A Guide to a Day of Apple Picking in Julian, CA

14 Sep

Quick edit: Lots of things have changed over the years, so I’d like to update one of our more popular posts. Raven Hill Orchard over a year ago changed ownership and it is now known as Volcan Valley Apple Farm. Same location and same trees, just different people running the place (we will miss you, Irish Crocodile Dundee!). I went last year during apple season and it was great! They offer 3 different sized bags and took credit card. 

Another change is Santa Ysabel Casino went out of business. I’ll be making some changes to the google map guide to reflect the times. Thanks again to our readers for checking out this blog!

It’s here! It’s finally here! Fall has always been my favorite season. When I was a kid, it meant back to school (I was a weird kid. I really, really liked school and could not wait for summer to be over.) and it meant that temperatures were cooling down. Fall also meant that the holidays were coming and I’d get to see the leaves change colors. What can I say? I love it!

Since moving to San Diego and then graduating from college, Fall then became apple picking season. Nothing’s more fun than taking a scenic drive out to Julian to go pick apples. I’ve taken numerous friends on this outing and everyone has seemed to enjoy it. Over the last few years, I’ve just about perfected my itinerary for Julian day trips and now I’d like to share it with our readers. Just a side note, you can pretty much make this an “anytime” Julian trip if you swap out the apple picking with other fun activities or exploring more of the town. Apple season seems to start beginning of September into October. It’s definitely slim pickings once you hit October, just as a warning.

Things you’ll want to bring:

  1. Cash
  2. Sunscreen
  3. A hat
  4. Bottled water (to rinse the apples you want to eat)
  5. Napkins or tissues (it’s a bit dusty and I get sneezy)
  6. Snacks
  7. Good walking shoes (trust me, don’t wear flip flops)
  8. Pocket knife (optional) if you want to cut into the apple instead of biting it
  9. Cooler with some ice packs (optional) if you want to store the things you bought and keep it out of the sun
  10. Cross-body purse for the ladies (or men) so both your hands are free to hold the apple bag and pick apples

I’ll start the day trip in the morning around 9 or 10 after a hearty breakfast. The earlier you go, the more you get to see because the town is pretty much closed around 4pm. I like to take the route to Julian from Poway as I think it’s the most fun and scenic drive. From Poway, it’ll take you 30-45 minutes. Take your time and enjoy the view! A basic map of the route can be found here.

Something you’ll definitely see out your car window on the drive over

Before I get to the town of Julian, I stop in Santa Ysabel where Highway 78 meets Highway 79 to hit up Dudley’s Bakery and Julian Pie Company. You’ll want to do this on your way into Julian, not out because all the tourists buy this stuff on the way out and you’ll be left with very little variety of everything by the time it’s late afternoon. I like to stop by Dudley’s and pick up some of their really good bread. They make some really good sliced bread that tastes amazing when you use them for sandwiches. The times I’ve gone they’ve had about 10 different varieties available. It’s a bit chaotic when you first walk in, but just look around for a basket and walk around and grab the loaves of bread you want. If you purchase 4 loaves of bread, they’ll give you one loaf free. Once you’re ready, get in that long line to pay at the cash register. Save your pastry orders for when you get to the cash register and they’ll grab what you need (the elephant ear is quite good). Recommended bread flavors: cheddar (tastes like goldfish crackers), jalepeno cheddar (it’s actually quite spicy), danish apple nut, rosemary olive oil, and date nut raisin. You really can’t go wrong with any of the flavors, though. I’m not sure if they still do this, but if you purchase a lot of bread Dudley’s will give you $5 in free slot play at the Santa Ysabel Casino. Save this for later.

Put your bread in the car and walk over to JPC (Julian Pie Company). I know people fight over which place makes the best Julian apple pies, so I’ll just say this one is my favorite because of the crumb topping. If you can, get the pies you want with the crumb topping. It’s like they put crack in it. Delicious, delicious crack topping. If this is your first time at JPC, get a slice to try out. If you’re sure about what you want, there’s a cash register around the corner from the display cases that will let you purchase only whole pies. This will save you time if there’s a long line. JPC has this punch card where if you purchase 10 pies, you’ll get one free. Pies I recommend: apple crumb, apple mountain berry crumb, apple cherry crumb, apple peach crumb. Put these bad boys in the cold cooler and they’ll be waiting for you when you get home!

Now this is where you decide your adventure. You and your travel buddies may be hungry at this point and want lunch. If everyone’s super cranky, then head into town and grab food. I’d recommend, however, that you hit up the orchards instead before it gets too hot and sunny. It’s worth it. Assuming you’re heeding my words, make your way over to Raven Hill Orchard.

