Last weekend, I was blessed to go with a small group of bloggers to Oak Glen, California, famous for its apple orchards, to visit Willowbrook Farm.
We were met by the farm owner, Cheryl Swanson. She was kind enough to give us a tour and share her passion for the farm and its many apple trees! Cheryl and her family moved to this 1910 farmstead 12 years ago and have been maintaining it ever since.
Imagine walking through a grove of apple trees that is over a hundred years old! Most apple trees produce for only 30-40 years, but these trees have been in production for 104 years! Many of the apple trees at Willowbrook are standard size trees. This is unusual because many apple groves now consist of smaller, “high density” trees. They take less space, produce fruit in a shorter amount of time and are easier to harvest. Cheryl and her family harvest the big trees themselves. It’s not easy! Cheryl is so passionate about the care of her trees, she prunes them herself, by hand. Each tree takes three hours to prune. That is a real labor of love!
The variety of apples that fill Cheryl’s main orchard are called Stayman Winesaps. These apples are common on the East Coast. They’re a “high chill” apple which means they like cooler weather. The trees need at least 700 hours of cool weather to produce crisp apples. They bloom early and are picked later (usually in October). They are great storage apples, due to their thicker peel, stored in a cool place, the apples will keep for months! Cheryl told us they make superb pies because they hold their shape well when cooked. They are good cider apples too!
You can find some heirloom varieties on the farm including Liberty Apples, Sweet Sixteen Apples, Seek No Further Apples. There are also a few Jonagold, Double Delicious and HoneyCrisp trees.
Not only does Willowbrook have apple trees, they have huge blackberry bushes that grow wild around the perimeter of the farm and a large raspberry patch in the midst of the apple trees. We were a little late in the season for picking berries, but they were beautiful to see growing.
Willowbrook is far less commercial than the surrounding orchards. Cheryl strives to create real relationships with her visitors and provide them with a full farm experience! Many become regular customers who come back year after year.
In addition to caring for the farm during the week, Willowbrook has a pre-school program that includes a tour and a hay ride pulled by a 1957 vintage Ford tractor!
You’ll find a few other things growing on the farm! All the crops at Willowbrook are non-GMO. Cheryl only uses heirloom seeds for her corn, pumpkins and everything else they grow.
Cheryl has some adorable animals who live on the farm too! This is Clover and Comet! Clover is a miniature horse and Comet is a miniature donkey. They are best friends! Can you tell?
Blossom is the farms pot-bellied pig…
and there are three chickens, along with Flopsy, a 20 pound Flemish Giant rabbit.
When we were finished with our tour, Cheryl let us pick apples and press our own cider! The cider press they use is based on a model originally designed in the mid-1800’s. It’s very cool!! You can press either a half-gallon or a full gallon of cider. Be prepared for a good arm workout! It takes a lot to press your own cider. This bucket is full of the apples I used for my cider. That’s a lot of apples!!
We had such a great day at the farm! I will be going back to press more Cider and pick some of Cheryls famous Stayman Winesap Apples! I think I’ll bring my husband to help with the pressing though! Heehee!
Not only can you get apples and cider at Willowbrook, Cheryl has other delicious farm-made goodies, including Pumpkin Syrup, Apple Butter, Blackberry Jam and their famous Willowbrook Dipping Caramel! Yes, I bought some and yes, I will share with you! (Maybe… this is caramel we’re talking about!) The farm also does weddings and hosts “Teas under the Trees.”
You’ll be seeing apple recipes coming from me soon too. After all, I have five pounds of organic apples and half a gallon of fresh cider to play with!
Many thanks to Cheryl and the staff at Willowbrook for their enthusiasm and generosity in giving us this tour and sharing their apple love! I’m looking forward to seeing you all again very soon!!
So, if you’re ever near Oak Glen, California, consider stopping in at this quaint little farm! Say hello to Cheryl and the animals and get yourself some fresh-pressed Cider. You won’t regret it!