SUNDAY DRIVE: Stop the Presses, We’re Closin’ Early Cuz It’s Apple-Pickin’ Time in Oak Glen

September 28, 2010
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When the leaves change, drop everything and head to Oak Glen.

When the leaves change, drop everything and head to Oak Glen.

If it’s true that one apple a day can keep the doctor away, gas up the car for the easy one-hour drive to Oak Glen, a mile-high community above Yucaipa that offers bushels of healthy heirloom pommes that you can’t find or taste anywhere else.

Forget about those supermarket apples that taste no better than wax or rubber, these gems are the real McCoys – Rome Beauties, Stayman Winesaps, Arkansas Blacks and about 100 other varieties produced by about a dozen Oak Glen ranches in this hearty hamlet.

Personally, I’ve been coming here for years. My annual visit here is more important to me than scheduling my yearly physical. The air, the apples, the slower pace of life rejuvenates me and makes me feel far more salubrious than my doctor telling me to shed five pounds and reduce my salt intake.

You know that saying that it takes just one bad apple to spoil the barrel. Well, there really isn’t bad apple up here in apple heaven.

My favorite stop, bar none — the core, if you will, of my apple samplings — always starts with Wood Acres on Potato Canyon Rd.(thank God, it wasn’t affected by the 2009 fires). Having owners Jim or Pat Wood hand you an apple slice just cut with their paring knife is better than if Johnny Appleseed had carved it himself. The Woods are as genuine and as gracious and as lovely a couple as you’ll ever meet. They only open for weekends now; they’re paring back their operations after decades of harvests and pouring all their labor and love into growing the crispest, juiciest apples on the planet. Many times, after having visiting their little nook on the mountain and buying a bushel or two, I simply turn around and drive back down the hill. After all, how do you top perfection? (909) 797-8300. 38003 Potato Canyon Rd., Oak Glen, CA (909) 797-8300. Weekends only.

Jim and Pat Woods make this place magical.

Jim and Pat Woods make this place magical.

But don’t turn around. There’s so much more to see. The owners here are a creative bunch who have been picking, pressing, mashing, mulching, dipping, slicing and baking apples and converting them every conceivable food and beverage for you to sample and buy, of course.

Parrish Ranch has been growing apples in their Oak Glen orchards since the late 1860s. The ranch includes a gift shop, antiques store, snack bar, picnic area, farm animal park and a large red apple shed outside of which are stacked lots of bright orange pumpkins. Apple Dumplin’s Restaurant offers good food and friendly service inside a charming 1880s cottage. Inside the restaurant, there’s a bakery should you decide to grab a pie or apple turnover and keep heading up the road. 38651 Oak Glen Road, (909) 797-1753.

The Law Ranch, under ownership of the Law family since 1931, has a cider mill, Apple Tree gift shop and the area’s oldest restaurant (opened in 1953), along with the retail apple shed. Their apple pies, which you can watch being made, fly off the shelves, but owners Kent and Karen Colby dish up enormous breakfasts and other coffee shop fare as well, including Sweep Up omelettes, piles of pancakes and luscious French toast lathered in butter and dusted with powdered sugar. 38392 Oak Glen Road, (909) 797-1642.

oakglen3Continuing on the loop, Mom’s Country Orchard offers a nice selection of fresh-picked pesticide-free apples, fresh pressed cider, fresh baked breads, jams and fruit butters. 38695 Oak Glen Road, (909) 797-4249.

Back on the loop, check out Oak Tree Village, which started as a humble little apple stand more than a half century ago before growing into a bustling 14-acre hub, featuring boutiques, a petting zoo, museum, restaurant and bakery. Apple Annie’s serves breakfast all day, and the bakery next door is home to the five-pound Mile-High Apple Pie. Enough said! 38550 Oak Glen Rd., Oak Glen, CA (909) 797-4020.

You should probably make Snow-Line Orchard your next stop, if for no other reason than sampling the shade of the largest chestnut tree west of the Mississippi River. Besides its spreading chestnut tree, Snow-Line is well known for its 1898 Apple Shed, different Flavors of Cider, U-pick raspberries, and hot mini apple-cider doughnuts. 39400 Oak Glen Rd., Oak Glen, CA (909)797-3415.

No visit to apple country is complete without a stop at Riley’s Apple Farm. Part of the old Wilshire homestead established in 1877, Riley’s Apple Farm is a working historical farm where you can experience the joy of picking fruit, pressing cider, making a rope, and many other activities that bring-to-life the farm ways and customs of long ago. Riley’s currently cultivates 14 varieties of apples – both new varieties such as Fuji, and some heirloom varieties such as Winesaps, Northern Spy, Jonathans, Starkey Reds, McIntosh and so on. Most of the apple trees are the “seedling” type: trees grown from an apple seed rather than a piece of root stock. These are the fabled large spreading trees that have largely disappeared and have been replaced by modern “dwarf” trees. So if you want to sit “in the shade of the old apple tree,” you can do it here.oakglen6

Weekdays are largely reserved for school and private tours, but if you call ahead, Riley’s can usually accommodate small numbers of apple-picking guests. Weekends in the fall are open to the public for apple and raspberry picking, cider pressing, archery, knife and tomahawk-throwing, as well as classes in corn husk doll making. From hayrides to hoedowns, Riley’s is a true joy. 12253 So Oak Glen Rd., Oak Glen, CA 92399 (909) 790-2364.

You can find many more gems along apple road in Oak Glen, including a one-room school for children of the area’s apple growers. It’s now a wonderful museum and community meeting place. At Peddler’s Pack, near Oak Tree Village, you can also visit an adorable herd of fawn, brown, and black huacaya alpacas that have made Jim and Carol Oedekerk’s five hilltop acres their home. Naturally, the Oedkerks offer scarves, sweaters and hats and a variety of other alpaca fiber products in their unique gift shop.

oakglen8So make the drive to Oak Glen because nobody said you had to eat just one apple a day!

Directions: Take Interstate 10 east and exit at Yucaipa Boulevard in Yucaipa. Follow the loop and the signs for Oak Glen, which is about 10 miles from the freeway.

Hours: Most orchards and businesses are open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. during the season; weekend hours may extend longer at some places.

For more information: The Oak Glen Applegrowers Association, (909) 790-0307.

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