Learn how apple butter is made at this SoCal mountain fest

Freshly picked apples at Stone Soup Farm & Heritage Orchard in Oak Glen, Calif.
Freshly picked apples at Stone Soup Farm & Heritage Orchard in Oak Glen, Calif.
(Mallory Drazin)

It’s our yearly tradition. On one Saturday every fall, my family heads out for a day of apple picking in Oak Glen, Calif. Not only is it a seasonal expectation, the trip serves as a reprieve from a long, hot summer as well as an escape from the suburban sprawl to a softer, slower, more quaint existence.

Every year the timing is perfect, arriving just as we crave a nip in the air and about when the excitement of the new school year is wearing thin. If ever there was a fall season that we needed this respite, 2020 is it.

The beauty of the offerings at Oak Glen isn’t just proximity to Los Angeles (80 miles to the east) but the variety. Each shop and farm has something unique to offer, whether that be mini cider doughnuts at Snow-Line Orchard and Winery or cider and cigars from another era at Wilshire Apple Shed.


Year after year we have met with another family at Stone Soup Farm & Heritage Orchard, not just to pluck apples from the trees marked with colored ribbons (to let us know they are ready to be plucked) but to spend an afternoon in a bucolic hamlet of trees covering mini-birdhouses with moss at the kids craft table, hand dipping what end up being lumpy candles and panning for minerals. We watch liquid gold flow through the slats of the cider press and marvel at the size of the pumpkins in the pumpkin patch. We get a taste of a fall we’ll hardly experience at home and deeply breathe in the fresh mountain air. Between bites of apples and the pastoral views among the trees, it’s a beautiful day.

An apple orchard
Stone Soup Farm hosts an Apple Butter Festival on weekends in November.
(Mallory Drazin)

All these things happened this year too. But they came after the haze of smoke died down from the traumatizing Bobcat and El Dorado fires, the latter of which came shockingly close to many of the Oak Glen farms. We were in desperate need to get out of the house and breathe fresh air , but so was the rest of Southern California. In short, our weekend apple picking was done alongside crowds — and heat — I hadn’t ever experienced at the farm.

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I found myself wishing the season were a little longer, so visitation could be spaced out and later-season temperatures enjoyed. That’s when I saw a posting for Stone Soup Farm’s Apple Butter Festival. Taking place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends through Nov. 29, the festival’s Traditional Tastes and Trades celebrates the culmination of the season focused on a beloved hand-crafted preserve made from the harvest. My interest piqued, I reached out to the owners of the farm, Tim and Faith Riley, for details.

“The conclusion of apple picking allows us to showcase the natural progression of the fruit through post-harvest trades,” Faith wrote by email. “Guests will have an opportunity to learn through workshops, talks and demonstrations like traditional agricultural techniques at our Farm House Talk, “Preserving the Harvest,” techniques of preservation, pickling and drying with a focus on regional foods, and quick bread recipe demonstrations, which will also showcase delicious fruit butters (apple, apple-cranberry, blackberry and pumpkin).”

Tim Riley provided additional history of the post-harvest fest by phone. A form of the festival has always occurred the weekend after Thanksgiving. What has been a public and community event in Oak Glen will be celebrated by the farm this year, across four weekends in November, to further highlight seasonal aspects of this long tradition. A $5 admission fee includes artisan trades such as corn milling, rope making, cider pressing, a blacksmith in action, and a tomahawk and archery range. The season culminates in the making of the apple butter on Nov. 28.

“We have a large copper pot of massive capacity with a big wooden paddle with holes augured into it. You start with several gallons of cider and boil it until it thickens,” he said. “Even before the apple slices are put in, you have the caramelization process happening with the cider. Getting a spoonful of that caramelized cider is so satisfying.”

Cooler temperatures, fewer people (I’m hoping), the ability to experience some serious cottagecore activities and the chance to help render an enormous simmering copper pot of caramelizing cider? I think we have the makings of a new autumnal tradition.

If you go

The Stone Soup Farm Apple Butter Festival, Traditional Tastes and Trades, takes place at 12131 S. Oak Glen Road in Oak Glen, Calif., from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends through Nov. 29. Visitors can witness the final steps in the making of apple butter and have a chance to stir the pot on Nov. 28.