A shocking realization occurred to me the other day. I have never picked fruit. U-pick signs and orchards all around but in the last 10 years of living year I never thought to pick my own fruit fresh from the orchard.
Side note – In 2003 living in Grand Forks, BC that my friend and I thought picking strawberries at 6:00 am would be romantic. 1 hour into it we were over it. 6 hours later we had only made $24 for the day. That was the last time I picked fruit.
The Okanagan provides Canada with some of the sweetest fruit in the country. The last time I was in Saskatchewan I ventured to the farmers’ market where most of the produce was labeled as “BC grown” gaining more money from the coveted classification of sweet Okanagan cherries.
In the summertime the Okanagan valley becomes an Eden-like atmosphere with cherry, apple, pear, plum and peach orchards booming with colour and fragrance. It’s ironic, as I write this the entire valley is socked in by smoke from surrounding forest fires. We currently have an air quality warning with the sun looking like a red ball in the sky through the haze. I can barely see two streets over let alone the lake and vineyards surrounding it.
But I digress, in contrast to the idea of the idyllic orchard the streets are packed with tourists driving to and fro. License plates of all colours from all provinces and states dot the slow moving highways within BC. For a local it can be hectic. Restaurant tables become hard to come by when you’re used to thinking spur of the moment. It takes 30-40 minutes to get anywhere when it usually only take 20 – especially when an Albertan is driving in front of you. Then a quick palm to the forehead and you ask yourself…Why did I leave the house? It’s tourist season!
C’est la vie when you live in a popular tourism destination, and believe me when I say I am happy to live here.
But this particular weekend I was in need of a “getaway” in my own backyard. What good is it living here if you can’t get out and enjoy it?
So this past weekend I decided to do the opposite. I decided to dive into the chaos. The belly of the beast if you will. I decided to join the enemy and break my own rules. I went U-Picking AND to a winery, this time with a reservation well in advance! It was time for me to enjoy a bit of this Okanagan summer.
Paynters is a mecca for tourists. Having been around for over 60 years, it’s a place where those in the know will stop before leaving town for a quick fresh fruit snack or produce to take home. It gets crazy and Saturday was no exception.
People were hoarded around the red faded wooden crates digging through the piles of fruit or veggies looking for that perfect plump specimen. The line grows like a vine wrapping around aisles and out the door. So you’re probably asking yourself how would I get a moment to myself in a place like this?
Despite the romance of picking your own fruit in an orchard few people actually do it, some don’t even know it is offered. My sister (the muse in the video) and I were the only ones in the orchard for a good 25 minutes before a couple more locals arrived. For .75 cents/pound we were able to pick $3.00 worth of fruit for my family and I.
The quiet of the orchard with the hands on experience of seeing the fruit of the valley grow develops an undeniable element of respect for our local farmers. The land is tailored and well kept, the staff is friendly and knows what they grow and how to use it. The chefs in the Okanagan all pride themselves on using local ingredients with a farm to table philosophy. And it all stems from places like these with roots stemming back to the 1960s and some even being planted in the time of settlers like Father Pandosy – patron saint of the Okanagan who established a settlement here in 1859. He also planted the first fruit trees helping make the Okanagan what it is today – Canada’s cornucopia of fruit & wine.