Gizdich Ranch Apple Butter Festival (Watsonville)

A couple of the books that the kids like me to read to them at bedtime involve apple picking: Up, Up, Up! It’s Apple-picking Time by Jody Fickes, and A Day at the Apple Orchard by Megan Faulkner. It sparked their imaginations. So for a whole year now, Daniel has been bugging me to take him apple picking. Today, we visited the Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville for their annual Apple Butter Festival.

Gizdich Ranch Apple Butter Festival

Gizdich Ranch Apple Butter Festival

I remember several years ago when I brought Annie to Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville to this Apple Butter Festival. I think Gizdich Ranch is the closest apple farm to San Jose / Santa Clara County that allows U-Pick apples. There are a lot of places nearby where you can pick pumpkins, cherries, peaches or strawberries, but not apples. Other than Gizdich Ranch in Santa Cruz County, you’d have to drive all the way over to Brentwood in Contra Costa County or Petaluma in Marin county to find other pick-your-own apple orchards. (If you know of any U-pick apple farms closer to Santa Clara County, please leave a comment!)

Making Apple Butter

The Gizdich Ranch Apple Butter Festival is held annually on the 3rd Saturday in October. The Apple Butter is made by members of the Old German Brethren Baptist Church of Modesto, who start at dawn, cooking down the apples in a 26-gallon copper kettle until the apples are reduced to a bronze-colored, powerfully perfumed, deeply flavored apple sauce.

Cooking Apple Butter @ Gizdich Ranch

Cooking Apple Butter @ Gizdich Ranch

This apple butter has to be constantly stirred as the pot bubbles away like a cauldron of apple-flavored lava. It is a highly labor-intensive process. But no machine could do this justice. As the label on the canned jars of apple butter say, the only ingredients are Apples, Cider, Spices, and Love!

Canned Apple Butter at Gizdich Ranch

Canned Apple Butter at Gizdich Ranch

In addition to making apple butter, the folks there operate an old-time mechanical apple peeler which will core and peel an apple in about 10 seconds. It’s really, really cool.


A Hayride through the Apple Orchard

We bought tickets ($2 per person) to go on a tractor-pulled hayride through the Gizdich Ranch’s apple orchards. Our driver was none other than the son of the original owner (Gizdich Ranch is a family-owned farm – a rarity nowadays). The farm has grown over the decades from 10 acres to over 160. They’ve diversified their crops from just doing apples to also raspberries, strawberries, and ollalieberries. But their main crop remains apples.

Our Hayride Tractor Driver at Gizdich Ranch


Hayrides are always a lot of fun. You have the warm sun on your face and the cool, Fall air blowing through your hair. The smell of hay and dirt intermingles with apple orchard perfume. It makes you want to close your eyes, lift your nose to the sky, and bask in the aroma. But be careful, because you could get whacked in the head by low-hanging apple tree branches!

Apples on the Tree at Gizdich Ranch

Apples on the Tree at Gizdich Ranch

No Apple Picking, But Apple Pie

Truth be told, apple picking season is over by the time the Apple Butter Festival comes around. The last day for apple picking at Gizdich Ranch was on October 5 this year. So we didn’t actually get to go out into the orchard to pick our own apples. I had to break the sad news to Daniel. He understood, but said to me:

"Dad, next time we have to come earlier."

Sure, son. Next year.

After the hay ride, we went over to the pie shop for some fresh-baked apple pie. Gizdich Ranch is well-known for their pies. Besides apple, they also offer other assorted flavors like rhubarb, apple-raspberry, and even pumpkin pie.

Pie Shop Menu at Gizdich Ranch

Pie Shop Menu at Gizdich Ranch

Gizdich Ranch’s apple pie is no ordinary pie. It is piled high with apples – at least twice as high as the pan itself. Nice crust, not too sweet or saucy on the inside. A solid pie.

Apple Pie from Gizdich Ranch

Apple Pie from Gizdich Ranch

I got the Apple-Ollalieerry pie, which was slightly more tart than the straight apple. Another decent pie, but it frankly didn’t wow me.

