Food quote of note

"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience"…Eleanor Roosevelt

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Pick Your Own!

I hate to admit it, but when I think of berries, I immediately picture the little square, plastic packages lining the shelf at the grocery store cooler - and I dare say most of you probably do the same - how sad is that?

While this is indeed a colorful display - I still think we can do better by searching out fresh, local berries...

I've been trying more and more to re-program myself - to buy fewer fruits and vegetables grown far away and transported to me by the truckload in pint/quart sized plastic containers and instead seek out these foods in their native surroundings - to get them as close as possible to where they were actually grown.  It's about getting fresh foods, foods that have had as little as possible done to them and have been grown as near to me as possible.  Buying fresh, local food tastes good and feels good for lots of reasons - it's healthy for me, my family and my community - what more could you want?  While at first it may seem a little daunting to bypass the grocery store cooler, you'll find it's actually pretty easy to find fresh, local berries here in Georgia - we've got a long growing season and we are blessed with easy access to local farms and farmer's markets.  So, this summer I've resisted the temptation to toss a a few plastic packages into my cart and instead, I've been PICKING MY OWN!

Since strawberry season hits first, this was my first step down the Pick Your Own (PYO) pathway.  Earlier this year, I hit the road with my friend and berry-picking-partner Rosie in search of red, ripe treasure.  In addition to the expected nutritional benefits of PYO berries, we were reveling in the secondary benefit of the PYO approach - spending a morning in the great outdoors on a sunny and warm early summer day.  It was a glorious road trip - we put the top down on Rosie's convertible and cranked the radio up as we headed south to Deb-Deb's Strawberry Farm near Locust Grove. 

It was my first time at Deb-Deb's - and, let me tell you, it was quite a treat! Rows and rows of big, beautiful red berries just crying out to be picked!  We picked up our buckets and headed out to the fields - it wasn't long before our hands were red and out buckets were full! 


It took us less than an hour to pick 4 buckets of berries each - who knows, it might have gone even faster if we hadn't been eating so many (that Rosie - she has no will-power)!  We finished picking and headed back in -- spent a few minutes talking to the friendly owners and enjoyed a cup of fresh-churned strawberry ice-cream before loading back into the convertible for a short ride back to ATL.  What a morning! 
Fresh strawberry tart - buttery crust, rich vanilla pastry cream and a topping of fresh berries - the perfect showcase for PYO berries fresh from Deb-Deb's!

Just a few short weeks later it happened all again - this time in a different color, though - the bounty was black and not red - blackberries were ripe and ready to be picked!  I headed south again in search of PYO berries - my destination this time was Southern Belle Farm in McDonough. 

And, again, I was rewarded with sweet, ripe treasure - Southern Belle Farms had rows and rows of THORNLESS blackberry bushes loaded with rich, luscious berries.  At the end of an hour or so I was hot and sweaty but I didn't care - I had buckets of plump, beautiful blackberries -- Black Gold! 

One of the best parts of visiting these farms is getting to meet the owners/farmers - friendly, hardworking folks who love the land and are happy to share their bounty with you.  At Southern Belle I met Mimi - she runs the market shop and snack bar at the Farm - she sold me some fresh sweet corn and filled me in on the history of the family farm while dishing up some warm, homemade blackberry cobbler.  I gotta tell you - this beats picking plastic packages out of a cooler at Publix anyday!!

Fresh blackberry jam - berries, sugar and a little pectin - sweet, rich and chunky.  I know I will remember my time at Southern Belle Farm each time I open a jar!
The next color is blue - that's right - blueberries were the next fruit to ripen.  This time, however, I didn't have to take a road trip to Pick My Own  - I just went to my own backyard.  Several years ago we planted a few blueberry bushes in our yard -- each year they've grown and given us a handful of berries - this year, however, they really took off.  I loved watching them grow - changing from small, hard, green balls to full, ripe, berries ranging in color from bright blue to deep purple.  We didn't get buckets of fruit - but we did get several large bowlfuls of berries - enough for eating on our breakfast yogurt and making a berry galette. 

Berries from our very own backyard PYO blueberry patch - I'm pretty sure these are the sweetest blueberries I've ever had! 
Berry season is pretty much over for this year - but - mark your calendar for next year.  Bypass the grocery store cooler filled with plastic containers and head to the great outdoors - Pick Your Own! I can highly recommend both Deb-Deb's and Southern Belle Farm - but there are many PYO farms close to metro Atlanta (or whereever you might be!).  If you don't know where to find PYO berries, check out the following website - -- it's a great resource for finding local farms, farmer's markets, recipes and tips for preserving all sorts of fruits and vegetables.
Rich, sweet berries - no matter what the color - are one of summer's best treasures - enjoy them, eat them up! And, if you can, try to PYO - Pick Your Own! I promise you'll enjoy the entire experience - the farm, the picking and the eating!

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