This post will share 5 reasons you should visit a U-pick berry patch, 6 ways to prepare for picking success, and explain why you’ll get way more than just a bucket of sweet fruit by visiting one.
A U-Pick, You-Pick, Pick Your Own, or PYO is a place where rows upon rows of a wide variety of fruit if waiting to be picked and sold usually by weight. They absolutely should be on your summer to-visit list and I will tell you why.
- Fresh fruit. Delicious fruit with old-fashioned and homegrown flavor is something we all should be eating more of for the sake of our waistlines and our general food sense and ideas of what fresh fruit should taste like. If you haven’t had a homegrown strawberry lately, you are seriously missing out. They taste nothing like the large, bright and utterly flavorless fruit in the major grocery chains. Same for berries. A store bought blackberry is a travesty. They taste nothing like a fresh berry and you know who is to blame? Us consumers. We keep buying the seedy giants that are colorful but devoid of any flavor and so producers keep growing them. Let’s head to a patch and support some really good fruit growers, shall we? And really, in order to be transported zillions of miles, store-bought berries, which are naturally pretty darn fragile, have to be picked before they are ripe and they have to be bred for color since shoppers buy with their eyes rather than their brains most of the time.
- Outdoor time. There are few of us out there thinking, “gee, I really need some time in front of the computer screen!” Rather, our postures, our fitness levels, our eyeballs, and our hearts and souls are really overdue for some fresh air and sunshine.
- Awesome variety. Berry patches very often have many, many varieties each of blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, marionberries, strawberries, and more. This means that while some rows will be bare, or not ripe yet, others will and that also means you will have a ton of varieties to choose from. There are red raspberries, dark, dark red raspberries, and golden yellow raspberries, and potentially they will all be present at the patch you visit. When I pick wild blackberries, the only fruit I will come home with is wild blackberries. At a patch, you can pick enough to eat, can, or otherwise preserve a bunch of different types of fruit all in an hour or so of picking.
- Family friendly or nice alone time. It is easy to keep children corralled as the rows provide a visible and clear boundary. I have gone picking with a good friend and we picked at opposite ends of the rows and had the kids in between us, and that arrangement worked nicely. If you bring small kids, a toy truck might be of good use on the dirt pathways. Older kids can have their own bucket and nibble as they pick. Conversely, picking fruit can be a meditative experience and going alone can be quite nice. Leave technology in the car and lose track of time; it’s lovely.
- You can eat! You can enjoy the fruits of your labor fresh, serve them with ice cream, and my favorite it canning them to enjoy later. Fresh berries, picked yourself, usually last about 4 days in the fridge, if stored properly. I usually pick pretty quickly and take home more than I can eat fresh. If you want to learn how to can fresh fruit and vegetables, I’m your girl. I created a canning course for busy beginners and you can check it out right here at www.startcanning.com I am super excited to share it with you; even if you have never canned before I can SHOW you in a way a cookbook cannot how to preserve. It is satisfying, delicious, and easier than you think. Head to www.startcanning.com to learn more!
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How to prepare:
- Dress in layers. Think a lightweight long sleeve, tank, hat and/or sunglasses. Pants are obviously hotter but sometimes it is nice to have jeans on for picking strawberries, which are a low-growing plant where you might be on your knees. I usually wear shorts with pockets. Wear sunblock and don’t forget your ears and your part. You might appreciate a pair of lightweight, gardening style gloves if you plan on picking blackberries. The ones with thorns typically have more flavor than the ones that are thornless, but many patches have few if any varieties are particularly wicked.
- Bring cash. Plenty of places accept checks and cards, but cash is easy and many places only accept cash.
- Bring several smallish buckets. The buckets that we love used to hold ice cream in the ’80s and are white plastic with metal handles. You don’t want a really large or deep receptacle because the fragile berries at the bottom are easily smashed. You will need more than one because some places charge a different price per pound for each type of berry, so you’ll want to keep them separated.
- Plan for an hour or two outdoors. That might mean bug spray, a bathroom trip before you go, and a bottle of water.
- Be ready to reach high and crouch low. Strawberries are grown in low little bushes, so you can bend at the waist or come into a yoga-esque squat to pick them. My gram (the smartest lady I know) brings a little stool (like one your little kids might use to reach the sink) to sit on for berry picking and it is really much more comfortable. I try to hit those low plants first in a berry picking day because I get tired of them the quickest. Berries like raspberries and marionberries grow on long vines called ‘canes’ that will probably be wound along wires in rows kind of like in a grape vineyard pictured on a wine bottle. You may or may not be able to see over the rows and you can pick from the ground up. The canes of various berries range from smooth to scratchy- like a rasp, as in raspberry. Blueberries are grown on bushes that look the most like a quintessential bush or hedge rather than in a row of vines.
- Keep your eyes open. You should watch for irrigation pipes, hoses, etc, bees that might sting (though they will likely be around to pollinate the flowers, rather than be around the ripe berries), and other small critters that might startle you.
Not everyone has the luxury of being able to forage for wild berries or grow their own. While I think both are experiences are valuable on their own, a pick your own is an awesome, practical, and easy way to reconnect with where your food comes from and you should absolutely seek one out this season.