Samhain!

20131030-233033.jpg Every October as a kid, some time about midway through the month, on a Saturday, my parents would announce it was time to go to Tice’s Farms and pick a pumpkin. Our mouths would water and our eyes would form wide euphoric circles. Forget Halloween. For my brother Paul and I, Tice’s Farms was the event of the season. Vast patches of pumpkins great and small just off the main road in Woodcliff, New Jersey, guarded by sentries of scarecrows with painted face pumpkin heads, gilded with American country charm (which is extra challenging in New Jersey), exuding the olfactory sensations of fermented apple, warm dough, cinnamon and sugar, and rivalled only by the almost-as-good Van Riper’s Farm across the way, Tice’s Farms, or Tice Farms to give it it’s proper name, still embodies the beauty of the fall in America for me. 20131030-234550.jpg For at Tice Farms we glutted ourselves on Autumn itself. We began the day paying 25 cents for a small refillable paper cup which we would fill from the spigot of one of several large aged wooden barrels full of cider (non-alcoholic of course). We would then use the same cups to return to the same barrels to water ourselves throughout the day until our young mouths were glazed and sticky with the sour/sweet taste of Red Delicious. We paid another quarter to fill our bellies with warm donuts hung from metal hooks behind glass displays and coated simply in cinnamon or sugar, having watched, like Pavlov’s dogs, the ring shaped pieces of dough dipped in the fryer to be transferred to aforesaid hooks for the few seconds before purchase and consumption. This process of eating and drink would repeat itself with a hayride and a haunted house thrown in at random intervals for good measure until we returned home, splayed out in the back of our parents’ sedan, a great globe of orange carefully selected and waiting in the trunk to be carved and personified, signifying to all our willingness to participate in the rituals of the season. 20131031-001947.jpg Now, with a son of my own, and wishing, albeit a little late, to recreate some Halloween magic for him, I cast around for places further afield from our urban environment to pick our own pumpkin and rosy our cheeks in the winds of autumn. After asking Twitter and googling, I have to admit, it was tough finding much, but Crockford Bridge Farm in Surrey did come up. With a web flyer that promised “spooky fun,” “apple bobbing,” “and more…,” we dutifully headed out to Surrey and were pleasantly elated by what we found there. 20131031-002759.jpg Not only was there a vast and plentiful pumpkin patch, Grimm’s Scary Storytelling in the Woods, and surprisingly tasty hot chocolate (you leave London, you’re never sure what you’ll get, ya know?), but there was also a full stand set up for Bird and Animal Rescue with owls. Owls I tell you. And zipwire. Zipwire!

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Gourd-geous. Get it? Gourd-geous? Oh. Nevermind.

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The “Creepy Teepee”

20131031-004054.jpg Alright. It didn’t have endless cups of cloudy apple juice. Economics have changed since I was a kid and even the hot chocolate was on the pricey side. The scary walk in the woods was entertaining but a bit hammy. The drive via the North Circular, as anyone who lives in London and drives knows, was hell on asphalt, the North Circular being the single most unpleasant highway ever constructed. Ever. But it did, as I think is evident, create a sense of innocent wonder and glee that is the closest thing on this side of the pond to embodying the spirit of All Hallow’s Eve. Heartbreakingly, Tice’s Farms and Van Riper’s both closed in the 90s, replaced by an A & P and a strip mall, but it’s nice to know there are some ways of still carrying on the tradition. Happy Halloween! 20131031-010450.jpg 20131031-010459.jpg

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Alas, Poor Tice, I knew it well.

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5 responses

  1. Snoring Dog Studio | Reply

    Thank you for the lovely visit. I don’t get out to these venues much any more and I miss this part of the season so much. Idaho is somewhat lacking in the pumpkin patch/entertainment area. This evening I’ll walk with my mom and brother and our dogs around the neighborhood and take in some sights. I won’t expect warm donuts, though.

    1. Surely Idaho makes up for in tubers what it lacks in gourds? We took the boy trick or treating, which, though he was nervous about at first, really got into in the end. I hope you enjoyed your Halloween walk.

      1. Snoring Dog Studio

        It was delightful. We didn’t stay out long and we didn’t get any trick or treaters, but that was fine.

  2. Lots of memories of rural America are evoked while reading your story. I am pleased that my grandsons in Washington State live far enough from the urban corridors to experience their annual visit to the local pumpkin patch. This annual ‘Samhain trek’ is as much a part of their lives as Back-to-School and soccer camp. And I can still taste the apple spice donuts and cider from my last visit thanks to your colorful descriptions! – Mike

    1. Apple Spice sounds delicious. I’m glad you connected with this. Thanks for the wonderful feedback. I’ve always heard wonderful things about Washington state. It must be glorious in the Autumn.

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