You don’t have to have a farm to be able to enjoy the fresh and in-season fruits of the ground. Even with a small space, you will be surprised at what you can grow, and with a little exploration, you will probably find places that let you pick some of their excess for a fee.
Every summer while we lived in Vermont we went fruit picking locally as a family. The children participated in every part of it. The Green Mountain State has a very short growing season, so the summer is very busy indeed, especially if the production and putting away of some food for the winter is part of it. Seeds of most food can only safely be planted on Memorial Day weekend (at the end of May) when the danger of frost is past. Frost returns again any time after Labor Day weekend (the first weekend in September). Therefore, anything that goes from seed to maturity has about 12 weeks to do so, which is not a big window in plant life.
The picking season for us would start with rhubarb: very tart, easy to pick, freeze, jam or keep in the fridge to use within a couple of weeks for breakfast in Rhubarb Kuchen (or muffins), or our annual treat of White Chocolate Rhubarb Cheesecake. (IMPORTANT NOTE – the leaves on the rhubarb plant are POISONOUS! Only eat the peeled stems.)
Next in the summer timeline are strawberries. Most of the pick-your-own places account for people eating some while picking, and my children always wore white shirts so I could bleach them after the annual strawberry massacre, as my hubby called our strawberry picking. The children would pick a few, place them in a basket, eat them, then pick a few more and repeat the cycle. We’d bring the precious berries that survived home, save some for eating fresh or in a dessert like Strawberry Shortcake or Strawberry Scones, and hull and freeze the rest for making jam in winter. I am a big fan of making jams, but with the busyness and heat of a Vermont summer, I’d usually freeze the fruit and make jam on a cold winter day when the extra heat from the stove was welcome.
Our next pickings were raspberries, then peaches, plums and blueberries at an orchard an hour and a half away near where a friend lived. Peaches and plums are not commonly grown in Vermont because most varieties need a longer growing season, but that orchard found some that matured quickly enough to make them viable. While all of those fruits are great fresh, they also make delicious jam or pies, so portions always went into the freezer for jamming in winter, and the remainder we’d eat on cereal, and in or on pancakes or desserts. There are so many options! The plum jam, made with Ozark Plums, is one of our favorites, with a slight tartness that’s quite delicious.
The fruit picking season in Vermont ends with apples. It’s the main crop of the state as far as fruit goes. Johnny Appleseed’s sowing continues to reap bountiful harvests annually. We made apple butter, apple sauce, apple pies, and many other apple dishes. We managed to have enough to also allow for freezing some so I could pull out a bag of ready-to-add apples for pie, which always had a cup of sugar in the bag to help preserve the fruit.
We have picked various fruits in Vermont, strawberries and peaches in South Carolina, pecans in southwest Texas, and cherries and apricots in New Mexico. You can find the location of local pick-your-own places online. One example of such a place is Pick Your Own.org. Picking your own fruit is a wonderful way to spend a day out as a family or with friends, and then go home to preserve some for the cold winter or create tasty food with your pickings, enjoying the fruit of the ground.