Fresh produce: Ripe for the picking

Fresh produce: Ripe for the picking

For blueberries, look for light-gray/blue ones without a hint of red. Holding your bucket under a bunch, rub the berries gently with your fingers. © iStockphoto.com For blueberries, look for light-gray/blue ones without a hint of red. Holding your bucket under a bunch, rub the berries gently with your fingers. © iStockphoto.com
 

Want to save 20 to 50 percent on the freshest, most flavorful produce possible? Then skip the supermarket and head straight to the farm to PYO -- pick your own -- fruits and veggies. Along with saving money, you'll give your family a memorable way to spend a beautiful fall day together. This season, more local farms than ever are giving customers the opportunity to harvest a cornucopia of apples, peaches, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries, as well as tomatoes, green beans, sweet corn and more. Some even let you cut your own flowers and gather your own eggs. And many add to the fun by offering hayrides, corn mazes, petting zoos, fall festivals and other activities. Here, how to get the pick of the crop:

Find a farm Check out the Web site Pick Your Own for complete listings of farms and available produce by county. Updated daily, the listings feature what's ripe at that farm; whether they charge by the pound, quart or count; hours of operation; other activities; and links to the farm's Web site. Still, be sure to call ahead to confirm that the farm you've chosen is open and what you want to pick is still available. The site also features a crop calendar for each state with approximate ripening dates for PYO crops.

Go early Since there may not be a lot of shade in the fields, plan to PYO first thing in the morning. And keep in mind that some fields can be picked clean by noon.

Dress down Wear clothes and closed-toe shoes that can get a little muddy and stained when you gobble up berries right off the branch. Don't forget sunscreen and a wide-brim hat. Bugs are not usually a problem, but you might want to carry a repellent.

Bring your own bags Some farms offer containers for an extra fee, which you can avoid if you bring your own. Small, clean sand buckets work well for kids. Be sure to tote along snacks and water, as well as a cheap disposable camera to capture your child biting into that freshly picked peach.

Go for the best Since produce can ripen at different times in the same field or orchard, be sure to ask the farmer where the best fruits and veggies are. Then follow these tips to PYO like a pro:

  • Apples Don't pull them straight off the branch. Instead, roll them upward and give a little twist. The apple will come off easily. Never shake a branch or tree.

  • Peaches Ripe ones will be soft, smell sweet and come off the tree without effort. Peaches bruise easily, so be gentle when you pick and set them down in your bucket. (Never drop them in!)

  • Blueberries Look for light-gray/blue ones without a hint of red. Holding your bucket under a bunch, rub the berries gently with your fingers. The ripe ones will fall right in.

  • Raspberries and strawberries Gently tug them off the branch. If they don't come off easily, they aren't ripe. Lower them into your container and be sure not to crush them by packing too densely.

  • Corn Use a downward motion to snap off the ears, then twist and pull them off the stalk.

  • Tomatoes These are easiest to pick when slightly underripe. They will continue to ripen on your counter at home. To avoid bruising, hold the tomato with one hand and twist it gently off the vine.

  • Green beans Look for the green, firm ones. Snap them off the plant right below the stem.

 

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