Summer sun evokes painful reminders of the need for sunscreen, memories of hilarious impromptu front lawn water-sliding and relaxing backyard barbecues. A favorite memory is of summer 2011; University Place resident Carley Lovejoy organized an outing to the U-Pick blueberry park in Tacoma's East Side. The sweetest part of the whole adventure was the light banter between friends and being out in nature together. We walked away with a small bounty of berries, but huge smiles from an evening of camaraderie and free, delicious entertainment. I like "free" and I like good times with friends. Do I like fresh produce? Yes, indeed.
Charlotte's Blueberry Park on East D Street is named after the park's tireless advocate and champion Charlotte Valbert. It is a nature oasis in the middle of the city of Tacoma. Located between Pacific Ave. South and McKinley Ave. East, 53 acres of land have been set aside for the public to enjoy. A wide gravel path winds through the property, making it easy to access thousands of blueberry bushes in five plant varieties. Blueberries can usually be picked July through September, though August seems to find the berries at their peak. The park is a natural one and berry bushes grow without aid from pesticides. The "free" aspect of the park means bushes can appear picked over at the close of the weekend. (7402 E. D St, Tacoma)
Packed with antioxidants, blackberries rank high in the "free" category, too. Many parks are home to large areas of blackberry bushes. Unless marked by a sign indicating pesticides have been used, most berry patches can be considered safe to munch from. Make a day of it: grab a bucket, take a picnic and blanket and head for the trails of Fort Steilacoom Park and around Waughop Lake. To combat thorns, cover one hand with a sturdy glove for handling branches and wear long pants. If berries don't come off the vine easily, they aren't ready. If young children are in tow, take small buckets they can handle, bottled water, sunscreen and a pack of handy wipes. (8704 87th Avenue SW, Lakewood)
The time for u-pick strawberries has ended, but you can still find them at farmers markets and grocery stores. Strawberries do not continue to ripen after picked; go for the deep red ones. Blueberries shouldn't be washed until you're ready to use them; they easily absorb water and clump together. Blackberries growing along roadways should be washed well, but not agitated roughly. Eat a full meal before heading out to pick raspberries to help curb your urge to eat every raspberry as you pick it.
Make it last
Berries are one of the easiest things to quickly transform and store. Mash them up, add sugar and no-cook freezer jam pectin, and presto, freezer jam appears. Not all jam is meant for bread; serve it over vanilla or chocolate ice cream, or with Greek yogurt. If keeping the berries whole, cover a cookie sheet with them, freeze, and bag.
At Foxberry Farm, August means pears, canning tomatoes, plums and veggies. September means wine grapes, pumpkins and fall raspberries. The farm also boasts livestock, chickens, and estate honey. The family owned and operated farm just off River Road is 100 perecent u-pick, and a good outing for families. Visitors are invited to eat lunch in the orchard after picking produce. Call before you go. Open Thursday through Sunday. (4220 Gay Road East, Tacoma, (253-926-8407)
Berries may be done out at Picha Farms in Puyallup, but mark a calendar for Oct. 1 and opening day of the fall season. Go for the pumpkins and squash, stay for the six-acre corn maze with trivia questions, the slingshot, weekend hayrides, ornamental gourds and decorative hay bales and cornstalks. (6502 52nd Street East, Puyallup) Can't make it out to the farm? Visit produce stands at 6502 52nd St. East (253.841.4443) and at East 74th and Tyler (253.678.3920).