Local pumpkin patches offer kids and grown-ups fall fun

By: Kathy Maynard,Loomis News Correspondent
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There’s a lot more to pumpkins than Halloween and pie. Locally, the Flower Farm, Horton Iris Garden and Rickey Ranch offer numerous varieties of pumpkins. Not only can visitors choose pumpkins to carve into jack-o-lanterns, but there are pumpkins for cooking or baking, and some come in unusual colors and textures. These pumpkin patches offer an assortment of pumpkins, squash, gourds and other fall produce for decorating and cooking that appeal to both grownups and kids. Although most people may think of pumpkins as round and orange, there are more than 80 varieties, ranging from mini to giant, smooth to bumpy, and round or oblong to nearly flat. Orange is the most common color, but they also can be white, red, blue, green, pink, tan or striped. Names which tend to describe their appearance include Casper, buckskin, turban, cheese wheel and Cinderella – a unique French heirloom variety resembling Cinderella’s magical carriage. Pumpkins grown for jack-o-lanterns have stringy, watery flesh that is easy to carve, but not very tasty. The best cooking varieties tend to be small and/or have sweeter, denser flesh and harder skins, making them more difficult to carve. “Many of the blue, white and buckskin ones have excellent meat inside for cooking and sugar babies make very flavorful pies,” said Stephanie Rickey, of Rickey Ranch. Beyond pie, pumpkins make other sweet treats, including pumpkin butter, cheesecake, bread, muffins, cookies and bars. They also make delicious savory dishes such as soup and pasta filling and can be stuffed with meat, cheese, vegetables, rice or bread and roasted. Even the seeds and flowers are edible. Located in a peaceful park-like setting, the Horton pumpkin patch allows visitors to buy pre-picked pumpkins or take a wagon and pair of scissors to cut their own off the vines. “I pick some for those who don’t want to tromp out in the dirt, but most people like to go out into the fields,” said Doug Horton. Horton’s is open to the public on weekends in October. School groups, mothers’ clubs and senior citizen groups may visit during the week by appointment. Horton gives free hay rides behind a tractor around the farm, where children can see goats and chickens, and special photo areas and picnic tables are available for visitors. The Flower Farm sells fresh picked pumpkins, gourds, squash, mini bales of hay and corn stalks. They offer hayrides to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., requesting visitors to donate a can of food for the Placer Food Bank in lieu of a fee. “The pumpkins are absolutely beautiful this year,” said Patti Foust, manager of the Flower Farm Nursery. “Tomatoes not so much, but pumpkins did exceptionally well.” A Flower Farm favorite is the vignettes of pumpkin people created by 12 families. The pumpkin people are depicted competing in Olympic events such as volleyball, basketball and even witches curling with brooms. Hayride participants vote on their favorite vignette and the winner will receive a prize worth $200. Rickey Ranch is open daily and features clean, pre-picked pumpkins arranged on a bed of straw to make it easy for little ones to choose. They offer hay and pony rides, a petting zoo, farm animals, face painting, a picnic area, a gift shop and refreshments. “We also grew some Atlantic giant pumpkins to enter in contests and lots of businesses have been buying them for extreme displays,” Rickey said. Flower Farm Nursery Where: 4150 Auburn Folsom Road When: Daily 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., through Oct. 31; hayrides: 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. What: Pumpkins, gourds, squash, mini hay bales, corn stalks, tractor-pulled hayrides, pumpkin people vignettes Admission: Canned food donation Information: 652-5650, Horton Iris Farm Where: 7440 King Road When: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Saturday and Sundays through Oct. 28; weekdays by appointment What: Self- and pre-picked pumpkins; gourds, squash, corn stalks, Indian corn, bare root irises; tractor-pulled hayrides, farm animals, picnic and photo areas Information: 652-4351 or visit Rickey Ranch Where: 6950 Cavitt Stallman Road, Granite Bay When: Daily, 10 a.m. to dark, through Oct. 31 What: Pre-picked pumpkins and gourds, local raw honey, gift shop, refreshments, hayrides, pony rides, face painting, hay pyramid, kiddie corn maze, farm animals Information: 412-2013,