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L.A. Popcorn Adventure #57
May 22, 2007

Cherries Jubliee

James and The Giant Peach + Cherry Picking in Leona Valley

James and the Giant Peach, a Roald Dahl classic, is a favorite in our households, ever since the kids had it read to them in school. The screen adaptation is just as grand as the novel and our kids were entranced even though they already knew the storyline. James, a young English boy, lives happily in a seaside town with his parents, dreaming of a vacation to New York City. All is well, until his parents are eaten by a ferocious rhino and he is sent to be raised by two extremely unpleasant aunts. One day, a man offers James a bag of enchanted crocodile tongues that can make his dreams come true. James spills the bag at the bottom of a decrepit tree where, magically, a luscious peach grows. And grows. And grows. Eventually, the giant peach falls from the tree, rolls to the sea and carries James and a group of friendly insects across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City. Our kids laughed aloud at James' fantastic adventures on the high seas and cheered when those nasty aunts got their just desserts. You can bet it wasn't peach pie!

The current vogue among green-thinking foodies is to eat only local produce -- quite a radical concept for Angelenos who are used to finding perfectly ripened blueberries year round in our grocery aisles. All the delicious summer fruits are coming into season, and because our kids know very little about wrestling fruit from the vine, we thought it would be a wonderful end-of-school treat to pick cherries as a family. We turned to a Kids Off The Couch subscriber who has been taking her kids to Hobart's Cherry Orchard, an organic cherry orchard in the Leona Valley, for the past ten years. We learned that the cherry picking season is going to be woefully short this year because of a winter drought, so are planning to head north in early June. The valley, which has at least 22 cherry orchards, is about an hour's drive north from The Getty Center. Our insider's scoop is to arrive early, wear old clothes, and most importantly, bring along a large cooler to bring home your bounty! With all her kids' hands on deck, our friend can gather between 10 and 20 pounds of fruit in a few hours. After her kids' faces are happily covered in cherry juice, she freezes the left-overs to munch on during off-season months (see below for tips on cherry pitters). Before you leave the orchard, remember to fill out a post card, so you can be notified when the fruit ripens next season.

Film Title: James and The Giant Peach
Directed By: Henry Selick
1996, Rated PG, 80 minutes

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this film:

  • Why This Film Is Worth It: This film is an ode to imagination. Filled with delightful insects who befriend James, fantastic adventures on the high seas, and a great come-uppance for the nasty aunties, this film satsifies the younger set (K and older). The film begins as live action and then neatly transforms to stop-motion animation after James enters the world of the peach, and then back to live action as he alights from atop the Empire State Building.
  • Red Flags: The parents are devoured by a rhino, but it happens off camera and is dealt with quickly. The rhino comes to life again in the shape of a cloud at the end of the film, but James refuses to be cowed and it dissolves. The aunts are quite mean to James, but they are not really scary.
  • Adaptation Alert: Based upon the beloved book of the same name by Roald Dahl, the film does a wonderful job at translating the fantastic nature of James' journey. We highly recommend reading Dahl's books with your kids (there is a great audio recording which Dahl reads the stories himself - see our Bookstore) as well as seeing their movie adaptations, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda.
  • Can You Hear Me? Grown-ups will have fun trying to identify the voices of Susan Sarandon (Spider) and Richard Dreyfuss (Centipede).

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom for talking to your kids about this film:

  • Cinema Savvy:  Producer Tim Burton and director Henry Selick used stop-motion animation to create this film, as they did in the Nightmare Before Christmas. James and his bug friends are all 3-D puppets, who are moved a tiny bit between each frame of the film. The result is seamless so point out the painstaking work to your kids, whom are no doubt accustomed to computerized, and hand-drawn animation.
  • Culinary Savvy: Ruth Riechl (Editor of Gourmet Magazine) said that reading Michael Pollan's latest book The Omnivore's Dilemma was a "life changing experience" because he examines the complexity of food production in the world and it's implications for the future of our kids' lives and the planet. Next time you are in the grocery store, ask the kids to think about where all the items came from and the amount of labor it took for them to be in a place where you can conveniently pick them up on the way home for dinner. Might you make different choices once you know this?
  • Art Savvy:  For those of your kids who were lucky enough to see the Magritte show this year at LACMA, ask them whether they see Magritte's influence in the image of the over-sized peach.  You might also want to show them the Allman Bros.' album cover from Eat A Peach, clearly Magritte-inspired. 


Cherry Picking in Leona Valley

Hobart's Cherry Orchard
You Pick Organic Sweet and Sour Cherries
40121 95th Street West
Leona Valley, CA 93551

Age Recommendation: Toddlers to teens
Time Allotment:
Half a day with driving

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Popcorn Adventure:

  • What Worked for Us: Kids of all ages will enjoy picking fruit off the trees and wandering the beautiful orchards. Our most critical advice (besides advising that non cherry-lovers stay home) is to wear OLD CLOTHES. Cherry juice will prevail in a match with exuberant children. Bring a cooler for transporting your fruit home. Visit in the early morning, as it gets hot in Leona Valley; sun screen and hats are also imperative. A picnic is a good choice either to eat at the orchard, or in the car on the way home.
  • When to Go: Jennifer Beeler, President of the 22 orchards that comprise the Leona Valley Association, advises calling her hot line (661-266-7116) before coming to pick, as conditions change rapidly. "This year's drought makes the fruit picking season brief, so don't hesitate to come pick". Best guess is that by Memorial Day weekend, there will be a brief two week window - until Father's Day - in which to pick great fruit!
  • Before you Go: Visit the Hobart Cherry Orchard website for more tips about picking fruit.
  • Hours: Normally, hours are 8-5 on weekdays and 7-5 on weekends but call the hot line first to be sure the orchard is open when you plan to visit. Come early in the day to avoid the heat and crowds.
  • Pricing: Pickers pay for fruit by the pound. You can expect to pay anything between $2.50 and $3.00 depending on the orchard you visit.
  • What to do with all the Cherries you pick? If you pick more than you can eat and/or bake, you can freeze the berries for consumption later. It's best to pit the cherries first. Click here to see Williams Sonoma's cherry pitter.
  • Cherry Festival and Parade: The town of Leona throws a huge party on June 9, with a parade and a festival. Apparently, everything in town stops for the parade (about an hour and half between 10 and 12 am) so don't plan on doing anything but watching at that point.

Our tips for other fruit picking around Los Angeles:

  • Underwood Family Farms: You've probably purchased fruit from Underwood if you shop at the Farmers' Markets around town, for they frequent most of them throughout the week. With two separate locations, one in Moorpark and another eight miles away in Somis, Underwood is set up for fruit and vegetable picking all year long and is open seven days a week. The Moorpark location charges a $3.00 entrance fee (and of course you pay for your veggies once you pick them) and currently has lettuces, watermelon, all types of squash and... of course strawberries. (They'll have corn by July 4). You'll find blueberries and raspberries at the Somis location starting Memorial Day weekend - the blueberry season lasts about 4-8 weeks. Somis has a farmstand, as well as a few animals, but always call first to see what is in season: 805-386-4660.
  • Think you know your berries? So did we -- but click here and see if you have ever tasted (or seen) all of these berries.
  • Fallen Click here to read the manifesto of an artist activist group from LA that believes every city should plant fruit trees for the public's (free) enjoyment. Look around the site and you'll find maps of neighborhoods in Silver Lake and Hancock Park that have trees with available, harvestable fruit!

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

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