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March 21, 2018

Farm to Play Table: From U-Pick to U-Cook 

By Tampa Bay Parenting

Little Hands Can Turn Their Own Harvest from Tampa Bay U-Pick Farms into Their Own Feast 

Standing in a sun-warmed field, a cloudless sky overhead, and in your mouth the taste of a just-picked strawberry, so ripe that juice runs down your chin when you bite into it—this  is one of the great pleasures that Tampa Bay has to offer.  

Tampa Bay U-Pick Maggie Fuller Photography
Photo by Maggie Fuller Photography

“U-pick” farming is an increasingly popular way for farms to draw local produce-lovers right to the source of this region’s key agricultural products. 

“Picking our own fruit is a fresh air, outdoor activity where my kids can run and be free and not be told ‘no’ all the time,” says Maggie Fuller, a Tampa mother of three. “And we bring home a healthy product instead of a treat.” 

This great Florida experience is not only fun and delicious, it’s also a gateway to teaching your children how to understand and appreciate how their food comes straight from the farm to their own table.  

Stepping outside the plastic grocery store box and into the field connects kids to the reality of agriculture: the hard work involved in growing fruits and vegetables, the people behind the products, and understanding the effect of weather and other environmental influences. Fuller says she’s found meeting the farmers at U-pick fields as valuable as the baskets of fresh berries her children take home.  

“We always ask for tips on the best places to pick, but the farmers also can talk to the kids about things like what they do [with the berries] when it’s cold. The kids learn how hard this is,” Fuller says. 

This kind of relatable and tactile connection to food doesn’t need to end at the edge of the field. Hands-on, do-it-yourself food gathering can turn into hands-on, do-it-yourself cooking. Turning their just-picked bounty into a meal helps kids extend the lesson of where food comes from to the next step of creating meals themselves. 

Tampa Bay U-Pick Maggie Fuller Photography
Photo by Maggie Fuller Photography 

A Few of Our Favorite U-Pick Farms in Tampa Bay:

O’brien Family Farm in Bradenton

Brookdale Blueberry Farm in Plant City

Spivey Farms in Plant City

Strawberry Passion/Passion Organics Farm in Thonotosassa

Be sure to follow their websites and Facebook pages for u-pick dates!

Here are a few simple recipes for kids to use some Tampa Bay produce they gather themselves. 

January Tomato Sauce 

For those just beginning to learn knife skills, try a serrated knife to chop the tomatoes. It’s easier to cut through the skin and the knife is less likely to slip. 

  • 1 clove garlic 
  • 1 pound tomatoes (4 medium-sized tomatoes) 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • Salt, red chili flakes, basil 

Warm olive oil in a small saucepan. Crush the garlic through a garlic press into the oil and cook on low heat until the garlic is soft. Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes into 1/2 inch cubes. Add the tomatoes to the garlic and oil and cook on low until the tomatoes soften and start to lose their shape and excess liquid has evaporated. Add salt, chili flakes and basil to taste. 

Serve the sauce over pasta… or to extend the cooking experience, try it on top of pizza dough with a little mozzarella (and other toppings!) scattered on top. 

Tampa Bay U-Pick Maggie Fuller Photography
Photo by Maggie Fuller Photography

Spring Berry “Pavlovas 

Somewhere between a traditional pavlova and a shortcake, this recipe plays to different skill levels. Newer cooks can help with assembly. Those more experienced in the kitchen can do mixing and baking. 

  • ½ 16-ounce box angel food cake mix 
  • ¼ cup water 
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream 
  • 3 tablespoons sugar 
  • strawberries or blueberries 
  • lemon curd (or other jam) 

Stir together cake mix with ½ cup water (this is less than recommended on the box). Beat in a mixer at high speed for 1 minute. Spoon mixture into large muffin tins, about half full (do not grease the tins). Bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes or until tops are slightly browned and dry looking. Allow cakes to cool completely and then carefully cut around the edges to remove them from the tins.  

Meanwhile, whip the cream at high speed until soft peaks form. Add sugar and whip until the cream holds its shape. 

To assemble the “pavlovas,” place one cake on a plate. Spread 1 tablespoon of lemon curd over the cake. Spoon a large dollop of whipped cream over the lemon curd and then top with as many berries as the chef desires! 

Makes 6 individual pavlovas. 

Words by Emily L. Hay Hinsdale 
Photos by Maggie Fuller Photography

Originally published in the March 2018 edition of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine


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