Depending on my mood on the day, a drive up to Mossel Bay could either be a quick fire 3.5 hours long or a lengthy stop-filled journey that could take up most of the day. Our December 2017 drive? Definitely the latter.
While enjoying a lovely stop for a nice piece of cake at Swellendam’s Old Mill Guest House and Restaurant, my eye caught a sign referencing berry picking at Wildebraam Berry Estate, Swellendam’s self proclaimed “Berried Treasure”. (It must at this point be noted that as a dad and thus a fierce proponent of Dad Jokes, I truly LOVE that pun!)
Keen to see what this was all about, we made the drive down to the lovely Wildebraam Estate which, situated in the picturesque Hermitage Valley, is blessed with panoramic views of the Langeberg Mountains, is home to berry orchards, its own festival (1-2 December), pickled products and chutneys, and now accommodation options – plus, perhaps most important of all, is the producer of some very distinctive, very well known South African liqueurs.
We were of course not there to taste their liqueurs, sample their pickled products, fruit chutneys or atchar, nor peck at the fruit and vegetables, but instead wanted to jump straight into the picking of berries – hence the disappointment of learning on arrival that while berry season starts mid November, it only runs until the end of December, with a harvesting season of about 6 weeks only.
So this being the 26th of December meant that unfortunately we had arrived at literally the worst park of the berry picking window. Not to be deterred, Chantelle nevertheless grabbed a bucket and a pair of clippers and off we headed down the dirt road in search of some youngberries among the hidden orchards.
As it turns out, picking youngberries is not fun at all. At all. These tiny little fruit are protected by vicious little thorns (thank you rose family genetics), which you really need to get your hands into in order to get the fruit off. Also, the fruit is soft, so bruises easily, meaning that a gentle touch is required.
So sure, experienced pickers might make this look easy, but as we now learned, there is a reason that these little berries are so expensive. They’re difficult to extract! Anyway, we found an abandoned gardener’s glove (with an acceptable number of holes in it) that then gave Chantelle a fighting chance as she dove headfirst into the thorny bushes.
(For reference, I don’t love these berries enough for that, so the girls and I instead stood on the sidelines, shouting motivations and taking photos of her butt. There was also a friendly farm dog to keep us company.)
The problem is, as mentioned before, this really was the tail end of the season, meaning that there really was almost no fruit to be found. And we looked, may no mistake about that. The hot, middle of the day sun blazed down over us, the environment was prickly (but beautiful), and in truth, credit to a naturally stubborn Chantelle – she didn’t give up and eventually walked out clutching her prized (though truthfully quite empty) bucket.
(Crossing the little stream was a blessing in that it cooled us down, but also because it was a great source of entertainment watching a clearly scared Emily and Jessica cling to Chantelle like limpets, therefore making for quite the eventful crossing. For me at least!)
So. All in all, lessons learned, a new area discovered, a good distraction from the road trip, and now we all walk away knowing how youngberries are grown. That said, next time we’ll definitely make a stop much earlier in the season though…
P.S. You know that you’ve had a particularly pitiful time out in the orchards when you get back to the shop for weighing, the lady has a look, and then says you really don’t need to pay for that!