I would walk into a health food store and walk out completely broke. After a few months of this my husband and I decided there was going to have to be a different approach to this whole foods thing. Four bucks for a little quart of organic berries to put in my oatmeal was not cutting it!
We slowly learned how to stretch our dollar here, make our pennies buy more there. I figured out how to use a slow cooker for whole chickens so I could make bone broth and then stretch the meat in soups and stir fries. I learned that not everything that says “organic” on the box means that it is healthy for you.
And the biggest thing I have learned in making my dollar stretch is taking advantage of in season produce. The first time I went blueberry picking, it was on a whim just because I happened to see a sign for it on the road one day. I almost fell over when I saw that the price to pick was $1.50 per pound and I had just bought a little pint of blueberries in the store that week for almost triple that!
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about U-Pick Farms!
The most helpful website I have found for learning about produce in my area and find local U-Pick farms is PickYourOwn.org. Since every region’s growing calendars are different, be sure to look up your area for specifics. There are certain crops that grow very bountifully where I live in Michigan including cherries, blueberries, and apples, and some crops we probably will never see being in a northern region. Also! Ask around at your local farmer’s markets! The farmers there love to talk about what they are growing! They would be more than happy to point you in a direction of some local places to pick!
How to Care for Freshly Picked Fruit
After picking, a white vinegar and baking soda bath not only wash away dirt and bugs, but it will keep the fruit fresher longer.
I set up an assembly line by my sink and use a paring knife to cut the tops off of strawberries into a scrap bowl, and then toss the fruit into my sink as I go. Fruit like blueberries and apples can just dump right in!
How to Freeze your Harvest
Strawberries, cherries, blueberries, peaches, and raspberries all freeze well. Once the fruit drains in the sink, I fill up my baking sheets, and pop them in the deep freezer for an hour. To be honest I don’t even bother drying them off anymore. I just have so fruit to get through, and with 3 little ones running around, I just don’t have the time. I get them on the tray, blot them off with a towel quick, and stick them in the freezer.
A Few Dehydrating Ideas
Fill up a few of your dehydrator trays with sliced fruit and dry them up. They store nicely in jars, and make great trailmix, yogurt, oatmeal, and baking additions. I also like to dehydrate some in granola. I actually have a pretty inexpensive dehydrator compared to most, and it works really well! It was a great investment. By the way, I only recently got a dehydrator! I dried them out in the oven for years – just lay them on baking sheets and dry them out on the lowest setting your oven will go. Stir them around every so often.
I typically bake off triple batches of blueberry muffins and strawberries and cream muffins to store in my freezer. They make nice breakfast additions to have with a plate of eggs and bacon. I also like to do a fun weekend breakfast of strawberry baked oatmeal. I do also like to treat my family to a cherry pie once a summer – and the method linked there works fantastic with blueberries and peaches – just swap out the cherries.
Jams & Sauces Galore!
Most fruits make excellent jams or fruit sauces. My typical routine involves making blueberry jam and a lot of applesauce. You can freeze them or can them, so whatever works for you. (Jill here: here is my new favorite peach butter recipe, and also my recipe for strawberry freezer jam)
Ice Creams and Sorbets
Since we have such great access to quality cream in the summer months, it is nice to store away a few gallons of strawberry ice cream (just swap out the strawberries for whatever fruit you are picking!). Once a year I also make cherry sorbet which is such a treat – if you don’t have cherries just swap it out for whatever you are picking!
Renee is a wife and mama of 3 busy bees under 5 years old. After struggling for years with gut and food allergy issues, she has been able to heal, and is passionate about raising the next generation of kids with a better understanding of how food affects their bodies. She is committed to teaching others that simple, real food can make positive changes in health and can be done on a (very) tight budget, all while making the kids smile. Renee blogs at Raising Generation Nourished and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Google+.
Cindy @ DIYist says
I’m surprised that you wash blueberries in water! I lived in a region where growing blueberries is a huge thing as a kid and was always told that you never do that, especially before freezing. We usually just clean the harvest by pouring handfuls of blueberries in our hands to remove the leaves, squashed fruits and bugs, and freeze them in containers. They will stay separate when frozen, unless they were shaken a lot and became wet because of it. You can always pour them in plastic bags later if you want to save space.
Prairie Wife says
Wow, so much good information, thanks for sharing!
This is such an awesome post! I just discovered some really cheap PYO places where I live. I’ve started picking and freezing as much as I can in the summer because it tastes so much better and is so much cheaper!! I’m happy you are sharing this with everyone 🙂
Great info! Thanks for the tips!
Sally Olson says
Yes, we are surrounded by u-pick farms. Tomorrow, I’m heading over to a nearby berry grower to pick all the blueberries I can FOR FREE. The irrigation water is being shut off (due to our extreme drought) and the farmer needs help cleaning the bushes before the fruit dries up. Great post!
Julie Michener says
Being the owner of a commercial and u-pick farm I’d suggest you give that wonderful farmer a great donation to help save his farm and a few words of encouragement! Farming is difficult at best in these modern times and keeping small local farmers in business is vital to safe food production in our nation! We’ve struggled through droughts and worse ourselves. Encouragement for producing safe healthy food is always appreciated. Enjoy your berries!
It was a 50:50 trade: we picked all we wanted then gave half the “pickin’s” back to the grower. (We grow, too, and they are our neighbors.)
Wendy P says
A word of caution – be sure to check the prices of the produce you’ll be picking. It’s not always easy to find out the price, and not all pick-your-own places are cheaper. Last time I went to the local farm to pick I was astounded at the price when I took my harvest to be weighed. I should have left them all right there, since I could have walked a 100 yards to their farmstand and purchased the fruit for less.
Julie Michener says
Thanks so much for posting on U-pick farms and the fabulous food you can get for less fresh from the farm! Field ripened fruit really cannot be compared to store bought in price as it is like comparing prime rib to ground beef. Field ripened means full taste and full nutrition. Grocery store, and even oftentimes fruit stand fruit is days and weeks old, picked green to withstand transport and never has reached it’s peak flavor or nutrition. It has also been handled by multiple people and has many chances of contamination. Fresh fruit that you pick from the field is only handled by you! U-pick fruit is FAR better than anything you can purchase already picked and you should not expect to get it dirt cheap, no more than you should expect the local grocery to give it to you that way.
One thing I would differ in opinion on is the way you should wash your fruit. As a upick farm owner (we offer blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, cherries, plums, nectarines, peaches, apples and fall crops like squash and gourds) we would never suggest anyone wash their fresh berries in vinegar and baking soda. Nor we you ever soak ANY produce in water for half an hour. This would immediately deteriorate your produce and leach out nutrients and flavor. If you must wash berries use a quick rinse before draining and freezing on trays. We suggest, as does the National Highbush Blueberry Council, that you do not wash your fresh blueberries, but just sort out any trash (plant materials) and put them directly into ziploc bags fresh. Once frozen they stay loose like peas. If you desire you can rinse them quickly just before using as you remove from the freezer bag. We do not wash our blackberries and raspberries either, but because they are more gentle we do pre-freeze them on trays.
Hope this helps someone. Enjoy your farm visits!
Grace G says
What a great post! I have been putting up food for winter for several years and this is good advice but I would like to add 2 things- 1. Buy a tomato huller ($6 for the small pointy edge scoop style), it will reduce the amount of wasted strawberry by quite a lot! 2.- I adore dehydrated strawberries (I use a $3 egg slicer to make uniform slices) but have found that raspberries and blueberries lose too much of their flavor to be worth dehydrating. Happy Homemaking!
Jill Winger says
Awesome tips Grace!