More than a chance to buy the freshest of veg, a day at a PYO farm is a treasure hunt in the sunshine.
Some pick-your-own farms look like they could be in a snap from the 1970s – lines of fruit as far as the eye can see, punctuated only by a small wooden chalet. The simplicity of these places holds a strong sense of nostalgic charm, yet the new breed that can lay on a flat white and a fleet of miniature tractors to entertain accompanying tots as quickly as you can say: ‘One punnet, please’, has an altogether different kind of draw.
Pick Your Own has a number of precursors, such as in the Victorian farmers who invited their urban customers back to their land to harvest their own food, and ‘gleaning’ in the mid-20th century, when villagers were invited to collect and take home the corn that had fallen into the stubble after harvest.
More recently, the entrepreneurial Derbyshire farmer-turned-media personality Ted Moult is thought to have been the first to popularise pick-your-own strawberries by inviting visitors onto his fields in the early 1960s when reportedly, he greeted them one by one. As soft fruit became available in supermarkets all year round due to foreign imports, the pastime lost its allure, but with the 21st century’s renewed interest in seasonal food, it is regaining its rightful place as one of summer’s simple pleasures.
How to fill your punnet with only the sweetest, juiciest fruit
- Select strawberries in the warmest part of the day and, once you’ve established that they’re ripe (red all over), pinch the stalk between your thumb and forefinger and pull.
- Search for plump raspberries at the bases of the canes, which are often forgotten about. They should lift off easily when ready. Place in a shallow container in just one or two layers – they bruise easily.
- Remove the cluster of currants (black, red or white) on a branch before stripping it of its fruits.
- Gather under-ripe gooseberries in June for using in preserves, leaving enough fruits to sweeten for eating in July.
Turn to page 72 of June's The Simple Things for more PYO traditions.