Shute Fruit in Bishopsteigton opened their farm gates for the season on Friday18 June. They are currently offering Pick Your Own (PYO) strawberries and ready-cut new season broad beans. I was the second customer through the door (yes, very keen indeed) and was eager to be let loose on the strawberry field.
The farm is run by Lori Reich and David Lamboll and is situated in a magnificent location, an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the banks of the Teign Estuary. They work very hard to produce magnificent crops. Lori is well known on the farmers' market and food festival circuit for her award-winning jams, chutneys and for her cookery demonstrations. Last summer I saw her rustle up an impressive cream tea from the raw ingredients in under thirty minutes, on stage at the Abbfest Beer and Food Festival.
She is a mine of information about other local food producers and passionate about her favourite home-style recipes. The Shute Fruit website provides useful information on how to make microwave strawberry jam. This is ideal if, like me, you find that once you've started picking strawberries, it's very difficult to stop and you end up with punnet-loads more than you can eat fresh.
The Pegasus variety of strawberries that I picked with my friend were heavenly - Lori encourages you to 'try before you buy', although prefers people to just sample one or two of each variety. I was impressed by the sweetness and perfume of the strawberries - incredibly sweet and juicy, only a real sweet-tooth would need to put any sugar on these beauties. There were masses of plump, large fruit to be collected, shining out like hidden jewels amongst the golden straw and green foliage. We collected six large punnets in under an hour.
You can check the website to see what crops are available on the day you want to visit - this is updated daily. There are some benches for you to enjoy the sunshine, the passing trains, the wildlife and your fruit feast (after paying at the caravan with makeshift shop counter), perhaps with a punnet of ice cream or clotted cream?
On the opposite side of the River Teign, Netherton PYO will be a prolific soft fruit producer for the next two months or so. I visited last weekend with a 19 month old strawberry fan. She couldn't believe her luck! She gorged herself on the sweet red Elsanta strawberries. Her father was kind and honest enough to pay an extra contribution for the extra unweighed fruit that his daughter had consumed before making it back to the scales!
The Elsanta strawberries are a useful early variety (often found in supermarkets) but they don't have the depth of flavour of the more traditional perfumed varieties such as Pegasus and Pandora.
A trip to Netherton can be a great family afternoon out - most kids, parents and grandparents love the thrill of seeking out the largest, weirdest or sweetest fruit - there can certainly be a competitive element. It's also great to remind children where their food comes from and how lucky we are in Devon to have such bounty on our doorsteps. Netherton also provides a tea shack and picnic benches offering homemade cakes, clotted cream, ice creams, teas and coffees and (rather cleverly) jam sugar to take home for your preserves.
The sign at Netherton warns people not to 'oversample' their strawberries and to be honest and pay for what they pick - fruit farms have been struggling to survive in recent years. We certainly wouldn't want to see them shut down.
The season is so short, I'm going to make the most of them over the next few months and try to visit them on a weekly basis. So, whether it's tennis or football, let's remember to take a break from all the sport on television and get out in the sunshine, pick fresh berries and enjoy the fruits of the local farmers' labours - it's almost as healthy as playing tennis.
Another PYO that I haven't yet visited in the South Devon area is Boyces Nursery and Fruit Farm at Shillingford St George, nr Exeter - comments welcome.