Anne; picking apples, without a care in the world. It happens. Luckily pick-your-own farms are the perfect antidote for returning to simpler times, where it's easy to romanticize farm life.
As a child I picked apricots with my grandma. In college I worked for a woman that let me climb her sprawling pear tree and cart off as much fruit as I wanted. A few years ago I started making regular trips to pick-your-own farms. First in Maryland and now in Missouri. This tradition has become one of my favorite summertime activities and I usually make 3-4 visits to various farms throughout the summer. If you've never picked your own fruit here are a few tips to help get you started.
1. Call Ahead—Most farms have a recorded telephone message that lets you know what is available for picking on the day you plan to visit. This is especially helpful since you'll likely invest some time driving out to the farm. Door-to-door, the entire trip usually takes me 3-4 hours (which varies depending on location).
2. Go Early—Enjoy fewer crowds and cooler temperatures by getting to the farm early in the day. One time I arrived at a farm an hour before they opened; fortunately the staff let me into the blackberry patch without any fuss.
3. Be Prepared—Like any other short outing it's important to be prepared. A water bottle, sunscreen, and a hat are all you need. In addition, you can also take your own container or you can purchase one for a nominal fee.
4. Ripe and Ready— Unless you are picking peaches you'll want to pick ripe fruit. Berries should pull off the stem with little effort. If you have to tug at them they aren't ready yet. Apples and peaches should be firm and bright with color. Remove them from the branch with a clockwise twist of the wrist. Cherries should have dark flesh and should be harvested with their stem on to preserve freshness.
5. Sample Away—Part of the fun of pick-your-own produce is tasting what you've picked. I generally pop a few unwashed berries into my mouth or eat an apple while wandering through the orchard. There are no rules against this and it might even persuade you to pick more than you otherwise would have.
6. Pick with Purpose—Before you pick six quarts of blueberries or 40 pounds of apples it's a good idea to know how you plan on using them. (I like to make jam, pies, cakes, smoothies, and applesauce with my haul.) Also, be sure to lift leaves and poke around to get at ripe fruit that isn't readily apparent. Once you get into a rhythm it's easy to ignore what's going on around you.
7. Store Smart— Remember: fresh produce, without grocery store preservatives, has a short shelf life. Berries should be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days. Do not wash berries until immediately before using them. If you don't plan on using them right away, wash the berries and spread them on a cookie sheet and freeze for 4-6 hours or overnight. Use a spatula and transfer the berries to a plastic freezer bag or container. Peaches, plums, and other stone fruit can be peeled, sliced and frozen the same way. Finally, apples can keep in the refrigerator for up to three months.
Sometimes it's easy to imagine that pick-your-own produce saves you money. In reality, this isn't 100% accurate. Despite this, the experience of harvesting my own produce and returning to the land, if only for a few hours, makes up the difference. Besides, the taste of freshly picked produce will AMAZE your taste buds. Seriously. You may never go back to grocery store seconds.
Images by me.