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.
This weekend we decided to do something that none of us have done before: we picked peaches.
Pick-Your-Own was a staple of my childhood. Scotland is renowned for its soft fruit growing so we would pick berries throughout the season, gorging on them until we swore we would never eat them again. Other times we would head to the farm to pick up vegetables or to root around and find free range chicken, duck and goose eggs – fingers crossed for a double yolker. Peaches, however, were not part of my landscape growing up*. There were apple orchards and pear trees, plums and apricots but no peaches. So peach picking was a new experience for us all.
We headed out to a farm near Pennsylvania’s border with New Jersey. Once there, we collected some plastic bushels** and hopped on the trailer attached to a tractor to be taken out into the fields. We were assured that it was too far to walk but actually everything was within easy walking distance and we ended up walking back even though we were carrying full buckets by then. It was, therefore, possible to wander around and collect all manner of seasonal produce.
The kids and I are all huge devourers of peaches and Mr Pict is quite fond of them as ingredients in pies and cobblers so we devoted most of our time on the farm in the peach orchard. As an aside, thanks to my husband being a Civil War nerd, I can never not think of body strewn battlefields when I see the phrase “peach orchard”. Anyway, there were yellow peaches, white peaches and nectarines all ripe and available to be picked. Our preference is for juicy, fuzzy, fleshy yellow peaches so we wandered far down those rows and started picking. The fruit was abundant and easily plucked from the branches. We were looking for peaches that had a nice red bloom on them but were not so ripe that they would need to be eaten immediately. My 8 year old found some peaches were the silhouette of a leaf or of the curve of an adjacent peach had been caught on the red part of the skin which was quite interesting to see.
Having filled two bushels with peaches, we decided to head over to the vegetable patches. My personal aversion to aubergine means that my kids have little or no experience of eating those beyond their appearance in ratatouille. We, therefore, looked at two different varieties of aubergine (or eggplant as they are called in America), the regular bulbous ones and the longer Italian ones. My 9 year old selected an almost spherical, deeply purple aubergine to try. We then headed to the area where beans were grown and in no time at all we had filled an entire bucket with green beans and yellow wax beans. I tried in vain to find the okra and the boys were beginning to melt in the afternoon son so I had to give up that quest.
We all thoroughly enjoyed our first peach picking experience and it saved us so much money to buy the fruit and veg through pick-your-own that we definitely think we will return to that and other farms again to enjoy collecting more delicious seasonal produce. Now I need to go and make a peach cobbler.
* I believe peach trees can be grown in the UK but I have personally never seen them.
** We collected our fruit in bushels but I couldn’t resist the alliteration of peck for the title.