One of my favourite childhood memories will always be picking fruit at the local ‘Pick Your Own’ farm.
I say picking, what I actually remember most is the fantastic taste of the sweet, juicy strawberries and hiding with my brother between the giant rows of corn while my mother did most of the hard work. Filling baskets full of produce to take home and freeze or turn into jars of wonderfully sticky and fragrant jam.
PYO farms started to pop up in the UK between the 1950’s and 1970’s as small farms diversified in response to the dramatic rise of supermarket shopping and imports coming in from abroad. Selling at the gate ensured their own survival while offering a lovely family activity which would become a treasured memory for many.
As well as the beautiful soft fruits that they are famous for, many PYO farms also offer a fabulous range of vegetables, orchard fruits, flowers, pumpkins, and Christmas trees, so it is worth checking your local one out.
10 reasons to visit a Pick Your Own farm
- Children can run free and enjoy the rural surroundings
- Kids will learn where their fruit and vegetables come from
- You can pick when the produce is at its best and perfectly ripe
- Picking yourself means the freshest produce that hasn’t be handled by anyone else
- What you pick will be cheaper and far better quality than if you buy it in shops
- Gives you the opportunity to pick the large quantities needed for jam making
- Gives you access to varieties of fruit such as Loganberries, Tayberries, Gooseberries and Currants which often don't make it into the shops
- It’s a great way to reduce food miles and support your local farmers
- You can avoid all the packaging and chemicals involved with packing that the supermarkets use to keep their produce fresh
- And most important of all, it is an experience your family will always have fond memories of.
How to pick fruit
- Part the leaves with your hands to look for hidden berries ready for picking.
- Select firm, red berries. A little white is perfectly OK as the flavour tends to be a bit sharper and will last longer in the fridge.
- Grasp the stem just above the berry and sever the stem with pressure from your thumbnail. Pull with a slight twisting motion.
- Strawberries will keep refrigerated for about 3-4 days.
- To freeze - cut off the stems and green tops, quarter and freeze. They should keep for about 2-3 months although they may lose their shape once defrosted.
- Harvest whole trusses, rather than individual berries. They’re ready to pick when they’ve coloured up but are still firm and shiny.
- Pick currants on a dry day, as wet currants will quickly go mouldy.
- Store unwashed bunches of currants in the fridge for up to five days. Blackcurrants, redcurrants and whitecurrants all freeze well.
- To prepare currants, strip them from the stalks by pushing a fork down the length of each bunch.
- Gooseberries are a sturdy fruit, so you can pick them into any sized container.
- Wear gloves while you pick to protect your hands from the thorns.
- Gooseberries freeze really well. Don’t bother to ‘top and tail’ the end of the fruit before freezing; it’s easier to do so when they’re frozen.
- The best fruit is usually hiding under the leaves. Tying a basket around your waist will leave your other hand free to brush the leaves aside while picking.
- Gently grasp the berry with your fingers and thumb, and tug gently.
- If it is ripe, it will come off easily in your hand, leaving the centre part attached to the stem.
- Raspberries freeze well and keep both flavour and shape.
How to make strawberry jam
- 1 kg strawberries
- 1 kg jam sugar (which has added pectin) or 1kg granulated sugar plus the juice of one lemon.
Place the fruit, sugar and lemon juice (if using) into a large heavy-based saucepan. Heat gently to allow the sugar to dissolve. Once dissolved, bring to the boil and cook for 10-15 minutes until the jam has reached its setting point. Turn off the heat and leave to stand for 10 minutes, before carefully pouring into warm, sterilised jars.
To test if you have reached the setting point: Place a teaspoon of jam onto a cold saucer and leave to cool. Push a finger gently through the jam – if the surface wrinkles then the setting point has been reached.
This recipe will make 4-5 jars of jam and raspberries can be substituted for the strawberries.
Eating seasonal fruit not only helps the environment and British farmers, but you'll also notice a real difference in taste. There's nothing more delicious than a bowl of freshly picked British berries in summer with a dollop of cream! Find out what's in season throughout the year.
There are plenty of places to pick your own fruit and vegtables across Great Britain, a quick Google search for PYO farms near you should give you some options or head over to https://www.pyo.co.uk/ to search by location and fruit/vegetable.