Picking your own produce at local farms is one of the area’s summertime pleasures. It’s also a weekly ritual for many immigrants who want to recreate the tastes of home with traditional preserves, puddings, and liquors. Go to any pick-your-own farm and the cacophony of languages is almost as varied as the produce.
Russians come out in droves during sour-cherry season—they use bushels of the fruit to make jugs of cherry nalivka, fermented with vodka and sugar or honey. Persians have their own designs on sour cherries. They collect bucketfuls to mix into a pilaf perfumed with saffron and lentils or cook the fruit down to make a glaze for ground-lamb meatballs. Scandinavians hunt for raspberries and blackberries to fold into baked fruit “soups” made with cream and sugar, similar to the runny New England dessert known as a “fool.” Slavic and Middle Eastern immigrants ferment the berries into sweet liquors and cordials. And Italians search for white peaches to slice into pitchers of chilled dry white wine.
In Japan, those white peaches are a luxury, apt to be carefully wrapped in tissue and sold for as much as $15 apiece. Ripe strawberries are equally precious—which might explain why in early summer, at the height of strawberry season, an extended Japanese family set up camp at one of Homestead Farm’s picnic tables. There were platters of soba noodles, stir-fried vegetables, and shu mai, but the centerpiece was a 16-by-24-inch cardboard box piled high with fresh-picked strawberries.
Pick-your-own produce is sold by the pound, typically for less than at the supermarket. For example, earlier this season at Butler’s Orchard, strawberries were $1.99 a pound; at Rock Hill Orchard, sour cherries were $2.19 a pound.
Butler’s Orchard, 22200 Davis Mill Rd., Germantown; 301-972-3299. In season or coming up: blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, apples.
Crooked Run Orchard, 37883 E. Main St., Purcellville; 540-338-6642. In season or coming up for picking: blackberries, peaches, pears, apples.
Homestead Farm, 15600 Sugarland Rd., Poolesville; 301-977-3761. In season or coming up: blackberries, raspberries, peaches, nectarines, apples.
Rock Hill Orchard, 28600 Ridge Rd., Mount Airy; 301-831-7427. In season or coming up: blackberries, raspberries, apples.
This article appeared in the August, 2008 issue of The Washingtonian.