It's time for pick-your-own season. The season that starts with robust, red strawberries that smell of the sun and end with pumpkins waiting patiently for a face. This is an unabashed promotion of my favorite place, which I'm almost loathe to tell you about, as I don't want to spoil the uncrowded, not-in-Boston-anymore feel.
Bypass the farms close to the city and those that (gasp) make you pay to enter. Go straight up to Parlee Farms in Tyngsborough. It may take you a while, but it's well worth it. Everything I pick there tastes better, not just better than the grocery, but better than every other pick-your-own place. On Friday, my kids and I sat amongst the long-rows of knee-high plants and had a hard time choosing which berries we would pick. Every one was a perfect, magazine-style berry, there are not enough metaphors to describe this fruit. Evenly red, perfectly shaped, lovely green top. But they tasted every better - warm and luscious. My kids had berry-stained fingers and chins all day.
In a few weeks, the blueberries will be ready. The last time I went, people left the fields with buckets full of the nickel-sized fruit. So juicy and sweet and so easy for little hands to pick. Apple season is as picture-book as you can imagine with hay rides and hay mazes and long lines of pumpkins.
There is also a small animal petting area to keep your kids busy - baby goats, bunnies, and chickens. Bring some change for the feeding machines.
In addition to the fruit, I'd drive all the way up Route 3 for the donuts. Depending on what they're picking, the donut changes. So right now, it's strawberry donuts. Little golf-ball sized bites of melt-in-your mouth pleasure. The batter is mixed with pureed strawberries and then the cooked nuggets are rolled in sugar. Hot off the old-style, automated cooker (fun for kids to watch), these are probably one of the five best things I've ever tasted...and I eat a lot! Although the strawberry shortcake from the farmstand is also a can't miss. They use their own strawberries, a good biscuit, and top it with ice cream and whipped cream. It's like everything you'd expect from a fresh, farm dessert.
Before you head to the farm, and you really must, check the site or their Facebook page for a status of the picking conditions. They're good about preventing over-picking, which means sometimes the farm closes early. It's best to go early in the morning when the fruit is still plentiful and before it gets too hot. Strawberry season is winding down, so if you miss it, put blueberry season on your calendar. I hope it becomes "the" place to pick for your family.