My childhood was spent in the Kent countryside. While this idyll has its downside (cauliflower fields emit a particular smell), I did get to go a little Enid Blyton on occasion, and pick wild blackberries from the hedgerows.
Kent has been known as the Garden of England for hundreds of years, a title that dates back to a dish of Kentish cherries that were particularly enjoyed by King Henry VIII. The county is famed for its orchards and allotments, including the beautiful landscape that is unique to the county. Tiny villages and hamlets retain and celebrate traditions and the county is full of hidden corners and little-known gems.
Origin information is increasingly important to consumers, and farmers’ markets the length of the UK are gaining popularity as people seek locally-sourced, sustainable and fresh.
My children are fruit fanatics, and it doesn’t last long enough in our house to go off. We are fortunate to live among orchards and hop gardens, so they are both aware of how fruit grows. We’ve enjoyed scrumping and this summer, we’re searching out the ‘pick your own’ signs that line our rural roads.
Chilton Manor Farm is a family-owned and run shop that sells its own fruit and vegetables. This June, it’s all about the strawberries: you can pick your own Tuesday to Sunday between 10am and 5pm (4pm Sunday): the shop and the ‘pick your own’ are closed Mondays.
The seasonal aspect to the fruit and veg market means that there is always something to pick during the growing months. The berries (strawberry, raspberry, gooseberry and loganberry) are ripe during June. Next month, cherries, blackberries and blackcurrants come into season. August to October is when the autumnal dishes come into their own, and you can ‘pick your own’ plums, pears and apples to grace your menu.
Some soft fruit farms had to stop offering pick your own, because customers were eating more than they were paying for, so there is some honesty required. One farmer in Cambridgeshire reported a family who arrived for a ‘pick your own’ experience complete with a pot of cream to dip the fruit in as they picked. He estimates his farm lost £10,000 in fruit consumed by customers, describing the experience as viewed “like a giant buffet”.
When we pick our own, there is inevitably some fruit that makes its way into the girls’ mouths – and who can blame them? Aside from the beauty of the Kent countryside, fresh sun-ripened fruit straight from the fields is an experience everyone should have. We just keep careful track – and carry baby wipes with us so that the journey home isn’t too sticky an experience!
‘Pick Your Own’ Farms provides a comprehensive list of farms that offer this facility. Start your PYO journey here.