I was out strawberry picking in March, and, as we were leaving a little girl came running through the rows. She was obviously dressed for the “Kodak moment”—a frilly white dress, bright red sandals, her golden hair in a mess of curls. Her parents followed with their fancy camera. There was only one problem: the fields were a muddy mess thanks to the morning’s rain.
Still, rain or shine, there’s lots of fun to be had at the many pick-your-own farms in the region. Strawberry season is long gone, but the height of summer brings the best bounty. (And we can be grateful to the heat for one thing: the fruit this year is especially juicy and delicious!) Peaches, blackberries, and raspberries are in season (as well as tomatoes, squash, and peppers). And a few farms north still have blueberries too.
This year I have been visiting Homestead Farms, in Poolesville Maryland. Driving down the windy, shady country road (and even across a one lane bridge), through corn fields and hugging creeks, it is hard to believe that this idyllic location is only 20 miles northwest of the District, easily accessed by both the Beltway and I-270. Run by Ben and Maureen Allnutt, the Allnutt family has been farming this land since 1763. They offer pick-your-own strawberries, cherries (season is over for both), blackberries and peaches (now available), apples and pumpkins in the fall, and Christmas Trees in December. (Call for availability, or sign up for their weekly email. My inbox reports this week there are only blackberries, as the late peaches are not yet ready.) Open 7 days a week, with a petting zoo of goats, pigs, and chickens, a cutting garden of stunning sunflowers and zinnias, and a market selling home grown tomatoes, squash, onions, peppers and beans—there is plenty to enjoy at this farm.
Picking produce is hard work and good fun. (Is it my imagination or do these peaches taste better because I picked them?) But the best part of a visit to the farm is seeing the wonderful variety of people who come to enjoy themselves in the sunshine. There were families with three generations, retirees as well as young professionals, people from all over the world, and plenty of adorable kids. And, in the magical combination of good dirt, lots of sunshine, and no tourists, everyone is in a jolly mood. I might shove in front of these people on the metro, and be irritated at their pace on the escalators, but here on the farm, we are all friends. Boy that feels good.
Next door to Homestead Farms is Rocklands Farms, which has pick-your-own raspberries. They are only open Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. There are plenty of other farms in the region. Visit pickyourown.org to find a farm with the produce you’re looking for (and be sure to always call ahead for availability). You can also talk to your favorite vendors at the farmer’s market, and see if you could visit their farm in person. (And if you really like playing in dirt, many of these farms have volunteer days to help with weeding, etc.) But if you do visit Poolesville, you’ll drive through Potomac. Stop by their little downtown shopping center for yummy sandwiches, and canning supplies at their local hardware store, Strosniders. (N.B. This hardware store is awesome.)
What did I do with all my peaches? Made ice cream!
No-Cook Peach and Crème Fraiche Ice Cream
3 cups of chopped peaches (1.5-2 lbs)
¼ cup sugar
Juice of half a lemon
1 cup Crème Fraiche (or plain yogurt)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp good vanilla extract
2 tbl honey
Wash your peaches. If you are going to peel them, then cut an X in the skin at the bottom of each peach and dunk in boiling water for one minute. Remove from boiling water and peel. Halve, remove pit, and chop finely. Mix in the sugar and lemon juice and let stand.
Meanwhile, warm the honey in the microwave. It should only take a few seconds; watch carefully, and do not let it bubble or burn. You just want it very liquidy. In a large bowl whisk the crème fraiche, whipping cream and vanilla together, and then whisk in the honey, till thoroughly incorporated.
When the peaches have sat, puree them and their juices with an immersion blender, or in a blender, or food processor. Pour into the crème fraiche mixture, and whisk until totally incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 4 hours, preferably over night. When chilled, processes in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Enjoy!