We have had such a momentously busy summer as a family that we were tempted to just let Labor Day weekend be a sludgy three day break of chilling and preparing for returning to school and work. Obviously Mr Pict has worked throughout the summer months but the kids and I have been footloose and fancy free for the most part which means big adjustments and transitions. So the plan was just to stay home, sort things out on the home front, prepare for the school year, and relax. However, we could not let Summer depart without one last trip to bid it farewell.
We, therefore, decided to go fruit picking. It is peach season here. I adore peaches and scoff loads of them every season. We have, therefore, established a new tradition since emigrating which involves going peach picking each year and then making all manner of peach desserts – in addition to eating them fresh. Honeycrisp apples were also in season at the orchard. I had to have some. I had never had a honeycrisp apple before we moved to the US. Indeed, a quick google tells me that it is a variety that was developed in Minnesota and has only been available for public consumption since 1991 so it is a fairly new variety. I love them. I was always someone who ate green apples as I like my apples to be a little tart and definitely firm. I rarely ever ate red apples because I hate the floury, powdery texture that so many of them possess. Honeycrisps are like the best of both worlds – firm and the right balance between tart and sweet. So juicy too. Yum. But also very expensive when bought in grocery stores. They are so expensive, in fact, that I rarely ever treat myself to honeycrisp apples as I cannot justify the chunk of our food budget. My in-laws actually gifted me a box of honeycrisp apples for Christmas last year. At the orchard, however, the apples were a fifth of the per pound price it would cost me in the store. Yes!
So we picked peaches and honeycrisp apples until we had full pails of each. It was the perfect way to round of the summer – picking fresh fruit and baking cosy desserts.
Just over a year since our first ever peach picking experience, we decided to head back to the same farm and pick more peaches. The excuse was that my in-laws had never picked peaches before so we thought they would enjoy doing so with their grandchildren but our motive was collecting a gargantuan number of peaches so that we could indulge in pies, cobblers and crumbles for days on end.
Even though we knew fine well that the orchards were within easy walking distance of the farm entrance, we still hopped aboard the tractor pulled wagon, sitting on either benches or hay bales, because that is all part of the fun after all. In no time at all, therefore, we were deposited among the peach trees. September in Pennsylvania is really getting towards the fag end of peach season. The air was pungent from the alcoholic reek of spoiling fruit on the ground and the trees nearest the pathway were all denuded of fruit. We only had to wander a short way, however, before we found trees with branches that were still heavy with round, ripe peaches. They weren’t always easy to reach, of course, because people had gathered those ones, but the kids had fun ducking under the spreading branches and reaching up and under to pluck fuzzy, rosy peaches from the trees. The 7 year old even took to climbing trees to reach particular peaches he had his eye on.
After we filled two bushels full of peaches, we decided to do something new. Last year we had picked vegetables and beans in addition to the peaches. This year we decided to pick some apples. We had all been apple picking before, of course, since apples are grown all over Britain, but we had a) never been apple picking in America before (not that the experience is any different) and b) had never tried this particular variety of apple before, ginger gold apples. If we thought the peach trees had been almost picked clean, they were still lushly abundant compared to the apple trees. Despite the fact the apple season is surely longer lasting than that of the soft fruits, the pickings from the apple trees were pretty spartan. Nevertheless, with a lot of scouring, we managed to fill a bushel.
My Mother-in-Law made a peach crumble that evening and it was delicious. I think things taste extra scrumptious when made with such freshly picked fruit. Of course, that was the first of many fruit based desserts. I think maybe we need to go celery picking next year.
A couple of weeks ago, I won a set of tickets for Shady Brook Farm’s bluberry festival. So on Sunday, I went there with my parents and two youngest children to claim use my prize for a fun day in the sun. We had been to Shady Brook Farm for events twice before, to pick pumpkins at Halloween and to see the Christmas Light Show, so we knew to expect some fun activities for the kids, fairground food and fruit-picking. We were not disappointed.
My 5 and 7 year olds had lots of fun trampolining on the giant pillows, clambering up and sliding down the inflatable chute and making their way through an inflatable maze and again scooting down a slope. They also had fun playing on some newly installed wooden play equipment. My Dad, as indulgent grandparents do, also paid the additional fee for each boy to fill an alien shaped bottle with coloured sand, which they thought was great fun and a cool memento of the day to display in their bedroom. We also stopped to snack on some funnel cake, which was something my parents had not experienced before. They thought it was delicious. It was all devoured while still steaming hot.
Blueberry picking was something that none of us had ever done before. My parents and I are veteran pick-your-own fruit gatherers and Fife – where I originally hail from – is an area that grows a lot of soft fruit but, of all the tons of fruit we had ever picked, we had never before picked a blueberry. Varieties of blueberries can be grown in Scotland and I have known a few people who have grown the shrubs in their gardens but we had never seen them growing on fruit farms so had never had the opportunity to pick them. So we hopped on the rough wooden charabanc and were towed by tractor to the netted area where the bluberry bushes were growing. Punnets in hand, we walked the rows plucking ripe berries, purplish and plump, and popping them in our pots. The little ones were rather good at spotting juicy berries at the bottom of the bushes that had been missed by taller pickers. I rather liked the mauve hues of the unripe berries. Punnets filled, we returned to the main area of the farm, paid for the berries and brought them home. They are currently in a ziploc bag in my freezer waiting to be transformed into a blueberry buckle once we have eaten our way, like Very Hungry Caterpillars, through all of the other dessert options in the house. I am sure they will be a delicious memento of the day.
That evening, after a barbecue dinner, we headed out to attend a free concert. The performance was by a Pennsylvanian Bluegrass troupe by the name of Raven Hill. My father-in-law is a devotee of bluegrass music so I was more familiar than I perhaps care to be with the music of the Stanley Brothers, Earl Scruggs. I do love the harmony created by the stringed instruments and especially like the sound of the banjo but must confess that, despite rare exceptions, I find that one tune tends to just meld into another creating a monotonous marathon of music, as pleasing as the instrumentation and vocals might be. Regardless, the band had presence and played some original compositions as well as old covers and the whole event was fun. There are more free concerts to come this summer and we will certainly aim to attend a few more.