Monday, June 29, 2009

Quintessential Berries: Pick 'Em Yourself

Have you tasted a real raspberry lately? I mean, a berry whose ruby color isn't fake or artificially enhanced, and whose sweet juices coat your tongue like jammy syrup, completely unlike that anemic, cardboard-tasting fruit from your typical chain grocery store?

All-natural berryliciousness might be closer to home than you think. PickYourOwn.org is an online directory of organic fruit orchards and vegetable gardens across the U.S. It can help you find an organic farm in your own backyard that you didn't even know existed. The website also has information on harvest seasons and u-pick tips for beginners. Did you know that you only need about 15 minutes to pick a quart of fresh strawberries in peak season? So, now you've got no excuse not to try it.

Our local farm, the Avila Valley Barn, always has an incredible spread of fresh berries and veggies in its store, and lets you pick your own in season. If you're passing through San Luis Obispo County, CA, it's an easy stop just off U.S. Hwy. 101 at the main exit for Avila Beach. Once you're good and dirty (and sticky!) from picking berries all afternoon, head just up the road to Sycamore Mineral Springs. Reservations for private hot tubs ($12.50-$15 per person/hour) are highly recommended (call 805-595-7302); they're open till midnight daily (last reservation 10:45 p.m.).

Don't forget to take along your u-pick harvest when you climb the stone stairs to your hillside hot tub, so you can nibble berries while soaking away sore muscles and stargazing up through the trees. Now, that's a sweet ending.

Photo: Avila Valley Barn (Michael Connolly Jr.)

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