Raven Hill Orchard entrance – you can’t miss it


This orchard is my pick because the trees are pruned pretty short so that it’ll be easier for anyone to pick apples (even little kids!). I also like it because the rows are marked with the different varieties and the place has a lot of character. Park on the side of the road and walk towards the sculptures. The guy running the place looks like an Irish Crocodile Dundee that doesn’t talk much. Pay $10 for a paper bag that you can fill. It’ll seem like a rip off, but the apples are small and you’ll find that you can fit quite a bit in the bag. Also, you’re allowed to eat as many apples as you want while you’re at the orchard. Just be careful, because that is a LOT of fiber.

Look at all those pretty apples!

If there’s not much of a line, tell him it’s your first visit and he’ll give you details on what kinds of apples he has and which ones are at the peak of ripeness. Basically, the large trees at the south end of the orchard are granny smiths, pippins line the fence, beginning of each row (east) are galas, the ends of each row (west) are fujis. Each row is marked and are mostly jonathans, golden delicious, and empires. I think there’s a few rows of gravensteins.

You can see the trees are pruned to a shorter height to allow for easier apple picking


More apple trees in neat rows

Once you get your paper bag, walk as far down as you can either north or south  (this is where the sneakers come in handy. Watch your step or you might trip over an apple on the ground) because those trees are the least picked over since they’re far from the entrance.

Watch out! Be careful of tripping over apples on the ground and don’t get stung by hornets

Make sure when you pick the apples, you gently twist the apple off the stem. Pull too hard and you’ll rip off a large branch and there will be less apples for the next year. Don’t pick any apples off the ground, and check for worm holes before you place the apple in your bag. I like to rinse the apple with some water before I take a bite. Try all the different varieties and you’ll notice the subtle differences between them. You’ll feel compelled to just pick a bunch off one tree, but resign to just pick a few off each tree so you don’t fill your bag too quickly. The orchard owner has sculptures dotted throughout the orchard and you’ll sometimes hear him play the didgeridoo. Like I said, the place has character. Apple picking takes a little over an hour. Ask if they have any cider you can buy because it’s pressed from the very apples you’re picking.

Typical Julian apple picking weather – sunny!

Drop your apples off in the car and head across the street to check out some Julian wineries if you’re interested. It costs $5-$10 for multiple tastings and you even get to keep the glass.

Some wine tasting and a freshly picked apple

If the wineries aren’t your thing, make your way over to town. You won’t be going back the way you came, but instead you’ll be coming into Julian from the back. I like this part of the drive the best because the roads have some switch backs and you’re surrounded by beautiful nature. The moment you drive past the school and a tiny gas station, you’re in town and should look for parking. The town’s main area is really small and walkable, so don’t worry about parking too far. Parking is harder to find the further you get into the heart of town. Park, walk around, and explore. Some suggestions:

  • Miner’s Diner is a great place to stop. They have this old soda fountain counter that’s been around for almost 100 years. I love to get a milkshake or phosphate and zucchini fries. The rest of the food is ok diner food. Walk past the cash register and down some steps and there’s tiny candy shop. It’s fun to check out.
  • Julian Cider Mill is a cute little shop that sells some yummy cider. They even have samples set out for you to try. I always pick up some pumpkin butter and apple butter to take home, along with jams, nuts, and pickles.
  • Not sure what it’s called, but across the street from Miners Diner is this big building with tons of tables of arts and crafts for sale. I like to browse the stuff they have there, but I never really buy anything.

When you’ve had your fill of the town, head back towards Poway and if you’ve still got some energy and time, hit up the Santa Ysabel Casino. Basically, you take a right when you see Dudley’s Bakery. It’s a short drive and you follow the signs to the casino. This is where that $5 free slot play voucher you have comes in handy! Also, if it’s your first time at the casino, I think they give you $10-$25 free slot play for signing up (depends on the promotion that day). I’ve had friends win on the slot play when we’ve gone, so it’s kind of fun. If you’re hungry for dinner, head to the restaurant in the casino called The Orchard. Now that you have a players card, you can get a whole prime rib dinner for $5! What a deal! If you make it before 4, there’s also some food and drink specials.

At this point, you’ll probably be dead tired. Someone usually falls asleep on the drive back. I sometimes like to invite people over and we make caramel apples with the apples we’ve picked. It’s totally worth the effort because they’ll be some of the best caramel apples you’ve ever had.

Caramel apples we made with our bounty. DELICIOUS.

