Really want to get up close with your food? There’s nothing more local than picking it yourself.
From strawberries in April through blueberries and peaches in the summer to pumpkins in the fall, picking food is a family food activity that gets thousands of people into their cars to visit the nearest patch of dirt.
Here’s how to get the most from the experience:
1 Pick your farm. They range from large operations with petting zoos and children’s activities to backyard berry or grape patches.
2 Call farms or check the website or Facebook page before you go. You never know when a crop will be picked out for the day or a harvest season will be early or late.
3 Be prepared to get dirty. Fields can be muddy and the weather can range from cool spring to hot summer. Take water, a shade hat, sunscreen and repellent. If it’s a summer crop, like blueberries or peaches, go early in the morning or at dusk, when it’s cooler.
4 Pick what’s ripe. Many things won’t ripen after they’re picked, and you don’t want to pick things you’ll waste. If you haven’t picked a fruit or vegetable before, ask the farm for advice.
Strawberries: Completely red – no green tips or white shoulders.
Apples: Color isn’t always a guide. Not all apples are red. Instead, pull upward. Ripe apples will come off with a slight tug. Skip windfall apples on the ground.
Peaches: They should smell sweet, be just a little soft and easily pull off the stem.
Blueberries: Hold your bucket under a cluster and run your fingers over it. The ripe berries will fall off easily. Don’t pick the white ones.
5 If you don’t want to freeze or can what you pick, don’t pick more than you can eat in a few days. A quart of strawberries is usually about 31/2 cups of hulled berries, or about 4 servings.
6 Take care of your food. You worked hard to get it. Take a cooler to take things home in your hot car. Or make sure you have a way to spread out delicate berries. Plan your stops, so things don’t sit in your hot car.
7 Make the most from what you picked.
Strawberries: Refrigerate unwashed berries loosely covered with plastic wrap for two to three days. Do not wash berries until ready to use.
Peaches: Place peaches on the counter if they need to soften a little more. Refrigerate when they’re fully ripe.
Blueberries: Don’t wash until just before you use them. If you’re freezing blueberries, don’t rinse them until you thaw them. That blue haze protects them.
Prep: Rinse and hull strawberries, pick woody stems from blueberries, peel peaches by dipping in boiling water and then in ice water. Rinse blackberries and raspberries and spread on towels to air-dry.
To freeze without sugar: Spread berries on a metal pan and place in the freezer several hours. Remove from pan and place in resealable freezer bags or boxes. To keep peaches from darkening, mix 1 teaspoon crystallized ascorbic acid (such as Fruit Fresh) with 1/2 cup water and add a tablespoon to each pint. Label and freeze for six months to a year.
To freeze with sugar: Add sugar to berries and toss to coat. Pack into freezer containers, leaving 1/2-inch space at the top. Label and freeze. For peaches, mix 2/3 cup sugar into 1 quart peeled peaches and stir until dissolved. Add 1 tablespoon ascorbic acid solution to each pint.