Having a background of farming I was always curious about farming in England. I still remember going to “Wadi” (Tiny farms in Vasai) and watering the plants using the “Vaaphe” (square shaped sections of fields), “Daand” (open earthen aqueducts) and “Bandh” (earthen barriers), using shovel to turn the water from one “Vaafa” to another. Also to record few of my best experiences, the time out here was spent with few good discussions with mom and watching how mom and dad loved working on the crops.
For mom this was the only source of income and then for me the “Vada Paav”(Spicy Indian Snack) and “Jalebi” (Indian Sweet) from Holi Bazaar (The Weekly Marketplace in Vasai), the next day used to be the most longed after treat. The Mirchi (Chillies), Brinjal, Ladies Finger, “Aloo Chi Panna” (Wide green leaves used for various vegie dishes) were few of such crops.
I had heard about Strawberry picking and wine tasting during my stay in New Jersey US as well, but never really got a chance to go for one. The neighbourhood in Pleasant View Garden, Piscataway enjoyed more of pot lucks and the food, apart from few excursions to nearby places. But I had heard about the fun in blackberry picking from Anna, one of my friends in US.
Yogita and Shashank, one of our neighbours in Goodmayes, had been to Strawberry picking at “Lathcoats“ a week earlier along with their parents. They really had a good time at the farms and this place again wasn’t that far away from Goodmayes. Well known Marathi writer Meena Prabhu’s “Mazaa London” also talks about strawberry picking and the ceremonial consumption of strawberries at Lords along with fresh cream.
With this background, how can I give this a miss and we fixed up one of the sunny July weekends for our “Lathcoats” visit. Finished our early? (The plan was to finish lunch by 11 ) Lunch at 12:30 and we were soon in Shenfield bound train. The views and landscape changed dramatically as we left Romford and we were soon viewing the open spaces, tiny villages, farm fields and thick forests of country side. A quick 13 minutes journey and we were at Shenfield to board the long distance train for “Clacton At Sea”.
Chelmsford was the next station. The tourist information rack at the Chelmsfield railway station was full of various tourist information Pamphlets. After exploring other interesting options nearby Chelmsford we boarded bus number 42 to “Galley Way”.The tickets were much cheaper compare to London transport and the “First Essex” buses were much spacious as well. Although many of the strawberry pickers had arrived in cars, not having a car did not really stop us, thanks to the well-connected transport system of England.
Our earlier plan was to pick only strawberries, but then looking at the options available, we decided to explore other fruits as well. The options were Black Current, Cherries and Raspberries. Although they had Apples, Plums and Gooseberries as well, they were not available for picking. The long rows of strawberry plantations with the prominent red coloured fruits, spread all across, looked spectacular.
The containers were available at the counters and you can to pick as many fruits as you want and pay only for the fruits that you pick. Off course you are not supposed to eat in the farm, while you are picking and also not supposed to pick-nick in the farm. Obviously it’s difficult for some people to resist the temptation and not to taste those lovely, fresh and juicy fruits.
But then you are free to explore, take photos and spend some nice time over here. Looking at the strawberry farms was itself a treat to the eye. The well cared and watered plants, were flourishing with heavy bunches of succulent fruits of all sizes.
The plants really are quite delicate and are arranged on wooden racks, few feet above ground and the drip irrigation system makes sure they are watered time to time. Everything was so systematic. The pamphlet given at the entrance provides the map of the fields with designated areas for different fruit.
This was also the first time, when I got a chance to look at Cherry, Gooseberry, Black-Current, Raspberry, Plum and English apples plantations. The Cherry trees were much more like “Chickoo” trees in India and the colours ranged from pinkish, white to dark red and few even quiet close to black.
We spent good bit of time exploring the farm, admiring the plantations and the fruits so carefully. We had two baskets full of Strawberries and Cherries, as we came out of the farm to the weighing area. The cost was quite reasonable and our two baskest of Strawberry and Cherry came for 5 pounds.
The later part was much more interesting, the culmination of all the efforts and hard work was to sit in the picnic area and taste each of the juicy, yummy, delightful fruit, tickling our taste buds and stimulating our senses. A few of them a little sour, a few real juicy, melting in our mouth, while most of them really sweet and soft. As we savoured the soft, sweet and juicy strawberries dipping in the fresh cream, there was nothing but admiration for the fruits and the farms. We might have had strawberries bought from the shops and enjoyed at home, but then the fun in having them handpicked by you right at the farm is not comparable.
This was such a great experience, being so close to the earth and enjoying the bounties of nature. This is probably why the village life always attracts me, as it’s so close to the real life, and keeps you away from all the manmade difficulties like pollution, traffic and so on, which have always been painful to us. In cities you have less time and more money, less humanity and more crime.
Maitri did some good bit of posing inside the farms along with the fruit baskets and Sheetal made sure we get the best of the fruits by exploring as many trees as she can. Some of the strawberry plantations even had a shade while few did not, not really sure why.
There were few aisles of Black currents and Gooseberries, but then they did not have a lot of fruits on them. It was really wonderful to spot plum and apples on the trees. The trees were quite short probably 4-5 feet of height. The apples looked quite attractive, quite tiny compared to the normal size, and a bit greenish in colour.
Some of the tips that we gathered from our experience was reach early at the farm, pick up the aisle where other pickers have not reached yet (this is not easy, especially if the farm is quite popular), pick the strawberries which have not fully ripened, especially those which have turned too red and lost their shine. Pick the ones which are not completely red and still bear that orangish shade and look a bit glossy. It’s not a crime 🙂 to taste one or two fruits to get the feel of what kind of fruits are available and also to gain some confidence, before you end up picking the wrong ones.
Make sure you do not spoil the other fruits as you pick from the bunch. It was a treat to watch those red, shiny bunches of strawberries and catch them in the camera. It’s especially spectacular to watch aisles of these plantations sitting in one of the rows, the bunch of fruits in all stages of their lifecycle, few ripe and few still quite green in colour, as they peep at you from the top.
Cherries have to be real blackish in colour; the red ones are not quite ripened and taste little sour. You really have to look up as the low-lying fruits are picked much easily and then it’s all the more fun to catch hold of the branches quite high up, holding them down and picking those really big and juicy cherries, which other could not really lay their hands on.
We hand finished almost all the half kg of strawberries at the farm when we left. After strolling around the area and satisfied with the natural sweetness of the place and the fruits, we were on our way back to Goodmayes. It was a quick and easy trip and we did not really realize that we have been staying so close to this cute countryside. Happy picking !!!