Hope you’ve enjoyed my detailed itinerary and let me know if you have any other suggestions!


A Most Interesting Night…

17 Jul

San Diego was alive and bumpin’ last Thursday night with the first night of Comic-Con officially in full swing.  My partner in crime, Pablano and I didn’t make our way to the Gaslamp but to the Marina 5 Penthouse in Little Italy. There we took the elevator to the top floor of the building where we were greeted by masked hostesses in a swanky penthouse with a beautiful view of the San Diego skyline. Why were we there? We were representing this very blog, Nerds with Food, at a culinary event sponsored by Dos ImageEquis (yes the beer).  Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Academy” teamed up with chef Craig Thornton, who operates the covert operation known as the Wolvesden up in Los Angeles, to bring some lucky San Diegans and visitors from all walks of life a true culinary experience. Wolvesden is an underground supper club where Thornton and his team cook for a small invite-only group at a private residence, which is exactly what happened Thursday night here in San Diego.  But, why here in SD? Why now? I had the amazing opportunity to ask Thornton himself, in which he responded: “What I want to do here in San Diego was bring this retreat from the craziness and chaos of Comic-Con. We had two meals today, the first attended by Comic-Con visitors and the second by artists working at the event. I want to give them something so completely different from con food [such as pretzels, corndogs, nachos, etc.] and give them something completely unexpected.” Thornton clearly accomplished what he set out to do when I heard one of my fellow eaters proclaim, “This is the most un-Comic-Con thing I’ve ever done in San Diego.”Image

Now for the good stuff—the food! For our first course we had a pimento cheese sauce, with a cheese fritter, and spring onion all under a piece of grilled savory steak. We were off with a bang. The second course, which was a personal favorite, was a light and flavorful corn chowder. The warm corn chowder was sprinkled with chunks of fresh cold crab; the two contrasting temperatures were so great. Seared halibut with polenta made up the third course. Now, the next half of the meal was truly amazing. For the fourth course we had a mélange of beans, haricots verdes and yellow beans, and fruit such as golden beet and peach with a crispy potato skin. Now here’s the kicker: this mélange was brought together with cool and tangy horseradish sprinkled with cocoa-coffee “soil.” A-MA-ZING!!! This was Paul’s favorite dish of the night, and was one of the most memorable dishes I have ever eaten. ImageWhen I asked Thornton how he chose his dishes for the evening, it was this dish that he really focused on. “This dish is farmer’s market on a plate, I went to the farmer’s market and bought so much—they were really happy with me! I wanted to put the best of the farmer’s market and contrast it with the soil. We make the soil by mixing the cocoa and coffee and making almost a cookie, then we ground it up. I wanted this dish to serve as a bridge from the halibut, which is somewhat Italian, to the Mexican al pastor dish.”  Mission accomplished; this was one great dish that refreshed the palate and lead to another fantastic dish: the al pastor dish. This was incredible! It consisted of a delicate pork belly that Imagedid not over power the accompanying ingredients of caramelized pineapple, radish slices, a slice of creamy avocado and a scrumptious fried tortilla ball all tied together with a sinfully tasty al pastor sauce. As if that was not enough of a treat, dessert threw me back to my childhood days. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the concentrated strawberries over crumbled short cake topped with whipped crème fraiche with a hint of lime juice, but it was definitely the incorporation of pop rocks in the dessert that took me back. What a fantastic way to elevate a dish that much higher, giving it a tangible layer that brought a smile to every person at our table. Truly memorable! This is a meal I will never forget. Image

I want to thank everyone at the event for an interesting and memorable meal, because atmosphere is also included in the meal experience. First, I’d like to thank Dos Equis for sponsoring the event. I’d like to thank Bjorn for being so nice and hospitable, all of the artists working the Comic-Con event for the lively conversation, the masked hostesses and bartender for never letting me or anyone else end up with an empty beer bottle in our hands, and of course to Craig Thornton and his hard working team for filling our bellies with some of the best food I’ve ever had.

First NWF Giveaway!

9 May

Exciting news! NWF is going to host its first giveaway for our loyal readers. I keep telling people that I make a mean raspberry chocolate cheesecake brownie, and I rarely deliver. I’ve been wanting to make this so I can write up a post.

To enter:

  1. Comment on this post (that’s going to give you one entry) with a short sentence of what kitchen gadget is your favorite and why?
  2. Follow this blog (that’s going to give you a second entry. If you’re already following that’s automatic extra entry but you’ll still need to comment on the post to qualify)
  3. Like our page on Facebookfacebook.com/pages/Nerds-With-Food/189752131079864 (that’s going to give you even another entry!) Make sure you comment on the FB page and tell us your blogger username and we can give you the credit you deserve!

