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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - U Picks

Frugal Kitchens 101
Like many I grow a vegetable garden but simply cannot produce as much as we need to get us through from one growing season to the next for some fruits and vegetables. Unless you live on a good sized parcel of land the chances of growing all the produce you want to use both fresh and for preserving is likely not possible. Certain vegetables such as corn take up a fair amount of room in the garden for the yield. Potatoes are nice in the garden to enjoy the small, new potatoes but to grow the amount needed for a year supply would be difficult for many home gardeners. Fruit trees and bushes, asparagus and rhubarb can take a few years to become well established so in the meantime buying this produce is the only real option. The best place to buy this type of produce it at the source.

U-picks are simply farmers who may also have ready picked produce for you to buy and orchards that have both. Always check them out before planning a trip especially if you want organic, pesticide-free produce. Ask about their growing methods. In general U-picks are mainly fruit focused but some may offer vegetables for picking as well. Their ready picked produce is quite often cheaper than in the grocery stores but more expensive than if you pick your own. Picking your own is an excellent way to connect to your food. You become quality control while you pick so you are assured of getting the fruit or vegetable just at its peak. You can also determine just the right size of fruit or vegetable. For example, large strawberries are ideal for desserts and snacking but small berries are better for making jam so you can sort as you pick into two containers saving you time later. Picking your own is wonderful exercise as well as a great way to spend quality family time and meet others in your surrounding community. When you go to a U-pick, be prepared.

  1. dress appropriately - You will be picking your produce directly in the field or plot that it is planted. That means in most cases little shade and depending on the day hot sun. You will encounter rough paths between the rows, mosquitoes and/or other insects, possibly a snake or two and/or other critters, weeds like stinging nettle and possibly thorns. You will need: sunblock, a wide brimmed hat, sturdy closed toe shoes with socks, light coloured breathable clothing, a light long sleeve shirt to protect your arms. A mid-calf length skirt or long lightweight pants are better than shorts too.
  2. water - Lack of shade and hot sun will make you dehydrate rather quickly so bring water in a re-usable water bottle.
  3. restroom facilities - These are basically non-existent so govern yourself accordingly.
  4. timing - The best time to go to a U-pick is early morning just after the dew has burned off and before the heat of the day. Avoid going after a rain or heavy dew as this can spread any plant disease from one to another plant as well as make it uncomfortable picking due to mosquitoes.
  5. containers - Bring your own containers! Many U-picks are just small Mom & Pop garden patches so they more than likely will not supply much in the way of containers. They may give you quart fruit baskets to use for picking only for calculating cost. These are then emptied into your own pail or other container. I always take a few extra shopping bags with me to leave. This helps them out and recycles my bags.
  6. wet wash cloth - Pack a wet wash cloth in a re-usable container. When you are finished picking your hands will be dirty.
  7. cooler - Hot berries spoil quickly. I recommend putting them in a cooler for transporting home.
In most cases you will have to drive to a U-pick. A U-pick is not the place to drive to for one quart of berries if that's all you need! However, I like to keep a few picking supplies in the trunk of the car just in case on one of my travels I pass by a U-pick and decide to stop. Now this brings up an issue of availability. We live in an area where we can find a lot of these types of orchards and farms within a 100 mile radius from our home. This is a huge cost savings for me for the produce I don't grow but even then I still always take into consideration the cost of acquisition. I also consider that the best time to preserve any produce is as quickly as possible after picking. In short, that means an early morning start with multiple stops gathering food with a goal of being home by noon followed by a long afternoon and evening of processing the produce. This is a very cost effective way of putting good quality food on your table while saving money so be sure to check this source out!


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