Food Focus: You gotta fill a punnet or two...
ONE of the local foodie highlights of the year for me is when Hawkswick Pick Your Own open for business.
This local gem is found halfway along the Harpenden Road and you have to be quick to spot the sign as they are only open for about two months each year.
Anthony and Lynne Walters had to delay opening this year by a week or so as some fruit still had to ripen but last Saturday they opened, so get there while you can!
The PYO is very easy to get to, as there is a bus stop right outside and the cycle path goes by the front entrance. There is also plenty of free parking, so look for the sign and be ready to turn in quickly.
When you arrive you will see acres of fruit bushes and a small hut where you collect your punnets. Lynne explained to me that they have many regulars, with people coming from miles away, including London, but also lots of people who come each year for the first time.
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The idea is that you take a couple of punnets from the small table by the hut and wander among the bushes picking your own fruit; take a punnet for each type of fruit you want. You then take them back to the hut for weighing and payment. A sign by the hut tells you what is ready and how much each fruit costs.
Fruit picking is ideal for children as you can show them how fruit grows and how it varies through the seasons and everything is at the right height for them. I took my two girls on Saturday but there were also lots of adults there, having a lovely morning picking some excellent quality fruit.
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The first bushes you will see are the redcurrants and blackcurrants, which won’t be ready until July, so if you are a keen jam maker, come back for those in a couple of weeks.
The next rows contain my favourite, gooseberries. Hawkswick grow two varieties, the familiar green Invicta which is fantastic for making crumble and jam. They also grow Pax, a red dessert gooseberry, which you can eat when very ripe, but I prefer to use it to make jam; it is delicious.
It is not easy to find good gooseberries in supermarkets, and it is very unusual to find red ones, so this is a great opportunity. Gooseberry plants are very prickly, so I would recommend you take a pair of gardening gloves with you to reach the really juicy ones that others have missed!
Next are the rows of raspberries, which are favourite with my girls. These won’t be ready for another week or so, but given the sun we now have it should be an excellent crop. The end of each row tells you which variety is being grown, and you can choose from Glen Ample, Glen Magna and Mailing Leo. Look in the middle of the bushes and low down for the best fruit. Hawkswick also grow two autumn-fruiting varieties, so there should be plenty of raspberries right until the end of the season.
In the largest area at the back of the farm are the many rows of strawberries and this is often the most popular area. This year alone the Walters planted over 16,000 plants so the area is never crowded, and there are always plenty of strawberries to find. The strawberries are grown at chest-height, and the fruit hangs down, making it very easy to pick. Apparently strawberries should be picked with the stem attached which helps the fruit to stay fresh longer.
You will be able to find Elsanta, Sonata, Alice, Symphony and Florence. The smaller fruits are ideal for jam-making and the larger ones ideal for eating just as they are.
Lynne was told by one visitor that her children had never liked strawberries before, but they love the ones at Hawkswick. I think that must be because English strawberries, full of sunshine, are the very best in the world. Imported, out-of-season strawberries can never match English strawberries for aroma and flavour, and I am sure once you have tried the ones grown here, you will experience the difference for yourselves.
When you have filled your punnets, carry them back to the front desk to be weighed, and pay for them. The prices vary for each fruit, but are excellent value compared to supermarkets and markets, and you know you are picking the freshest fruit possible.
When I went strawberries were �2.10/500gms and gooseberries were �2.90/500gms. If you find when you get home that you have picked far too much, don’t let any go to waste; you can always whizz together some spare strawberries and raspberries to make a smoothie. Currants are very forgiving if you freeze them; you can pull them out in the autumn and pop them in a pie or crumble with some cooking apples and it won’t matter if they became slightly squishy.
But in the meantime, fill a punnet with the best strawberries in the world, settle down in front of Wimbledon, and enjoy this very British tradition!
Hawkswick PYO, Hawkswick Lodge Farm, Harpenden Road (A1081) www.hawkswick.co.uk. For up-to-date information call 01727 831224. Open from now until end of August, Tuesday-Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am-6pm, Monday closed all day. Free parking and pensioners’ discount of 20 per cent on Tuesday afternoons.