Pumpkinland Chocolate Co. in Tehama County
Today, the pumpkin welcomes people off the highway for delectable chocolates handmade on premises by the second generation of Pumpkinland’s proprietor, Sean Brown.
“By trade I’m a molecular biologist,” says Sean. He grew up at Pumpkinland, which his parents opened in 1972 as an opportunity for their kids to earn pocket change raising vegetables. The business grew to become a local attraction, with hay rides and mazes and school groups coming out to pick pumpkins.
Sean graduated Mercy High School in Red Bluff and went off to college at Chico State University, where he earned two science degrees. He then moved off to work at the University of Washington Medical School and then to San Diego to work for Johnson and Johnson.
Eventually, all four of Wayne and Jean Brown’s children grew up and moved away. They sold off the parcel of land where the pumpkins were grown and took down the circus tent and wooden Wizard of Oz cutouts.
Family responsibilities brought Sean back to the North State, and he found himself carrying on his father’s tradition of making candy for sale on the property. The alchemy of chocolate making is certainly aided by his professional training, and the transition from scientist to chocolatier hasn’t been too much of a stretch.
“It came full circle, but it feels right,” says Sean of the series of events that brought him back from the big cities to Dairyville.
“My father trained me, by and large, and the rest I learned on my own by trial and error,” he says. Of his training as a scientist and the attention to detail it required, he says, “I learned good habits I was able to bring to bear here. And I’m still learning, certainly.”
Sean relies on recipes “straight out of the old cookbooks” and notes that there isn’t a large tradition of candy making on the west coast. Most of his supplies are shipped from the east coast, and many pieces of equipment have been custom made by his brother to accommodate the work and its temperature and storage demands.
What he does source locally, however, is an abundance of fresh, local nuts. Two of his most popular creations are chocolate turtles made with almonds, walnuts or pecans from neighboring orchards. He is known for his snow almonds surrounded by creamy dark and white chocolates and powdered sugar, and he has a line of brittles made with local nuts as well.
“My main concern as a candy maker is to keep things as fresh as possible,” says Sean. During peak seasons—the spring and winter holidays—he finds himself working through the night to create candies that will be sold the next day.
In the off season, he continues to make candy but also finds himself farming and devising other ways to bring customers in. Pumpkinland continues to offer seasonal vegetables, and he will preserve what he can to extend the buying season. His pomegranate jam is popular, as is the short season for you-pick asparagus.
Sean enjoys the opportunity to go back and forth between farming and candy making. “It’s difficult to get into a rut one way or another,” he says. It’s also a fun challenge to conjure multiple ways to utilize the land and it’s products.
There are big plans for expansion at Pumpkinland, but they will come along as Sean is able to get to them. Although he still receives some help from his siblings, he says he is loath to have to hire too much outside help. “I try to do as much as I can by myself to keep my overhead low,” he says.
Although it wasn’t in his plans as a young man to return home and become a candy maker, he finds being self employed suits him quite well. “It’s a different kind of stress, but it’s a stress I can manage easily,” he says. He also appreciates that as opposed to the years scientific research can take to see results, “with food, there’s an immediate response.”
There’s that and the fact that, “It’s candy. It’s favorably received by all ages.” •
Pumpkinland Chocolate Co. 12000 Highway 99 East, Red Bluff, CA (Dairyville) (530) 527-3026