Great British Bake Off finalist, and Countryside food columnist Miranda Gore Browne has been a big fan of pick your own since childhood. Here she shares her ideas for picking your own fruit and vegetables.
It was my dad who took us fruit-picking, my mum always said it wasn’t ‘her thing’ (probably her excuse for an afternoon of peace and quiet!). It was only a few summers ago, driving into the PYO farm near here that I suddenly remembered the trick he used to play on us. I gently drew the car to a stop and, looking nonchalantly in the rear-view mirror, said to my children “we just have to wait here for two ticks”.
My dad, the master of hiding puddings, of falling out of boats and ever the practical joker, would stop the car and say, “this is the weigh bridge in the road, make sure you don’t eat too much, they weigh us in and they weigh us out”.
I’m not sure how long we believed him for, but I’m still fearful I might be asked to hop on the scales and remind my children not to eat more than a couple of berries as we pick and chat and fill our baskets.
Abundant, generous, sweet scented and jewel coloured, a kitchen filled with baskets of freshly picked fruit is filled with promise. The promise of the freshest bowls of sun-soaked strawberries drizzled with cream and the crunch of the finest caster sugar, of the jumble of berries and buttery vanilla-scented madeira cake that will sit beneath thick custard and soft peaks of whipped cream.
I dream of the dark purple smears of the fools and crumbles that we will eat for supper on winter evenings with friends that will transport us back to hot, sticky summer afternoons, filled with too many wasps, with complaints about itches and sneezes and the breath of wind carrying the green smell of freshly-cut grass in the air.
Here are a few PYO top tips:
5 Swap a jam or chutney recipe with a friend and give something new a try. It’s lovely to find out why the recipe is special to them and give them a jar back from your batch. Or go a step better and ask a few friends to join you to pool your pickings, sterilise your jars and spend a morning making jam or chutney together. Making and preserving together is a great way to fill your cupboards with supplies and it’s good for the soul as well.
- Don’t forget to take good knee coverage, wet wipes, some antihistamine (tablets for hay fever sufferers and cream for stings or bites), sun-cream, hats, an antiseptic cream for cuts and scrapes and plenty of water.
- Make Miranda’s Simple Strawberry and balsamic ice cream:
- Whip cream to soft peaks
- Whizz fresh strawberries in the food processor with 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
- Fold the fruit into the cream
- Scrape into plastic containers or cardboard ice cream tubs
- Mark the top with description and date
- Freeze immediately.
- Quintessentially British, gooseberries are becoming harder to track down and a great thing to pick if you can find them at a PYO farm near you. Top and tail them with a pair of scissors, then cook with a little water and sugar until soft. Freeze in freezer bags and then defrost at room temperature. Delicious as a replacement for jam on scones or spread on top of vanilla buttercream and used in the middle of a layer cake.
- Seek out old vintage kitchen tools that speed up chopping and slicing. I’m on the hunt for a mechanical runner bean slicer just like the one we used to clamp tightly onto the kitchen worktop when I was a child. We would take it in turns to wind it furiously to slice mountains of runner beans that then appeared for months afterwards at Sunday lunch (having been frozen in bags and kept in our big chest freezer in our garage). A few of these tools will make the time after picking, the prepping and chopping and making in the kitchen much more fun and usually means you will have lots of willing helpers, too!
- Swap a jam or chutney recipe with a friend and give something new a try. It’s lovely to find out why the recipe is special to them and give them a jar back from your batch. Or go a step better and ask a few friends to join you to pool your pickings, sterilise your jars and spend a morning making jam or chutney together. Making and preserving together is a great way to fill your cupboards with supplies and it’s good for the soul as well.