Summer-time. Berry-time. First the strawberries and raspberries, for Christmas feasting. Then time for the blueberries. And to pick-your-own, a special New Zealand summer experience.
On the road again, off to visit Pleasant Valley Blueberries, and Maureen who, with husband Kevin, is another of New Zealand's tremendous produce growers. Out near the coast, on the Manukau Harbour, at Wattle Bay in fact, sits a farm of blueberries (and beef) and a true real food experience. Ripe for the picking. But only for a small window of time.
Blueberries are here for a very limited season, at Wattle Bay from late January to mid-March, if we’re lucky. Lucky there’s a plan to freeze them, for later eating.
From north America to our coast
It’s from north America that they come. The blueberry is one of the few fruit native to North America. We’re told that Native American tribes ate the berries fresh, and preserved them. Parts of the plant, and the juice, were used as medicine. And tea made from the leaves was thought to be good for the blood. Some even say they’re good for the complexion…
Cultivation began in the 20th century, and now they’re cultivated world-wide. Including here. New plantings now take in the South Island. But the great majority of New Zealand’s blueberries are grown in the Waikato. Pleasant Valley’s just a little bit north of that.
Pick-your-own right here
And, for this pick, it’s off to Wattle Bay, on the Awhitu Peninsula. Driving over rugged hills, drying off in the summer heat, there are glimpses of the bays around the Manukau inlet. Agapanthus and hydrangeas line the rural roads, roads shared with tractors and milk tankers. Then the PYO signs lead the path. What a treat, to pick-your-own.
At Pleasant Valley Blueberries, and depending on availability, there’s weekend picking for a few weeks through mid-summer. New Zealand sees two types of cultivated blueberries, highbush and rabbiteye. Highbush blueberries may be the most common across the country, but at Pleasant Valley it’s two rabbiteye types. The berries are Maru and Ono, ripening from pink through purple to blue, in two fields. They’re resting, under net marquees to keep the unwanted (birdlife) away.
Chief, the Australian terrier/miniature schnauzer cross, provides a happy welcome. And, on busy picking weekends, there’s plenty of meeting and greeting to be done.
So many berry ideas
And when the PYO sign goes up, the pickers come. On a recent long weekend, more than 500 people picked more than 400kg of fruit. That’s a lot of berries, a lot of berry muffins. Or there's crumble, shortcake, scones, and any number of other blueberry ideas.
How about blueberry jelly? Just the berries, lemon juice and a little sugar. Or what we’ve made recently? Click here for a blue cheese and summer berry salad idea - and here for a summer elderflower jelly and blueberry idea.
A tremendous summer tradition
They taste delicious regardless of how you find them. But to pick them yourself is a tremendous New Zealand summer tradition. Whether it’s strawberries, raspberries, blackberries or blueberries, we all have memories of summer picking, and sampling.
Maureen recommends early picking, before the heat of the day takes hold. She promises that she’s very happy for pickers to taste as they pick, and that she only weighs the berry bucket, not the picker too... We love that attitude.
And we love Pleasant Valley’s underlying philosophy. The picking helps people know where food comes from, and it’s a wonderful kiwi day trip experience to boot. Good on you, Maureen and Kevin, thanks so much for all that you do.