By Darya Mead
I have wanted to pick stone fruit since I moved to California more than twenty years ago. In the interim I have picked blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, apples and some cherries from my back yard urban tree. The lure of fuzzy pink peaches, iridescent plums and, as comedian Mel Brooks would say: “I love a nectarine; It’s half a peach, half a plum, it’s a hell of a fruit” is tantalizing.
I’m not quite sure what it’s about, but I dream of picking fruit, fresh off the tree. One of my happiest memories was wild camping in Provence in the late ’80’s with my, then, French boyfriend and waking up in our tent under a reine claude plum tree. We ate so many as we noshed on our fresh croissants and coffee.
I always seem to miss the season here, maybe it’s my East Coast sensibility or the craziness in May and June, but finally this year, my dream came true! I had planned a day with my younger son, a good friend and her son. We would pack a picnic, drive to the East Bay and pick fruit in searing heat and then cool off in a pool or watering hole. There are many lists of U-Pick fruit orchards, I picked this one Farmer’s Daughter Produce and U-Pick Farm.
I tried to maintain that buoyant feeling despite a wrenched ankle, that had me hobbled, and the whining complaints of the the two tween/ teen boys we had brought along. I knew they would rather be playing video games, but I also knew that this was going to be fun and rewarding!
We arrived at midday in Brentwood, CA, about an hour from San Francisco. College kids were manning the fruit stand and one said it was almost too late and we’d have to go deep, to find ripe and ready to pick fruit. We got some buckets and a wagon and headed off down one of the lanes. All I saw was small, shriveled nectarines, clinging to the tree; I was crestfallen. I ate one, warm and juicy, it tasted great, but this could not be the state of the entire U-pick orchard, had I missed the season, yet again?
A few rows to the left, limping through the lumpy lanes, it was like the sky parted and angels sang when I came across these beautiful peaches. They were firm but pink and yellow and orange, plump and waiting for us. We filled a bucket and a half trying to get the boys to not treat the fragile fruit like balls. I found some plums ready to be picked and a few nectarines. My friend and I were so overjoyed, we took so many pictures, selfies with the peaches, closeups, filtered shots, action shots. I relished the experience and even though picking isn’t ‘cheaper’— our haul was more than $50—we both agreed it was a splendid experience.
Lunch under the trees, a delightful conversation with an elderly Afghani woman waiting for her grandkids to pick, and the promised swim at Cull Canyon rounded out the afternoon.
Back home, we have been enjoying our cherished fruit for breakfast, smoothies, snacks and dessert. I’ve made a tart, a clafouti and jam and every time I look at them, they make me smile. I do think the boys were charmed a bit too!