Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Strawberries, Blackberries and Peaches, Oh My...

Last week, Lily and I took a morning trip to Marburger Orchard just outside Fredericksburg to pick strawberries.  I had planned on picking weeks before (the season usually starts in March) but before I knew it, the end of April was here and I still hadn't made it out there. A frantic evening call to Lily and the plans were made.  The next morning, the car packed with baskets and empty beer flats, I picked her up and off we went. The crop this year is prolific and the picking was really easy.  In less than 2 1/2 hours we picked almost 65 pounds of beautiful strawberries!!! Marburger Orchard is a lovely, flower laden 41 acre ranch with 25 acres of that in fruit production.  The peach trees are neatly arranged in rows according to variety-and they have 13 varieties planted.  As one variety plays out another steps up, so they have continuous production from mid-May through August. And right in the middle of the peach trees are the strawberry fields-long, lush rows of plants full of jewel like fruit.  It's a sight to see!
Armed with our baskets and cardboard flats, we settled in a back row and began picking.  We kneeled on the sandy soil between the rows and after about 20 minutes, Lily enviously pointed out a man in a row in front of us wearing kneepads. What a great idea!
But we kneeled and picked and talked about all kinds of things.  It was a pleasantly cool morning with a slight breeze and before we knew it, our first baskets were full to overflowing. Right about that time a small tractor came down the row to pick up our full baskets and transport them back to the front table at the top of the hill. In no time our second baskets were full and, after the tractor picked up this load, we walked back with our last empty flat, filling it as we walked back to the top of the hill.  Lily commented how addicting the picking was-the berries are so beautiful that you keep thinking, "just one more..."
I usually pick about 30 pounds, but with Lily's help I unknowingly upped it this year.  I have to admit I was quite surprised (and really pleased!) when Gary Marburger added it all up and said, "Just over 64 pounds..."
Strawberries are almost done for this year.  There will probably only be pickable fruit for another week or two.  Weather's getting quite warm now with days in the upper 80's, so there are no new blooms.  If you would like to pick, plan it soon and check their website for fruit availability.  Gary Marburger updates the site every few days and there are some great pics of the ranch. 
Next fruit coming in will be blackberries.  Mr. Marburger has built trellis type uprights for the blackberry canes that keep them off the ground and make picking quite easy.  You can just walk down the row with your basket over your arm and pick to your heart's content (and, ultimately, your belly's content, too!).
He has a few different varieties of blackberries, but be aware that most are NOT thornless, so wear long sleeves.  They are large berries and VERY tasty.  Perfect for pies and cobblers and they freeze like a dream.  Blackberry season should start in 2 weeks or so, but it will take 7-10 days after that before production is at its peak. The blackberries finish toward the end of June.  If you time it right you can pick blackberries and peaches in the same morning!  The first variety of peaches ready to pick are called Regal and they should be ready mid May or so.  From that point on, there will be two to three different varieties available at any one time until August.  I find peach picking to be the easiest of them all.  You place your box on the ground and walk around picking.  The trees are not tall so everything is within reach.  You might notice small cement "cups" hanging in the peach trees.  These are hung off certain branches to keep them growing laterally instead of upright so picking is easier. I've always thought it was an ingenious idea and when you are picking you will see that it obviously works!  The peaches are phenomenal! Sweet and juicy and they also freeze well. It's best to get to the Orchard in the morning-they open at 9-because it is hot later in the day.  Wear a hat and bring cash or a check as they don't take plastic.
I'll take this opportunity to post my VERY FAVORITE fruit dessert recipe.  It is equally good with strawberries, blackberries and peaches.
Fruit Crisp
3 cups old fashioned oats (not quick oats)
1 cup all purpose or whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
½ t. nutmeg or cinnamon
2 sticks cold butter (1/2#), cut in small pieces
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped (optional)

Mix oats, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon or nutmeg and pecans if using, in a bowl. Mix in cut up butter. Mix well and store in a ziplock or a freezer container. This makes LOTS! You can use this over any fresh or frozen fruit.
For fresh fruit: toss the fruit with about 1 tablespoon of flour and about 1/4-1/3 cup of sweetener of your choice (honey, brown sugar, maple syrup) per 3 cups of fruit. You can use less sweetener for peaches and strawberries and more for blackberries which tend to be more tart. Place the fruit in a greased casserole dish and cover the fruit completely with the crisp mix. Bake about 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees or until the top is golden brown and the fruit is bubbly. If the fruit is frozen, you will have to bake it longer-about 45-50 minutes. Great topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  It's nice to have the oat mixture in the freezer for a quick, fairly healthy dessert!

We are lucky to have resources for fresh fruit like this in our area.  In addition to it being a great educational environment for kids, it's a wonderful opportunity to pick enough fruit to can or freeze so you have quality fruit year round.  A big "Thanks" to Gary Marburger and his staff for making the Orchard such a welcoming place and for working so hard to grow quality fruit.  And thanks to Lily for some great pictures! I had a terrific time with you kiddo and look forward to mornings spent picking blackberries and peaches! Yum!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for inviting me mommy, i had a blast!!!! The fruit crisp is awesome, everyone at work loves it...yay to new breakfast recipes!!!! :-)