Just picture it: A sun-filled day out with your family, bellying up to a tree or bushel, and filling a basket full of your favorite fruits to bring home and enjoy, fresh from the farm.
U-pick produce is a great family activity no matter the season.
While it depends on where you live, you may be well into strawberry picking season. But fret not: There's still a full season for other berries to be had, and likely a u-pick farm close by.
To help you make the most of it, here are some details about the seasons for all your favorite u-pick produce, how to find local farms and the best recipes to use up your upick haul.
Know the Season
While it can vary from state-to-state, fruits have a general season during which they're best—and ripe—for the picking.
Those delicious, ripe red strawberries are best plucked throughout May and June, while you should hunt for cherries in June and July.
The darker berries—blueberries and blackberries—enjoy a longer time in season, typically from June through August, so no need to rush out and hunt those down.
If raspberries are your fruit of choice, round up the troops during the late stages of summer, as they're usually in season from July to October.
And, if you're looking to pick your own apples, that's best planned for a fall activity, as apples are usually ready to part from their trees in September and October.
Phone a Friend
In this case, that friend is your local u-pick farmer.
Yeah, you may have already checked the farm's website and Facebook, but that information may not be the most up-to-date.
Why's that, you ask? Well, picking conditions can change drastically day-to-day, especially if there's been lots of rain or a change in temperatures.
Calling ahead could save you—and the kids—a disappointing fruit haul, or worse, rolling up to the u-pick farm to find they've closed early for the day.
Know the Rules
This goes hand-in-hand with calling ahead of time. Different farms have different rules for pickers, and you'll need to know them—and if they'll match your needs.
For instance, a farmer who has a list of strict rules won't make for the best experience with children (some farms may even prohibit young children who might damage plants).
But, most farms will want you to follow some simple rules.
Before picking, for instance, know if you'll be charged according to weight, volume, or count. You'll also want to warn your group to stay clear of parked or moving tractors and equipment.
Also, leave the family pooch behind: Health codes usually require no pets in the fields.
Early Bird Gets the…Berries
This may be a no-brainer, but still worth pointing out.
Getting to the u-pick farm as close as possible to its opening will ensure you a full day of picking produce—not fighting crowds.
It also means you have the first crack at picking the freshest, most ripe fruit out there.
No, we're not advocating day drinking. The “B" in this acronym stands for basket.
While some u-pick sites will offer baskets free of charge, others may charge additional fees to use their baskets.
And think shallow. While you can stack blueberries high in buckets, other berries, like strawberries and raspberries, are on the delicate side and shouldn't be stacked much.
For those, use a wider, shallow container to give you room to work with.
Another tip: think about bringing a string or rope. Baskets can get heavy pretty quickly; so tying them to a belt can free up your hands and take off some pressure.
Patience is a Virtue—and Ideal for Picking Form
Picking a berry or apple here and there that catches your eye and while keeping moving can be tempting—especially when you're with the kids.
But, smart produce pickers practice patience. Take your time to look under leaves and at the top and bottom of bushes, where you'll likely find ripe fruit waiting to be picked that others may have missed.
Ask For Seconds
If you're already a farmers' market pro, you know to ask for seconds—the produce that might not look as pretty, or needs to be used more quickly, that farmers might give for discounts.
Well, the same often applies at u-pick farms. It's likely they'll have already picked berries that are a little too ripe—perfect for a batch of jam.
How—and When—to Pick
The general rule of thumb when picking your own berries is that they be uniformly colored. For instance, strawberries raspberries are ripe when fully red, as are raspberries.
Even if you have a nice, ripe strawberry, it should be plucked with the cap and stem attached. Blueberries be picked only when fully ripened. You'll be able to tell if they're uniform color and are easily removed from the plant.
If you don't want sour blackberries, then make sure you're not picking ones that aren't ripe. If the berries appear black and too glossy, then leave them be.
Wash Your Plunder
When you return home with buckets overflowing, wash any type of berries right away in a vinegar and water bath (1 cup of vinegar and 8 cups of water).
This eliminates mold and bacteria and significantly extends their lifespan.
Most berries—and apples, even—have a short lifespan once they've been picked. So, after washing, store in the refrigerator for three to five days until you're ready to enjoy them.
Enjoy the Fruits of Your Harvest
There are countless ways to enjoy the fruits you picked yourself. But here are some of our favorite ways to enjoy some common u-pick produce:
· Blueberry bars are bursting with berry goodness and double as breakfast bars as well as a healthy afternoon snack.
· Grilled cheese with a thinly sliced Granny Smith apple.
· A Simple Berry Parfait for a healthy start to mornings.
· Sip mocktails, like a Raspberry Virgin Mojito, all summer long.
· Blackberry Clafouti, which is sort of like a cake, sort of like a pancake, chock full of fruit and incredibly yummy.
· A strawberry sauce can be used in drinks, over ice cream and fruit, or to moisten a cake.
· For a perfect summer treat, place berries on skewers (your children could help with this too), cover the berries with vanilla yogurt and freeze.
· Or make a Raspberry Cobbler.