Full blown Summer with a capital ‘S’ comes to England and several things come to mind: trips to the beach with picnics on uncomfortably stony beaches, walks in the countryside admiring the patchwork fields from a hilltop, strawberries and cream (with or without Wimbledon – I prefer mine sans tennis), and the sudden urge to go an pick said strawberries from a local Pick Your Own (PYO) field. A trip to a PYO has to be up there as one of the more quaint and quintessentially British pastimes. Take a rare hot, sunshiny weekend, the desire to go out somewhere and make the most of the weather, and an appreciation for fresh produce and you’ve got the makings of a sweet, bountiful afternoon full of sticky fingers and heaving punnets full of nature’s finest.
This is exactly what happened to my husband and I last weekend when we had a rare free sunny Sunday with no jobs to be done. So off we trotted over to the Roundstone PYO Farm in Worthing – a place I’d not visited for years but have fond memories of. Strawberries were my favourite fruit as a child, and I’d probably end up eating more fruit at the farm than ended up in the basket. What kid can resist the fresh, warm, sweet allure of a beautifully ripe strawberry hanging tantalisingly from its stalk? And, in all honesty, what adult can resist it either?
We arrived in the glorious mid-afternoon sun to a busy field with plenty listed as in season and ready to pick. Strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, loganberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, early blackberries and plums, cabbages, peas, broad beans, green beans and many more fruit and veg aside. We went with the thought of bringing back strawberries – who wouldn’t? It’s the first thing I think of if someone says ‘Pick Your Own’ to me, and I still love the fruit – nothing beats a ripe English strawberry. It’s like the Top Trump of all the fruits, sure to floor any Spanish blueberry or French apple. But nonetheless, we actually came back with anything but the idolised red fruit, instead foraging punnets of tayberries, blackberries, gooseberries and a gorgeous red cabbage.
Some of you might be wondering what the heck a tayberry is. Hey, I hadn’t even heard of one before last weekend! As soon as I saw that tayberries were among the available fruits, I just had to learn just exactly what they were, so off we headed on a taste adventure. Turns out that tayberries are like longer versions of raspberries in appearance, less tart in taste than their sister fruits and perhaps a touch floral and smoother on the palate. Into the punnet they went to be put to further culinary experiments at home!
The blackberries were a touch on the sharp side – perhaps to be expected as it’s still early in the season for them – but perfectly edible and honestly it’s just a joy to be out their picking fresh berries from their stalks. I kept saying both to myself and my other half ‘That’ll probably do’ but found myself irresistibly scouring the brambles for more, risking the prickles and rejoicing with another fresh handful to add to the basket.
Gooseberries were our next prey. Excited by the experience that is probably as close to real foraging as I’ll ever get, and maybe on the tiniest sugar high from the consumed berries, we hungrily set off to the next field. What we found was not what I expected at all. The gooseberries were superb. Seriously, they were massive and so, so sweet and delicious. I’d never eaten a raw one, always assuming that they’d largely be too sharp – when do you ever see fresh gooseberries as a garnish on a dessert? – but I dared to taste one and was so pleasantly surprised. They were the star of our findings, for sure. I couldn’t help but reap a whole bagful of them, not yet knowing what scrumptious fate lay ahead for these beauts. However, BE WARNED: the bushes have super long sharp thorns that shred your hands to pieces. You either need to be fully committed, or prepared with gardening gloves to pick the blighters.
Time was pressing as the afternoon drew on, and we just had to at least find the strawberries, maybe sample one or two. Or ten… Most of the bushes had been ravaged already, leaving only a few overripe squishy ones or overlooked bizarre-shaped strawberries. Their malformed exteriors still contained the most luscious flavour you’ll find during summer though.
As we made our way to the counter to pay for our glorious fruits, we happened upon the veg patch. Convenient for me, as I wanted a red cabbage for some homemade coleslaw. Having not prepared for the occasion or cabbage cutting, we didn’t have a knife to free it from the stalk. However, my handy husband knew exactly what to do: brandishing his door keys, he hacked away determinedly until the purple ball of glory was severed from its earthy confines, and lo! We had a cabbage. It made for the best coleslaw.
Our wonderful harvest came to a little over £5 – great value for such excellent produce. We’ll definitely be returning for another round of fruit & veg picking. It made for such a joyful, satisfying and carefree afternoon. Something about the open air, the excitement of finding the best fruits, and the anticipation of eating them when you get home gives one quite the mild homely thrill.
Our trip to the Roundstone PYO is certainly worthy of a few refreshing glasses of Pimm’s, which of course wouldn’t be complete without being packed full of (freshly picked) strawberries, blueberries, orange slices, cucumber and mint. It’s the stuff that British summers are made of! If you fancy wiling away the afternoon in amongst the fruit bushes, check out the Roundstone PYO website for all of the details and to see what’s in season.
Oh, by the way, most of the gooseberries were lovingly thrown into an amazing gooseberry and ginger cheesecake. It was a big cheesecake, but it barely lasted a few days – it had no chance! The tayberries were made into ice cream, which I’ve yet to try but hear rumour from my husband that it’s pretty darn good, and the rest of our berries were made into a lovely fruity crumble.
The recipe for this super cheesecake can be found at delicious magazine. Enjoy!