I haven’t been raspberry picking since I was a child. So when the Local Pickins team proposed heading out to Wright-Locke Farm in Winchester MA to check out the raspberry fields, sweet memories of picking at a neighbor’s stand of canes came flooding back. Is there anything better than snacking on fresh from the patch, sun-warmed berries?
Getting into the charm of it all, we came with baskets over our arms, only to find that the farm offers a much better option. Our baskets got set aside in favor of the farms’ blue pails, each enhanced with a rope to wear over your neck, which enables two-handed picking!
Wright-Locke Farm is a community farm with origins dating back 300 years. Now run as a conservancy, the farm plays many roles in the community, from connecting folks with locally grown foods and preserving historic buildings and open space, to providing educational programming for all ages, and offering a gorgeous setting for private parties. The farm also raises raspberries, vegetables, chickens and fresh eggs and is certified organic. They sell their produce at area farmers markets, including the Winchester Farmers’ Market, the Lexington Farmers’ Market and Melrose Farmers’ Market.
Many of the farm’s buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Perhaps the most intriguing is the Squash House, a sprawling structure with a large chimney – an unusual feature for a barn. In the past, farmers used the heated barn for over-winter storage of Blue Hubbard squash. These giant squashes, which can grow to weigh 50 lbs, were coveted for their sweet golden flesh, which makes delicious pies and soups. In the 1900s, Blue Hubbard squash sold for pennies a pound in the fall at Quincy Market. Come late winter, most of Blue Hubbards were just a sweet memory, and the Locke family then brought their stored squashes to market and charged a high premium.
Before hitting the fields, we got some quick tips about picking: the reddest fruits are the sweetest, and ideally the ripe berry should slide off the white receptacle with ease. (A raspberry is hollow inside, blackberries are solid. For more on the differences click here.) An overly-ripe berry will stain the receptacle with juice. We also learned that many raspberry patches are under attack from an aggressive fruit fly – Spotted Wing Drosophila – that is new to the Northeast region. The fly, which is harmless to humans, can ruin a crop, causing the delicate fruit to rot more quickly. As a preventative measure, we were given a second bucket – this one green – and were encouraged to fill it with any overripe fruit as a means of thwarting this fly. As a reward for helping to protect the crops with this extra bit of picking, we would get to feed the chickens the overripe berries.
On our way out to the fields, an excited young picker shared with us his bounty of berries!
We quickly fell into an easy rhythm of picking and chatting. We had an impromptu team meeting over the bushes, catching one another up on our action items, while our blue buckets began to fill. Sampling a few berries in the fields, our lips and fingers quickly staining red. We were conscientious pickers, and did a good job filling up the green buckets, helping the farmers combat the fruit fly as best we could.
Once our blue buckets were nearly full, we connected with Archie McIntyre, the farm’s executive director, who was manning the weigh station. Archie suggested freezing some of our berries, and his preferred method is to spread the berries in a single layer on parchment paper on a lipped cookie sheet and freeze for a few hours. Then make up a few portion-size, air-tight bags of the frozen berries for use in winter pancakes and muffins.
With our berries weighed and our baskets full, we took the overripe buckets over to the moveable coop. A bevy of happy birds jostled and clucked – like us – delighted to gobble down the sweet treats.
At home I went to work with my berries, freezing some, and baking up a tart with peaches from a friend’s orchard. I posted a pickin on our Local Pickins app of my beautiful creation…Cane to Crostata… Yum!