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Israel is also tapping into the blackberry

Instead of lazing on the beach, you can pick your own fruit on holiday

    The time is ripe for fruit picking, whether at home or abroad
    The time is ripe for fruit picking, whether at home or abroad

    Having just returned from one of the country's biggest pick your own (PYO) farms, my back was killing me as I struggled to lift boxes overflowing with blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and cherries from the boot of my car, which became suffused with the heady aroma of semi-stewed fruit.

    Farmers all over the world are currently opening their gates to pickers who are turning up for a day in the country and a chance to return home with bucket loads of fresh produce.

    Sometimes the welcome from farmers is conditional. In Austria, for instance, one PYO owner has banned women in skimpy skirts from joining the fun and the owner of a PYO farm in the UK - there are more than 1,000 here - told me he was considering weighing customers in and out to ensure they were not availing themselves of a free lunch.

    Generally, however, growers are happy to see pickers enjoying the verdant surroundings, picking their crop and paying for it too.

    But picking your own is not necessarily a bargain. Prices are generally no lower than in supermarkets.

    Long gone are the days when as a child I would cycle into the wilds of Epping Forest where abundant prickly blackberry bushes offered a bonanza of fruit - and all completely free. Bee stings and scratched arms were nothing compared to the joy of a hard-won bowl of berries smothered with cream.

    Years later, when living in Israel, I introduced my own children to the joys of summer fruit-picking in the hills around Jerusalem, where there are wild grapes, figs, sweet almonds and pomegranates.

    Today the PYO industry has spread to Israeli farms and is a popular pastime despite the arguments of some Orthodox figures that berries cannot be strictly kosher because they are infested with miniscule insects.

    The picking season in Israel, which begins in mid-May and goes on until October, is a great alternative activity for those travelling to Israel this year.

    Try one of the best known PYOs - the Zak Family Farm a few miles south of Haifa where pickers have a choice of seven varieties of blackberries including two types free of thorns, as well as huge raspberries.

    Further north on the edge of the Golan Heights where the berry season goes on until mid-September, Kibbutz El-Rom offers blueberries, blackberries and raspberries as well as a winemaking workshop.

    Nearby is Bustan Ha Golan, which in addition to blackberries, strawberries. raspberries and blueberries also has a considerable cherry orchard and from August to October offers pears, apricots, nectarines, peaches and apples.

    Israeli berries may be fine but I still maintain that the UK's summer crop takes some beating. My family and I savour the delights of sweetly scented strawberries, luscious raspberries, blackberries, redcurrants, tayberries, gooseberries and locally raised apples (why oh why do Israeli orchard owners insist on growing the insipid Golden Delicious?).

    Maybe that is why at a PYO farm near my home in north London, family groups, including many ex-pat Israelis indulging in a spot of rural nostalgia, spend their weekends picking, packing and, of course, pecking at the best of British.

    Once you have got your fruit home, what do you do with it? Try this Raspberry Swirl smoothy. Take a generous handful of raspberries and another of strawberries plus one tablespoon of fat-free vanilla yoghurt, half a cup of milk and three quarters of a cup of natural yoghurt. Place all ingredients into a blender, blend on high power for around 25 seconds, pour into a tall glass and enjoy.

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