You have until May 16th, 2012 11:59pm PST to submit your entries. I’ll utilize the handy dandy random number generator to determine the winner. Whoever wins this giveaway will be mailed a lovely package of my brownies, and possibly some other cool kitchen stuff! If you don’t want brownies, I also make apricot shortbread squares. Good luck!

Edit: I just realized that some people might be weirded out by eating food from someone they don’t quite know. If you prefer something non-food as your prize, I have a couple of cute enameled tapas or individual serving dishes from Staub I can send instead.

Review: Haven Gastropub

6 May

May 5, 2012

Haven Gastropub – Pasadena

First off, I would like to say Happy CINCO de Mayo!  I am going to celebrate my people’s day at an English Pub.  I wish I had a sombrero so I can stick out like a sore thumb.  🙂

Before Ms. Tsan (Nerf 2) and I went to watch The Avengers, we decided to stop by a pub in Old Town Pasadena.  When I first noticed the new pub and read the reviews, I thought that the beers were expensive but to my pleasant surprise, it is pretty affordable ($6-12).  The bottle beers are pretty pricy, but if you had gone to Lucky Baldwin’s to drink, Haven is about the same price.  Now off to our new food adventure for the night!!! (Yes, I was excited to leave the house.)

My first round of beer, I ordered one of my favorites from Stone Brewery, The Old Guardian.  The Old Guardian is a barley wine with 11.5% alcohol by content.  Now next to that glass of beer is our side dish for the night – brussels sprouts.  I know, I know, American television has always butchered the sprouts.  They keep saying it tastes funny and has a funny smell to it, but if you cook it just right, the taste isn’t all that bad.  It’s like a mini cabbage.  Well, unless you are like our friend Nerf 1 (Kimberly) and hate cabbage, then this dish is not for you.  ***hush voice*** “I think her mom beat her up with a pillow case full of cabbages.”  LOL, just kidding.

The picture below was an overview of our veggies for the night.  From the first taste of this dish Allison and I were very happy, but as we dug down into it the sprouts were greasy.  This was sort of complaint number 1.

For my main course, I ordered the lamb burger with a side of Thumb Master by Old Orange Brewing Co, a double IPA (not pictured).  The lamb burger (cooked medium rare) included onion jam, tzatziki, onion sprouts, and rosemary brioche bun.  Yes, I said it – onion jam.  The jam gave it a sweet flavor that I just can’t help, but to ask you readers to try and make some.  The fries are seasoned with a 4 herb blend and sprinkled with rosemary, but it came out a little cold and soggy.  The fries were complaint number 2.  Allison and I wished that the fries came out a little crispy and maybe piping hot.

See the inside of the burger.  Too bad you can’t see that it’s a little red on the inside.  My camera sucks. I also forgot to take the pictures of the onion jam.  So I can’t just blame everything on my camera!

The dish below is the shepherd’s pie.  No, I did not order 2 entrees.  I am not that crazy.  This dish belonged to Nerf 2.  The shepherd’s pie is baked with lamb, beef, root vegetables, cream, rosemary mashed potatoes, and cheese. Now here is complaint number 3.  The pie did not have enough lamb, beef, and veggies.  There was too much mashed potatoes for Nerf 2.  She enjoyed the crunchy cheese, but the potato top was too much and too rich.

Overall, we had a good time.  It was a great place to hang out and talk with your friends.  The food was decent and the beers on tap were not too expensive.  The rating we would give this restaurant is 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Home Made Apple *non-explicit* Pie

28 Apr

Wow it has been a while since my last contribution. In celebration of my near perfect score on my Mycology exam I bring you Apple Pie. Sweet warm oral comfort… wait that sounds wrong. Scratch that last bit. Although this apple pie may induce a foodgasm, it is good for all ages. Hope this recipe brings you as much comfort as it brought me. *Warning this recipe has not been rated*

Apple Pie

Pie Crust (double deep dish)

  • 290g flour
  • 2 Tbs Sugar
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • 200 g ( 1 cup) shortening (cubed and frozen)
  • ¼ C ice water

Apple Filling

  • 6 Cups apples (about 8 small apples)
  • ½ C sugar
  • ¼ C Brown sugar
  • 2 Tbs flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg


  • 1 egg yolk beaten
  • 1 tsp sugar

*optional: raisins (1/4 cup)

Instructions: Continue reading

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