharps (high tannins and acids).
So I think they have this covered pretty well with their initial planting and their plans to expand even further into the future by using these trees for grafting on to new rootstock and expanding the orchard into a high density trellis system.
Their orchard management is well thought out and the first vintage of cider (Autumn 2013) is underway with enough apples to be pressed yielding close to 50 gallons of cider (mostly the hard stuff with a little fresh juice to enjoy right now).

Now hard cider is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in the world today, and was one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in the  USA from Colonial times until the start of Prohibition.  

For some unknown reason hard cider didn’t make the same come back that beer, wine and distilled beverages did after the repeal of Prohibition, until this last decade where it apparently is getting some attention.  One reason could be that unlike beer and grain- based alcohol, apple cider is just that, fermented juice pressed from apples and gluten free.

So, realizing that cider's time has finally come, a lot of experimentation is taking place among cider makers who are integrating hops (hoppy cider), barrel-aging (whiskey and gin), and producing dessert ciders akin to ice wines.

In the last decade several ciderworks have popped up around the Willamette Valley, as well as throughout the Pacific Northwest, and there are some long established cider houses along the East Coast and in the Heartland of the US.

But if your in the Valley this weekend be sure to stop by Two Town's Ciderworks in Corvallis.  They'll be celebrating their 3 year anniversary this Saturday, October 4, serving their flagship, seasonal and limited release ciders, along with live music and local food. It'd be a great way to introduce yourself into the cider world, if you haven't already, and have a little fun too.

Also, the city of Portland boasts it’s own Bushwacker Cider Bar, with 7 varieties of cider on tab and a 100+ available in the bottle.  They have everything from run-of-the-mill cider for $2 a bottle to house made cider, artisan cider made with ginger, and ciders from England and beyond at $4-15 a bottle.  Best to try the sampler to find the one you really like first.

Given what's going on in the cider world today, I think my friends are really on to something with this artisanal craft cider making endeavor.  And I'm looking forward to them going prime time!

Lastly, for those really interest in the history of cider, check out The American Cider Book by Vrest Orton and Cider: Hard and Sweet by Ben Watson.

Stay thirsty my friends!  Evelyn

OK Jimmy, where'd you put those croissants............