September and October are my favorite months in the Pacific Northwest. The mountains are beautiful, gardens are full, mushrooms are starting to show up -- the days are long, the nights starting to get crisp. Early last September I headed east to visit my brother in Yakima, where the fruit tree growers reign supreme. He lives on a piece of property that includes a grove of old English Walnut trees. The grove has long been the site of a u-pick operation, which he now operates. Walnuts are one of my favorite nuts, whether for snacking or for other uses in the kitchen and I couldn't pass up a chance to grab some right off the tree.
It might be better to say "right off the ground." While ripe walnuts can indeed be plucked from their husks still on the tree, it's more common to pick them up off the ground where they fall. This definitely cuts out a lot of ladder climbing as part of the harvest, though it replaces it with plenty of stooping.
Also situated on the property was a small hazelnut tree and gnarly old plum tree, both heavy with fruit. I made quite a haul on this trip. The plums made it into the dehydrator, which turned them into the sweetest leathery treats ever. The nuts were destined for a future Foragers Dinner Club dessert -- baklava!
U-pick operations are a pretty fun way to get some hunter-gatherer time logged, and a great way to get high quality produce to your table while directly supporting growers. There are countless u-pick operations for every imaginable foodstuff across Washington State, and throughout the Pacific Northwest, operating from spring through fall. So get out there and start gathering! And let me know what you've been pickin'.