Summer is well underway here in Vermont. The days are hot and muggy, and the nights often rumble and boom with thunderstorms. And in the woods and by the lanes, there’s the sweet, heavy smell of ripening berries.
Of course, Vermont is known for its maple syrup, but we love our berries too. We have a lot of berry farms in our area, and we keep a close eye on them this time of year. We know that any day now, a wooden sawhorse sign will appear at the end of the berry farm’s driveway, bearing just three hand-painted letters: PYO.
PYO — Pick Your Own — is the preferred way to get your berries. The farmers like it because they don’t have to pay someone to do the picking. We like it because we get to pick each berry just at the peak of perfection—plump, sweet and juicy. The kids like it because they can eat as much as they can pick. They think they’re getting away with something, but they come back from the fields with telltale sticky hands and purple mouths.
We tend to pick more than we can reasonably use, and we end up freezing a bunch in quart bags; this works fine, just don’t make the mistake of washing the berries first.
We used to cook all those extra berries down into preserves, but we don’t do that as much anymore, not since we started carrying heritage jams and jellies in our store.
The folks who make them are jelly geniuses. They are a family business, just like us, and in 60 years of making preserves they’ve gotten very good at it. They make their preserves when the berries are absolutely perfectly plump and ripe—there can’t be one under-ripe berry in a thousand. They use just pure cane sugar as a sweetener, but mostly they let the fruit do the talking. And they make flavors that are almost a lost art, like Quince, Watermelon Pickle, and Boysenberry. Sure, we could make our own, but they wouldn’t be any better than these home-style preserves.
If you can make it to Vermont, this summer, do try to time it so you can enjoy PYO season. If you can’t, we hope you will do the next best thing and try our preserves.
For the Orton Family, Proprietors of The Vermont Country Store