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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

DIY Berry Picking

I love berries.

Raspberries and Blueberries especially.

In order to get decent berries consistently, particularly in the off-season, I regret succumbing to buying them from places like California, Mexico, and even further away like Chile.  In a perfect world, there would be enough grown locally (and all year long) for everyone's needs.  Well, in a truly perfect world, I'd have my own hydroponic greenhouse the size of a football field, growing everything under the sun (or artificial UV lighting in this case).

Alas, I love berries so much that I do enjoy having them in the winter, a privilege one could argue humans settling in this climate should not naturally enjoy.

Anyway... I've long thought of stocking up on some berries when they're in season, in order to help see me, at least a little bit, through the winter.

So, this summer I actually made good on this.

I had done a bit of research on some surrounding farms offering 'pick-your-own' services, and was surprised at just how many there are!  It was an encouraging thought.  So, I suggested it to some friends - friends who had the fortune of being more experienced with locally sourced foods and farms around the city - and on their suggestion, we took a day trip to Andrew's Scenic Acres.

A surprisingly large, and innovatively commercialized, pick your own farm.  At this point in time they were only offering a few options, but blueberries and raspberries were at the forefront, so I was extremely pleased!

The farm itself was fairly sprawling, and there was free transport from field to field via regular intervals of tractor trolleys.

The first place we stopped was the blueberry fields.  I'd never seen so many blueberries in one place.

While most were under-ripe, it quickly became easy to spot the choicest berries, and after an hour we were all relative experts at blueberry picking!

We came away with two small pails full.  It took a long time to get that amount, and at the time I felt like it just wasn't enough.  I found out later just how much that translated to, but we'll get to that in a minute.

In fact, when it came time to take the tractor to the next field, and even though all our pails were near to overflowing, each of us still had a difficult time not stopping every few feet to keep picking delicious looking berries.  It's amazing how doing the same behaviour even just for an hour, can make it so habitual that you're effectively conditioned to keep it up.

We actually missed the first tractor out, because we were so caught-up in stopping for blueberries.


An hour and half or so later, we were dropped off at the raspberry fields.

I have to say, compared to the blueberry bushes, the raspberry fields were in a sorry state, and I was exceptionally disappointed.  And I was not alone; most people were all saying the same thing.

Much of the crop(s) were damaged, whether from excess sun or rain it was hard to tell, but in any case, most of the bushes were barren, brown and sere.  Especially around the 'easily accessible' areas of the bush.

It did turn out that there were quite a few raspberries hidden amongst the thorny brambles, but it quickly became apparent that we were going to have to work for them.

After we all conferred afterwards, it turned out that we each one of us had adopted our own methodology or technique to reap the most success.  Some went quickly from bush to bush and covered a great deal of ground, others painstakingly pored over one row slowly. Others still, found getting underneath the bushes yielded the best results. My own technique involved stepping right into the bushes and reaching some of the branches in the middle of the rows which were not as picked clean.

In the end, there were some berries, and many of them quite good specimens, but it was tedious and slightly exhausting foraging for them.

We were in the raspberry fields for over an hour, and we each only got our pails about 75% full before calling it and heading back.

Again, at the time, I was disappointed at how (seemingly) few berries we hauled back, and again I would be surprised later when we returned home and actually measured them, to discover that there were in fact quite a few berries indeed!

Before leaving the farm entirely, we meandered a fair bit around the grounds.  We were looking for some 'gooseberries' which were purportedly somewhere nearby, but proved to be fairly elusive.  In fact, we found some extremely deadly nightshade berries before we found the gooseberries (and actually, alarmingly close-by to the edible berries)!

And we ate some lunch there.  Some delightful corn on the cob, and some berry fruit punch were the highlights.

In fact, we each snagged a few ears of that delightful corn before leaving.

In total, I dropped $43 on what ended up being 12 cups of blueberries, 10 cups of raspberries, 1 cup of gooseberries, and 4 ears of corn.  Not a bad haul at all!

So, like I said, at the time of picking and while in full on 'berry-foraging' mode, it was not easy to judge how much we got.  It was when we took them home and washed them that it really hit home just how many berries we picked.

12 cups of fresh blueberries!

10 cups of fresh raspberries!!

1 cup of gooseberries.

And four delicious ears of corn!

A very successful trip out, and an immensely rewarding feeling to have literally reaped our own food!

Of course, we can only eat so much at a time, so this is where the fine art of preserving is going to come in handy!

So, look forward to some subsequent posts on my JAM making forays!