Picking Fruit At A Formative Age
When I was four my family spent a week working as fruit pickers in East Anglia – partly for the free camping en-route to Europe, partly to give my teenage brothers a chance to make some spending money for the rest of the holiday. One morning they took me with them. (I am guessing that child labour laws were a little more lax then.) I picked strawberries alongside my mum all morning and earned a few pennies for my haul. I used them to buy a purse to keep them in. It was remarkably tasteless – orange and pink with sparkles – and left me with about three pennies to put in it. But I was very proud of that purse. Thinking about it still makes me smile.
There was an old lady on the site, who told my mother that she spent every summer on the camp. She liked to supplement her pension with her earnings from fruit picking, and she loved having company from daybreak to dusk. As a bonus, she bought a little of each day’s pickings at cost and spent her evenings sitting outside her tent boiling the fruit up over a precarious gas-burner to make a few jars of fragrant jam. By the summer’s end she had enough jars to see her through a year of teatimes and hostess gifts, for only a few pounds. I think of that old lady every time I make jam, forty-odd years later, and wish I could have told her what a lasting impression she made.
I learned several important lessons on that trip.
1. A strawberry picked and eaten in the sunshine will taste better than any you have ever eaten straight from the fridge.
2. Making a few jars of jam regularly can save you money and bring you pleasure – and doesn’t require lots of fancy equipment or a vast Downton Abbey kitchen.
3. You are never too young to learn the connection between money and work.
4. You are never too young to learn to take care of your money.
5. Orange and pink with sparkles can literally bring on a headache. Although I suppose it might have been too many strawberries or too much sunshine.
Pick Your Own Fruit Farms – A Perfect, Free Family Outing?
No surprise then that our nearest pick-your-own fruit farm is one of my favourite free summer holiday outings. When I say free… obviously I pay for the fruit. Which I would have bought anyway. What I don’t pay for is the pleasure of spending a few hours under a wide blue sky floating on the honeyed smell of a million ripe strawberries as the kids run up and down the rows of fruit bushes in search of ladybirds. Today I lost track of them for a moment, but knew they were somewhere among the rows of fruit, perfectly safe. (I found my children – like a prudish Edwardian vicar’s wife – under a gooseberry bush, in case you are worrying .)
They love the fruit farm. I love that they are getting fresh air and learning about where their food comes from. And I love that I am getting fruit at peak ripeness for less than supermarket special offer prices.
There are some things not to love about picking your own fruit, though.
What’s Not To Love About Pick-Your-Own Fruit Farms
1. Not all PYOs are equal. Many now charge entry (why is this – I don’t have to pay to get into Asda, do I?) Some farms charge prices per kilo of fruit that are barely below the supermarket price. The idea is to make getting cheap fresh fruit double as a family outing, not to pay over the odds for either food or family fun. So avoid PYOs that charge entry and check their prices online before you go. Paying to pick fruit you could buy more cheaply is Not Thrifty.
2. Jam does not make itself. Like the old lady in my childhood camping memories, once you have picked fruit you have to crack on with preserving it. You can get away with sticking it in a fridge for 24 hours but, after that, the layer at the bottom of your basket will start to get soft and mouldy. Been there. Now, before we head out the door to the farm, I schedule myself a specific time to get it jammed. If I don’t have time for jam-making the next day, I don’t pick more than we can eat in a couple of days. Picking your own and then throwing it in the bin a few days later is Not Thrifty.
3. Jam goes in jars. This is obvious, and yet… I have, on numerous occasions, picked mountains of fruit when I did not have mountains of jam jars. Much of my jam went to waste. This too was Not Thrifty. Now I check I have jars, cello tops and wax circles before I even think of picking fruit. Honest.
4. It is very, VERY easy to get carried away. A strange, primitive gathering-lust descends on me at the fruit farm. There is something deeply absorbing about working your way steadily down a row of plants, focussing all your attention on finding more, more, more… Any mindfulness benefit of this is completely ruined, however, by finding that you have picked 20 kilos instead of 2 and must now sell one of your kidneys to pay for them. In supermarkets you can put food back on the shelves – fruit farms don’t work that way. Buying more fruit than you can use or afford is, again, Not Thrifty.
5. There is a limit to the amount of ripe fruit a small tummy can hold. On no account jiggle a small child who has just accompanied you to a fruit farm on your knee unless you have a very relaxed attitude to pink vomit. It turns out I do not. Food that comes straight back up is also Not Thrifty.
In spite of all this, provided you do your research and planning first, I still think an afternoon picking fruit in the sunshine is a fine free outing for the holidays. As an added bonus, the farm we go to is right beside Glasgow Airport and we can watch planes taking off and landing as we pick. How many supermarket fruit aisles offer that?