Debbie Croft: Valley perfect for making harvest-time memories

’Tis the season for coming home to a pot of savory stew simmering in the slow cooker. Of course, apple and pumpkin recipes abound for everything from pies, muffins and cheesecake to soups and spreads.

There’s nothing like visiting a rural farm to choose your produce this time of year.

The following list highlights some of the best places near Merced to visit, for making harvest-time memories and bringing home locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Covers Apple Ranch

Covers Apple Ranch sits in Tuolumne a few miles outside Sonora. Fresh apples and pears are currently available for purchase.

“We have everything – red and golden delicious, crimson winesap and paragon winesap, Arkansas black and King David apples, a very exotic variety. We also have Bartlett and Bosc pears,” said Aaron Bowman, produce manager at Covers.

In the deli and bakery, homemade baked goods, sandwiches, soups and salads are on the menu. Or visitors can bring their lunch to enjoy at tables on the grassy lawn.

Tasting fresh apple cider is usually at the top of my list whenever I visit. When my kids were younger they rode the train, climbed in tree houses and fed the animals in the barnyard. School field trips allow students inside the kitchen to watch dozens of pies being made, from start to finish.

Covers makes its own apple butter, applesauce and cider, which are available in the gift shop, along with other locally grown produce. The ranch is located at 19211 Cherokee Road. Call (209) 928-4689 for more information or go to

Fall Festival in Oakhurst

Oakhurst’s Community Park will be the location of the annual Fall Festival. Visit artisans and crafters, and enjoy sampling a wide variety of foods and beverages. This popular event originally began as the Chocolate and Wine Festival. Local vintners and brewers will be there, as well as cheese and nut vendors and chocolatiers.

Special activities and attractions are planned.

The festival is scheduled for Saturday and Sundayfrom 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The park is located on Civic Circle off Highway 41 in the center of town. Go to or call (559) 683-7766 to find out more.

Harvest FestiFall and Craft Fair

A pumpkin drop kicks off Columbia’s Harvest FestiFall and Craft Fair this weekend. Close to 50 vendor booths will feature unique or handcrafted items in this historic Gold Rush town and state park. Main Street will be decorated in full autumn splendor, with docents dressed in period style.

Many family activities are planned, including live entertainment by local musicians. The Mother Lode Weavers and Spinners Guild and others will give demonstrations of their skills.

Entrance to the park and the fair are free. Go to or call (209) 536-1672 for details.

Pumpkin Patch at Vista Ranch & Cellars

The Pumpkin Patch at Vista Ranch and Cellars outside Merced offers hay rides, pumpkin bowling, a three-acre corn maze and a straw-bale maze.

At the farm market you’ll see 40 varieties of pumpkins, squash and gourds.

Thursday is the date of the summer finale, including a car show. The free event takes place from 5 to 9 p.m. Woodfire pizza and sandwiches made in the ranch’s kitchen will be available for purchase. A new bluegrass band, the Ginseng Hollow Boys, will perform.

The patch is open from noon to 6 p.m. daily through Nov. 3. The farm market’s hours are from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily most of the year. Stop by at 7326 Highway 140, call (209) 722-8200 or go to for more information.

Jerserydale Ranch Pumpkin Patch

The Jerserydale Ranch Pumpkin Patch not only offers pumpkins, but also other wonderful harvest-time produce as well.

Did you know Indian corn is not just good for decoration? It can be ground into meal or popped.

A few outdoor activities are provided, and the baby goats are fun to watch. But mostly it’s a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch by the pond. The property has been in the Kahl family since 1919.

The ranch is open in October from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and located at 6584 Jerseydale Road, southeast of Mariposa. Call (209) 966-7490 or go to the ranch page on Facebook to see photos or find directions.

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at