One of my passions is supporting local businesses, especially local farmers. Recently, I've been seeing lots of florists using stems of unripe blueberries in their design work and I fell in love with the amazing colour variations and beautiful foliage. It reminded me of a blueberry farm I'd heard off, and luckily the timing was right and so off we went! (Hopefully next year they'll sell me some stems in early summer for wedding work!)
Blueberries on Exmoor
I fell in love with Pick Your Own as a small child. Running between the rows, stuffing our faces with strawberries, filling the little cardboard punnets with fruit to take home and enjoy in the garden, smothered with cream. My mother would always make a few jars of strawberry jam that perfectly captured the taste of summer and never lasted very long.
But we never saw Blueberries on our PYO trips, because they just weren't around. Although wild bilberries grow wild all over the country (including here on Exmoor where they're called Whortleberries) the large, cultivated blueberry is a relatively new addition to British fruit farms. it's only really in the last decade that blueberry farming has taken off in the UK, and one of the first companies was Exmoor Blueberries.
In a tiny, hidden valley in the middle of Exmoor lies an incredible sight. Acres of blueberry bushes undulating up and down the hillsides, with the tall spikes of rosebay willowherb that grow between the plants marking the rows in thick stripes of pink. The acidic soil is the perfect growing medium and there must be something rather magical about the conditions because the blueberries there are like nothing I've ever tasted - a world away from watery supermarket imports.
I heard about the farm a couple of years ago but this was the first time I've managed to get up there. You make your way, slowly, up a dirt track and then down into the bottom of the valley. There's a small hut where you can weigh your containers before following the mown paths that will take you to the ripest berries. My friends and I wandered up the rows, herding along our toddlers, filling our baskets before we knew it. You can see from the photos just how heavily the plants are cropping
It turned out to be the ideal activity for little ones - the bushes aren't hugely tall (about 5/6ft) with lots of low branches at perfect toddler height. The older ones soon got the hang of only picking the ripest ones and filled up their pots (and mouths!) quickly. it held their attention easily for nearly 2 hours while the grown ups did serious picking and talked about plans for pancakes, muffins and jam. (One of those grown ups went home and immediately made pancakes and muffins. That grown up wasn't me!!)
It was one of those perfect summer afternoons that you remember forever. We'll definitely be back, a lot!
These yummy Organic blueberries cost £7/kg (imported organic ones in Sainsburys are £18/kg) so as well as a couple of hours of entertainment, you also get phenomenal value for money. My enormous basketful was just over £11, and will fill half a freezer drawer!
Freezing blueberries, by the ways, is super easy. Just lay flat on a baking tray and freeze overnight. Once they're solid, decant into a tub or bag and you'll be able to easily take out as many as you need. Don't freeze in the bag or they'll end up as a big solid lump!
You can see more about the farm on their website, and there are regular updates on harvesting times on their Facebook page. There's no card machine so take cash, but there is a loo, parking and a lovely picnic spot!
Tel: 07583 187558