It’s so easy to just go to the store and buy a bag of fruit off the shelf, but if you ever get the chance to pick your own fruit from one of those pick your own stalls, go for it. You’ll never taste fresher or sweeter fruit than when it is plucked sun-ripened from the tree. Climbing up ladders, filling up your buckets and sampling to see which tree has the sweetest fruit just takes you back to being a kid again.
Growing up, our summer fruit picking expeditions would be to Otaki, north of Wellington, to pick strawberries from the berry farms up there. It was back breaking work and we invariably ate more than we picked and gave ourselves tummy aches, but it was something we looked forward to every year. Best of all, they would sell bowls of berries and icecream on the side of the road. Bring that tradition back I say!
Up in the Cardrona Valley near Wanaka a huge drift of wild cherry trees line the side of the road (just a few kilometres from the Cardrona Hotel on the left as you head up the valley). Mid summer I often head up to forage, as you can reach the trees from the roadside. These sour cherries freeze well and with their tang make terrific pies and jam. Afterwards we retire to the Cardrona pub for raspberry lemonades, shandys and hot chips.
The standing joke in our family is my inability to stop picking. I just keep seeing more glorious fruit that’s crying out to be picked. So invariably I end up at the pay station with about 20 kilos. When it comes to picking cherries, I like to get lots to preserve – the season is so short and it’s lovely to have jars of sweet cherries on hand flavoured with rum and cinnamon quills and cloves. They are great served with ice cream for a non-fuss dessert. Savoury pickled cherries are delicious to put out for a ploughman’s-style platter lunch or serve up with cold meats and ham. A jar of bottled cherries - sweet or savoury - makes a lovely present to take when you go out for dinner. The preserves will keep in sealed jars for over a year.
Click here for two of my favourite recipes for preserving cherries.