Few people take their pumpkin picking as seriously as I do. My husband says I have the most pumpkin picking spirit of anyone he knows, possibly anyone in the world. It used to be a point of contention between us because he did not have much pumpkin spirit, and that can become a issue when you’re married to someone like me. But with time and children he found his pumpkin passion and has become a true partner on the quest for the perfect pumpkin picking patch.
I have to say, I’ve become something of an authority on the matter, and I’m here to share with you my bountiful pumpkin and apple picking knowledge. I understand with great pumpkin spirit comes great responsibility so I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. But let’s keep it between me and you, O.K.? If you want the best, most authentic fall fruit and gourd picking experience in Northern Jersey, I’ve got the place. If you’re not a pumpkin purist, however, turn away now. This is not your post. I will have upcoming posts for you on the best fall farm festivities including the best corn maze, rides, and bouncy houses to add to your apple and pumpkin picking pleasure, but right now it’s time to talk pumpkin.
Several years ago when I just moved to Northern New Jersey, I was on a quest to find a serene, picturesque place out in the countryside where my family and I could amble along the fields and orchards under a canopy of sunshine taking in the turning foliage spreading out over rambling hills while picking fresh apples and perfect pumpkins. Basically, what I was looking for was the idyllic fall scene portrayed in movies. And I found it.
Melick’s Town Farm, family-owned and operated for nearly 300 years by 10 generations of the Melick family, is a simple farm stand and orchard in Hunterdon County offering fresh produce, baked goods, apple cider, which they make just down the road at their Cider Mill in Oldwick, and of course apple and pumpkin picking. There’s no overwhelming crowds or traffic jams in the parking lot or encamped carnival attractions in the fields of their Califon location. Just crisp, fresh air, pastoral views and the simple pleasure of running through the fields gathering as many oversized, ripe apples as one’s arms or bushel basket can hold.
Start off by taking a short horse-drawn wagon ride ($4 for adults and $2 for kids over 7) to the apple orchard where you’ll find Jonagold, Mutsu, Fuji, Red and Golden Delicious and several other apple varieties available for picking. A list of the year’s harvest is posted near the line for the wagon rides. Once you arrive at the orchard the trees are unlabeled, but Terry who drives the horses is happy to direct day-trippers to the right location. Filled with trees from a dwarf variety, the orchard puts plenty of fruit within easy reach of even the littlest hands. Get there early to catch a wagon ride. The last one is at 3:00 P.M.
Once you’ve loaded down your vehicle with 800 pounds of apples, it’s time to get your pumpkin on. Word to the wise: Get a wagon. You’re going to need it. The farm stand offers the use of their wagons with a $5 deposit. Or bring your own because as wise agricultural practices dictate, crops are rotated annually. This means the pumpkin patch this year was located far from all civilization. You might make it there fine, but once you’re laden with every size and shape of pumpkin you’ll never make it back without the aid of a wagon.
Awaiting you at the end of the trek to the far-flung patch is a seemingly endless, verdant field with bright dots of orange poking out from under broad, floppy leaves and sinuous vines. It is your reward.
See? This, right here, is what I’m talking about. A real, live pumpkin patch with pumpkins still growing on the vine laying right where they were planted. Not a parched dirt lot with pumpkins trucked in and strewn about. But be prepared. The first year we went, we weren’t because I’d never been to a place where the pumpkins weren’t all precut and arranged about the field like a bunch of Easter eggs. We weren’t expecting to have to trample over prickly vegetation or rip pumpkins off their vines with our bare hands because pumpkins have been known to fight back. But we were valiant, and did not turn away from the challenge. It just added to the adventure.
After you’ve scouted your perfect pumpkin and carted it back to civilization, reward yourself with a gallon of the farm’s ice-cold apple cider and cinnamon or powdered sugar donuts. That’s our tradition anyway. Bring your own plastic cups for immediate refreshment after a hard day in the fields and take a seat at one of the handful of picnic tables on the grass.
Although Melick’s has three locations, the site I visited and wrote about is in Califon. The Oldwick site also offers apple picking and free hay wagon rides. The Bridgewater site is solely a market.