I’m really excited to kick off a new series here on Lulu the Baker…The Harvest. One of my favorite things about the part of the world my family has chosen to call home is the enormous bounty all around us. Our city is surrounded by farms and vineyards, orchards and ranches, and I love that so many members of my generation are rediscovering the land, and learning to take great pride in the arts of tending and tilling. I want to celebrate them as they cultivate, gather, and create. I want to celebrate The Harvest.
It’s harvest time. The leaves are changing from green to gold to bronze, and gathering on the ground in softly rustling waves. The morning air is frosty, and smells deliciously of wood smoke and spice. It is time to visit the pumpkin patch. Of course, you can get your pumpkins anywhere these days: the grocery store, a folding card table set up by the roadside, even the elementary school. But those places are for people who clearly have no romance in their soul when it comes to autumn and pumpkin picking. The best place of all to get pumpkins in our neck of the woods is Thistledown Farm.
Thistledown Farm is as delightful as it’s sweetly lilting name. Set against the Willamette River, it produces strawberries in the early summer, hazelnuts in the late fall, and peaches, peppers, and nearly 6 dozen other wonderful crops in between. And oh, the pumpkins! According to farmer Jared Henderson, Thistledown Farm sells over 100,000 pounds of pumpkins every October, and hosts hundreds of excited school children on pumpkin patch field trips each year. I’ve been lucky enough to tag along on several field trips to the Thistledown pumpkin patch with my kids, and each visit is a charming experience.
It begins with the hayride. We climb aboard the wagon fitted with rows of hay bales for seats, and feel the crisp October breeze on our faces as we drive through the changing countryside, pulled by the enormous, green tractor, to the orange-dotted pumpkin fields. Kids run everywhere in search of The Best pumpkin. Some years, if we’ve had a wet October, everyone is outfitted in rain boots and waterproof jackets, and everyone ends up delightfully muddy. And some years are the opposite: dry and sunny and warm. Whatever the weather, when everyone has had a chance to find their pumpkin and talk about pumpkin life cycles and marvel over a rotten squash here or a decaying gourd there, it’s time to hoist yourself and your bounty back into the hay wagon, and time to ride back toward the civilization of the farm stand.
When you’re finished with the hayride, after you’ve carefully selected the very best, most perfect pumpkin, Thistledown has yet more harvest delights to offer: hay mazes, corn mazes, cider and pie, and the sweetest, most darling collection of farm animals. I have to admit that my very favorite thing at Thistledown Farm, even better than the fields of pumpkins as far as the eye can see, is Gizmo, the miniature donkey. He has stolen my heart, as surely as a preschooler loves a pumpkin patch.