U-pick berries: a taste of summer sunshine
Nothing says summer like the explosion of sweet juice from a sun-warm strawberry or fingers stained purple from picking plump blackberries. The Northwest offers plenty of ways for families to enjoy summer berries. Your first stop this summer could be Remlinger Farms in Carnation, where the strawberry fields open in June.
Farm manager Cheryl Paquette says that strawberries don’t ripen after they’re picked, so only “pick what looks good to you.” Clean dirt off the strawberries with a damp cloth — the berries haven’t been sprayed, so you don’t need to worry about pesticides. In fact, they’re good enough to eat right off the bush, and Paquette isn’t worried if your kids sneak a few: “ We know they’re going to eat them.” You might want to visit several times, because raspberries ripen in July as the strawberries fade, and blueberries follow in August.
Remlinger Farms isn’t the area’s only farm that grows blueberries; try Bellevue’s Mercer Slough Blueberry Farm and Blueberry Park in Tacoma. The best way to pick blueberries, according to Mercer Slough’s Ray Pace, is to grab a cluster of berries with your fingers underneath like a funnel, and knock the berries into your bucket with your thumbs. Don’t wash the berries until you use them because they stick together and absorb water.
If you want to pick, but you don’t want to pay, head towards one of the area’s many blackberry patches. (You won’t have to travel far!) Most blackberry patches in local parks are free from pesticides and ready to be picked. According to Mary Anderson of Metro Parks Tacoma, the park service mows instead, and sprayed bushes will be marked with pesticide warning tags. Kirkland’s parks follow this same policy. “We know that people love to pick berries,” says Kirkland park manager Jason Filan.
If in doubt, check for stunted or wildly distorted growth caused by pesticides. Wear long pants to protect yourself from vicious thorns, and try using sticks to lift berry clusters away from thorny vines. If the thorns defeat you, find a U-pick farm with thornless blackberries.
Whatever berries you pick with your children, plan ahead. Paquette recommends picking in the morning to keep children out of the heat. Pace advises visitors to wear long sleeves or mosquito repellent, and watch children closely, as the park has several open ditches. Bring sunscreen and don’t forget child-sized buckets, because many farms stock only one large standard size. Berries ripen depending on the weather, so make sure to call ahead of time to confirm a farm’s open hours and berry availability.
If you love summer fruit, why not save some for winter? Spread berries on a cookie sheet, freeze and store them in Ziploc bags. Strawberries, raspberries and blackberries also make yummy freezer jam. Kids love mashing berries and stirring in sugar and pectin for an easy, tasty treat. (Just buy some no-cook freezer jam pectin and follow the package directions.) Whether you nibble a few blackberries at the park or bring home gallons of strawberries, your family will enjoy gathering Northwest fruit. It’s like eating summer sunshine.
Loralee Leavitt loves summer berry picking and “jamming” with her family. She is the creator of candyexperiments.com.
Remlinger Farms, Carnation. U-pick strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. Includes a family fun park, where kids can play for a fee. Open June–August.
Bryant Blueberry Farm, Arlington. U-pick blueberries. Includes a playground and animal petting (free). Open mid-July through late August.
Mercer Slough and Larson Lake Blueberry Farms, Bellevue. U-pick blueberries. Open early July through late September.
Blueberry Park, Tacoma. U-pick blueberries. Open dawn to dusk; first come, first served. Bring buckets.
Foxberry Farm Tacoma. U-pick raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. Open Thursday–Sunday, July 10 through late September. 253-926-8407
Schilter Family Farm, Olympia. U-pick strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. Open June through September.
To find additional U-pick farms: Visit pugetsoundfresh.com (click “Find a Farm” and search for U-pick) Look for the 2010 Farm Guide, available at libraries and produce stands.Google+