Note: My heart goes out to all who have suffered due to Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey was one of the hardest hit and I am wishing everyone there, and everywhere, a speedy recovery.
I love tradition, friends, and adventures close to home. Every fall I look forward to getting an email from my friend Andi inviting me along on the “Spooky Caravan” – a day long adventure through New Jersey or Long Island that properly celebrates the fall season, samples local produce and products, and ends with a haunted house or hay ride.
This year Andi and our friend Stephen went all out. They rented a 15 passenger van, Andi handed out trick or treat bags full of candy, and they plotted a perfectly timed route that took us through rolling farm land into rural New Jersey, which is the kind of pastoral landscape I had no idea existed in that oft-maligned state and less than an hour from New York City.
The day began with a pick-your-own adventure at Stony Hill Gardens. We took a hayride out into a huge field, oddly situated under high-tension wires, and picked apples, pumpkins, and vegetables. We also conquered that favorite of farm fall traditions: the corn maze.
After I picked half my weight in apples and we filled up on hot cider and doughnuts we loaded ourselves back into the van and headed to the next stop: The Valley Shepherd Creamery in Long Valley, New Jersey. It was the perfect place for lunch on a sunny mid-October Saturday. The farm features a shop where you can buy beautiful cheeses right from the source, and also bread, sausage and other picnic essentials. As we ate our local bounty we sat at a picnic table and watched sheep, llamas and a beautiful draft horse wander around in the pasture in front of us. Did someone say pastoral?
We followed up lunch with a quick stop at the Long Valley Pub and Brewery for a tasting flight of their local brews. While it wasn’t on our original itinerary it was right around the corner from the creamery and seemed too perfect to resist sitting out on their large stone patio to take in the waning afternoon.
As the sun began to sink we pressed on through small towns, forests and more rolling farmland to the Beneduce Vinyards. I had no idea New Jersey even had wineries, much less decent ones. Beneduce is a friendly, welcoming affair. We hadn’t been there five minutes when I was invited to stir some vats of freshly made wine. I’ve never had the chance to get hands on with the wine making process at any other vineyard I’ve been to and I really loved it.
For the wine tasting we got to sit in our own private green house and sampled 5 of the vineyard’s wines, all for $5. It felt really special and convivial and I hope to go back and take a tour of the vines themselves.
The day concluded with us sitting around a bonfire at a “haunted” farm, roasting marshmallows, looking at the stars through the woodsmoke, and marveling at all the bounty that was so close to home.