Salt, Spoonful’s summer issue, is loaded with berries. Strawberry pancakes, a berry apple tart with hazelnut crumble, frozen blackberry honey margaritas, super-sized blueberry muffins, and Carla Hall’s queen-like lemon buttermilk poundcake with summer berries. Unlike the mountain of zucchini or the overly-abundant eggplant, summer berries are seldom something that people need convincing to enjoy.
That said, berries — whether strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, blueberries, or otherwise — can be expensive at the farmer’s market and lackluster at the grocery store. That’s why the ultimate way to enjoy summer berries requires a little investment of one’s own time and energy for the trip to berry nirvana: the pick-your-own farm. Here are our tips, berry by berry, to make the most of your pick-your-own experience.
The scout’s motto must have been written for a berry-picking badge, because the best PYO experience requires it. Except for stands of wild blackberries you might find in the woods, cultivated berries are grown in full-sun conditions, so be ready for heat. No matter what kind of fruit you’re out to pick, your day-trip packing list should include plenty of water, bug spray, some [non-fruit] snacks, and most importantly, sun protection. Remember especially sunscreen for your arms and the back of your neck and, even better, a broad-brimmed hat to cast some shade over your entire face.
Wear Long Sleeves
Blackberries and raspberries grow on thorny canes, and having sleeves on will help you avoid some scratches. Even the delicate micro hairs that cover strawberry leaves and stems, while generally innocuous, can irritate the skin, especially if you’re reaching past them and brushing against them repeatedly over the course of several hours. If you’ve got one, a SPF approved long-sleeved shirt, generally used for hiking or other outdoor activities, may be the ideal berry picking outfit.
Most PYO farms sell plastic buckets, green paper quart and pint containers, and even cardboard flats to visitors, but why pay for these when you have already in your kitchen the perfect picking containers? Bring an assortment of plastic food storage containers with lids. Choose ones that are wide and shallow over those that are big and deep. They’re sturdy enough to protect delicate fruit like raspberries, but light and easy to carry with you as you move through the field. If you choose small ones, they fill up quickly, though if you’re bringing children along, there isn’t anything cuter than a little kid toting around a berry pail! They can easily go straight into the refrigerator as soon as you get home. Pro tip: stop by the check-out area before you start picking so they can tare the weight of your containers and you only get charged for the fruit itself!
Pack a Cooler
Berries are one of the most perishable and delicate foods, and especially if you’re picking them on a hot day straight into a container, they can hold enough heat in their flesh to practically turn into jam on the car ride home. Help them last longer by cooling them off as quickly as possible, cracking the lids of your containers and stashing them into a pre-chilled cooler. Then, as soon as you get home, put anything more than you’ll eat or cook in the next day or two in the fridge immediately.
Photo by Nicholas Gang