Apple-Ollalieberry pie from Gizdich Ranch

Apple-ollalieberry pie from Gizdich Ranch

You wanna know what the best pie at Gizdich Ranch is? It’s the pumpkin pie. Seriously! I don’t think I’ve had one better. Not too sweet, not too spicy, but just right. Perfect consistency and texture. We considered bringing a whole pie home ($8 for a whole pie this good is not bad!) but eventually decided not to.

Pumpkin Pie from Gizdich Ranch

Pumpkin Pie from Gizdich Ranch

How About Them Apples?

As we walked back to our car, Daniel spied some low-hanging apples that had been left on the trees. He ran over to pick one, and it came off in his hand. He found another one and excitedly plucked that one as well. Esther spotted a fruit on her own, but Daniel got to it before she did.

Daniel Picking an Apple at Gizdich Ranch

Daniel picking an apple at Gizdich Ranch

So on the last tree before we got to the parking lot, I spotted an apple and told Esther to go get it.

Esther Picking an Apple at Gizdich Ranch

Esther picking an apple at Gizdich Ranch

So, we ended up picking some apples from Gizdich Ranch after all! Sweet!

Aloha, Nate

15 thoughts on “Gizdich Ranch Apple Butter Festival (Watsonville)”

  1. >Curse you and your incredible photos of food! Now I want apple pie and fresh noodles. Come to think of it, it is apple pie making season.

  2. >Gizdich is one of the regular field trips for 2nd grade at our school. The kids go to learn and the parents go for the pies. =) I’m glad Mrs. Gizdich retired from leading tours… let’s just say her personality didn’t fit the job. You’re right, the apple pie filling is good, but nothing to rave about. I just like the Dutch apple crumb topping. Maybe it’s all that butter and sugar. Did you try the fresh apple juice? YUMMY!

  3. >@Robert – curse me? curse me?! oh, I am hurt! 🙂

    @manger la ville – thanks! It was a good day.

    @J – Yeah, I was thinking about getting the Dutch Apple, but thought to try the Apple-Ollalieberry instead.

    I didn’t see them pressing any fresh apple juice but they were sampling their bottled juices.

  4. >I have to go visit that ranch next time I'm in Watsonville. Elisabeth would love that place because she's a gourmet apple pie maker.

    That apple corer and peeler is really cool. Makes me think of Inspector Gadget and Wallace & Grommit. I always wanted to be an inventor when I grew up. Now I invent websites. Hopefully someday I'll get to go into something mechanical.

  5. >I’m totally loving your apple pie adventures. What a great experience — and all that fantastic autumnal food. Glad I stumbled over here to find you!

  6. >we missed the apple butter festival by one week! I love going to Gizdich, I wrote two blogs about it!

    Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville

    Apple Primer

    We go every year, twice some years (June and October). My husband loves their pie, as do my kids, and it is quite possible that that is the most important reason for visiting.

    Great post, the pictures are wonderful and I like the video of the apple peeling!

  7. >Hahah, that is one crazy contraption! But a great invention nonetheless.

    Pumpkin Pie, really? I have never been fond of pumpkin pie myself. But then again, I’ve only had it once, and thought it was yuck. I guess I am not a pie person – though, I would eat the crust, but not the filling! LOL

  8. >I haven’t gone apple picking in years–Florida doesn’t quite “get” apples like other regions do. That whole day looks like a ton of fun and all of those photos got my mouth watering…the apple butter, the pies…

  9. >@Truman – are you guys coming up anytime soon? Maybe after the baby eh?

    @lo – thanks for the comment, and welcome!

    @gudrun – thanks, I saw your posts when I was researching Gizdich. I like your site a lot.

    @sharon – I normally don’t like pumpkin pie either but this one was exceptional.

    @mike – what kinds of harvest festivals do you have in Florida?

  10. >Hehe – actually I saw your post and was so sad that I missed it! So Bobby and I and our friend Griff went on Sunday 🙂 It’s a really cool place.

  11. >When I lived in SF I drove to Gizdich multiple times – just for pie. Loved the post and pictures.

  12. >@gastroanthropologist – really? I’m still looking for a better apple pie. I found one much better in Michigan. But around here? Still looking. Anyone got suggestions?

  13. >I was so excited when I saw the picture of the copper pot and paddle on tastespotting. I just got back from West Virginia and helped stir the apple butter pot with friends. The pot and paddle have been in the family for around 150 years.

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