The dish on Nita Gizdich and her fabulous pies

Nita Gizdich holding up one of her famous berry pies.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Nita Gizdich has been making her famous pies for 57 years. Yes, you can buy them in shops around Santa Cruz County, but your best bet is to drive through the fields of Watsonville to the Gizdich family ranch and farm so you can have a piece of pie fresh out of the oven.

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The pie crust is from a 100-year old Croatian family recipe, as light and flaky as you’ve ever tasted. Then there’s the sky-high filling — olallieberries, raspberries, apples, apricots ... pick your favorite. A fresh, just-picked flavor. “We want you to really taste the fruit,” pie doyenne Nita Gizdich tells me, “so we don’t put a lot of sugar in our pies.”

Gizdich has been making her famous pies for 57 years. Yes, you can buy them in shops around Santa Cruz County, but your best bet is to drive through the fields of Watsonville to the Gizdich family ranch and farm so you can have a piece of pie fresh out of the oven.

If you want to meet Nita, she’s usually in her antique store on the other side of the gift and pie shop, not far from the home where she’s lived since she was a young married woman.

“I grew up on a ranch in Watsonville,” she says. “I graduated from Watsonville High School on a Friday and that Sunday I married the oldest Gizdich boy — Vincent.”

The couple moved into Vincent’s family’s ranch when their sons were 4 and 6 and she’s lived there ever since. “Often when the boys would come home from school, I’d have just made a big olallieberry cobbler,” she recalls, “and they’d eat the entire thing in one sitting.”

Gizdich Story - Nita Gizdich


Gizdich Ranch
55 Peckham Rd., Watsonville
Pie shop open daily 9-5
Call for U-pick days and hours

At that time, farmers could use the shop-class facilities at Watsonville High to repair their tractors and tools. Vincent used the opportunity to fabricate an apple washer to speed up the process of preparing the family’s apples for market. Soon after, they ordered an apple press — Gizdich Ranch still makes fresh juice every week.

“A few years later, Vince said, ‘I think we should make pies,’” Nita Gizdich says. The family built another barn and turned it into a pie shop. It’s still a family affair: “My son and grandson oversee everything at the ranch and my daughter-in-law manages the gift shop.”

Apple remains Gizdich Ranch’s most popular pie. “Maybe because it’s got 4 pounds of apples in it,” says Nita. Olallieberry is the most popular berry pie; Nita Gidzich’s personal favorite is the apricot pie. “It’s not always available,” she cautions, “so if you see it on the menu, ask for it.”

Gizdich Story - Nita Gizdich
Nita Gizdich alongside employees in the pie kitchen at Gizdich Ranch.
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

But honestly, they’re all worth a try. On my most recent visit, I had the two-berry pie — tangy and packed with berry intensity, and my sidekick had strawberry rhubarb, since strawberry season had just started.

Try your pie with ice cream and a cup of coffee if you get there when the ranch opens at 9 a.m., or pair your à la mode slice with fresh-pressed apple juice or an apple juice slushie if it’s really hot. You can always order a deli sandwich if you’re worried that the kids need something more substantial.

Sit down in the pie shop and deli or head outside to a picnic table next to the pippin apple orchard where the kids can play on the vintage tractor while you swoon over strawberry rhubarb, double berry, blackberry or Dutch apple. There are nine different types of pie, and several seasonal specialties.

Gizdich Story - Nita Gizdich
Gizdich Ranch’s strawberry rhubarb pie.
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

One piece is never enough — you’ll want to take home an entire pie for later, so head to the Red Barn Shop to see what’s on the just-baked pie racks. At the front of the shop are big tables laden with boxes of fresh berries or whatever is in season; you might need extra arms to carry it all. The shop also sells berry jam, pie making tools, local olive oils and gifts.

Strawberry season means Gizdich Ranch’s U-pick season has started, too — there are strawberries in late May and June, ollaliberries in mid June, boysenberries in July, and three kinds of apples in September. You pay by the pound for what you pick.

“We started the U-pick with ollaliberries 68 years ago, and back then women would pick 50 to 60 pounds of fruit at a time, and then take it home and preserve it,” Nita says. “Once women started working outside of the home more, they didn’t have time to preserve big quantities, so they’d come and pick just a few pounds or they’d ask for frozen berries ... that’s when we started selling those.”

The weekend we were there, dozens of families with young children were moving down the rows of strawberries and filling baskets and buckets with gorgeous ripe red berries. We wagered that most would be eaten on the drive home, and if any strawberries were left, they might be made into a strawberry shortcake that evening.

I wanted to tell them all to be sure to stop in at Gizdich Ranch headquarters around the corner so they could take home a pie, an apple dumpling or a jug of fresh apple juice to make their day on the farm last a little longer.

Gizdich Story - Nita Gizdich
Enjoy your slice(s) of pie outside while littles climb on the tractor amid Gizdich Ranch’s fruit trees.
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)