Pick Your Own Fruit This Summer
Pack the family in the car and head to the farm for berries, peaches and more.
Growing up outside of Seattle, my family lived in an apartment complex tucked between a golf course and an outdoor athletic complex. A heavily wooded area separated the park from the apartments — much to my parents’ dismay, I spent a great deal of my childhood wandering through the trees and brush.
At the end of summer, wild blackberry bushes in the woods would swell with fruit, redeeming themselves for being too thorny for a young, clumsy explorer. My dad would come pick me up from the bus stop, empty Tupperware container in hand, and we’d pick blackberries along the walk home.
I’m spending less time roaming the backwoods these days, but I still make a point to go berry picking every summer. Pick-your-own farms open the door to a variety of produce and as a result, endless recipes. Visit the right farm at the right time of year and you can pick blackberries, blueberries, peaches and even apples all in one trip. (That’s a lot of pies and cobblers.)
Remember, that what’s available will depend on region, season and current climate conditions. Here in Georgia, strawberry season is already winding down and I’ve got my eyes on peaches and blueberries. On the other hand, if you’re in a cooler climate, strawberry season might just be starting up. Here’s a general breakdown:
When to head to the farm: April – July
Strawberries have a pretty short season, so plan your trip early to avoid over-picked fields. Once you get your strawberries home you can store them in the fridge or on the counter. Don’t wash them until you’re ready to eat or use them – the extra moisture will make them rot more quickly.
What to make: Ice cream
Seriously, you haven’t lived until you’ve had homemade strawberry ice cream.
Bushel and Berry ‘Jelly Bean’ Blueberry (Vaccinium ‘Jelly Bean’)
Meet a blueberry bush that can easily pull double duty in the landscape as a hedge or walkway plant. Berries ripen in midsummer and offer an intensely sweet flavor similar to blueberry jelly. Leaves feature traditional blueberry coloring with red tints developing through summer into fall. Plants grow 1 to 2 feet tall and adapt easily to containers.
Image courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.
When to head to the farm: May – September
Blueberries are fun to pick and easy to store. Pop them in gallon-sized bags to enjoy long after harvest season ends.
What to make: Jam
Though I prefer to eat blueberries by the handful on the way home from the farm, jam is the perfect way to preserve the fruits. Spoon the jam onto toast, pancakes, ice cream and anything else that could use a dollop of summer sweetness.
When to head to the farm: June – September
Blackberry brambles are sharp – I learned this the hard way as a child. Instruct the kids to be careful when picking to avoid cuts and scratches. Blackberries are easy candidates for freezing; if you’ve got the space, spread the blackberries out evenly on a baking sheet and freeze them before storing them in gallon bags. This will prevent them from sticking together when you’re ready to use them.
What to make: Cobbler
Cobblers are pies’ free-wheeling, hippie cousin. They're super easy to make and with fresh berries from the farm, the flavor is top-notch. Don’t forget to top it off with a scoop of ice cream.
When to head to the farm: June – September
In most states, peaches are at their best in July. Store unripe peaches at room temperature, then refrigerate. Impatient? Place the peaches in a paper bag to speed things up.
What to make: Grilled Peaches
Trust me on this one. Peaches can hold their own on a hot grill, and their sweet flavor intensifies. Serve them up with chicken, eat them with a sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar or make ice cream.
Apples in Crates at Orchard
Head out to a local orchard to enjoy apple picking on a crisp fall day. You may not want a peck, but once you discover that apples tucked in a refrigerator drawer last for weeks, you may want to pick more apples than you need for fresh eating and preserving. Many orchards also sell seconds, blemished fruits that are ideal for sauce or crumble. Snatch these up at a discount price and focus your picking efforts on picture-perfect apples for fresh eating.
New York Apple Country
When to head to the farm: July – November
Though most consider apple picking a fall activity, in many states apple trees begin producing fruit as early as late July. Store apples in the fridge or in a cool, dark location.
What to make: Apple Cider Donuts
You’ll want to make a couple batches of these. They will disappear. Fast. Learn how to make your own apple cider first, then start baking.
Some more things to keep in mind before you get in the car:
- Always call your local farm to see what’s in season and whether fruits are available. If a pick-your-own farm has a busy week or morning, it may close to allow time for fruits to ripen again.
- Go early in the season rather than later so you don’t miss out on your favorite summer fruits. Plus, you’ll avoid peak season crowds.
- Don’t forget sunscreen, water and comfortable shoes.
- You probably will see a critter or two while picking. Birds love berries, too!
- Don’t be afraid to reach deep to get fruits tucked away on the undersides of branches.
- Some farms provide buckets to put your fruits in, others expect you to bring your own. Check first.
- Every farm doesn’t have a card reader. Bring cash.