The Best Places to Pick Fruit All Year Round

flickr/ Chicago Manflickr/ Chicago ManWith the aromatic smell of summer in the air, the sweet flavor of fresh fruit isn't far behind. For urbanites that thirst for a "Green Acres" back-to-nature experience, a fun family outing or the absolute best way to get that fresh-picked flavor is to… pick it yourself! Throughout America, pick-it-yourself, PYO or U-picks abound for a cornucopia of tastes that follow the growing seasons, not the transport lanes.

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With U-pick, you don't have to guess how long the fruit has been sitting in the grocery store bin, but you do have to work a little for it. Also, it might not have the same gussied-up, waxed, sheen and glamor that produce has in the store, but fruits of the earth should look a little earthy.

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Often, you may need to follow tricky directions to find out-of-the-way farms that keep irregular hours that match growing seasons. Make sure you check for all the necessary information in advance, including if you'll need to bring any tools or baskets. It is also a good idea to wear shoes and attire fit for bending, stretching, kneeling and getting a little dirty.

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Unless it's the middle of winter, there's usually somewhere in the country where U-picks are in operation. We tracked down places all across the country where the finest in-season fruits and vegetables are just waiting for you to come along and pick them. There really is nothing like eating produce that's just been picked, before it has time to be shipped off to the supermarket, usually resulting in a loss of flavor. And food always tastes better when it's been allowed to ripen on the vine, tree, or plant: just look at tomatoes! Picking your own fruits and vegetables is also a great way to teach kids that veggies don't just appear on their plate; they grow out of the ground and are usually absolutely delicious.

Here's a journey across America that's ripe for the picking.

Cherries in Washington State

Supposedly, George Washington proved his inability to tell a lie by 'fessing up to chopping down a cherry tree. Coincidentally, his namesake state grows cherry trees, lots of cherry trees. The Yakima Valley in eastern Washington has over 12,000 acres of sweet cherry production including Bill's Berry Farm, a small family farm. In season, there are cherry festivals, tractor rides, and a kids play area.

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Pumpkin Picking in Illinois

For most of us, our farm experience starts with picking a pumpkin, which is technically a fruit. Wrapped in the pumpkin picking process is the whole package of corn mazes (maize mazes, for some), hay rides, ghosts and ghouls, and everything pumpkin from pies to pumpkin houses to pumpkin trebuchets. Pumpkin patches are ubiquitous in October, but why not add Illinois to your pumpkin pilgrimage, the state that leads the nation in pumpkin production. About 60 miles from Downtown Chicago is Kuipers Family Farm. Expect crowds, souvenirs, and snack shops, but it's a great place to pick pumpkins.

Texas Grapefruit

Once called "the forbidden fruit," the first grapefruit groves were planted in Texas in 1893. One hundred years later, the grapefruit was made the official state fruit.

Deep in the southernmost part of Texas is the Klement Grove & Country Store for those in search of in-season grapefruit. "The sweetest fruit is in until about the first of March," says Will Klement, who has been hosting pickers for over 30 years. He even has a few of the elusive traditional white grapefruit trees available for those nostalgic for these rarely grown less-sweet varieties.

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Pears in Oregon

The Hood River County Fruit Loop is 35-mile stretch of farm stands, vistas and U-pick farms about an hour's drive north from Portland on the Washington State border in the Columbia River Gorge Area at the foot of towering Mt. Hood. As you enjoy the stops along the way, you'll smell lavender, wine, and fresh fruit. Anjou, Bosc and Bartlett pears are grown in the region, and there is a pear celebration from September 20th to the 21st this year.

One stop along the way is the Mountain View Orchards, where red and green Bartlett pears grow with their own view of Mt. Hood.

Paw Paws in Ohio

Paw paws, a little-known mango-like fruit native to North America, can be found growing wild throughout the northeast and is celebrated by an annual festival in Albany, Ohio in September.

"I don't recommend the inexperienced picker eating paw paws; it can be very tricky to know when it is ripe," Ron Powell, president of the Ohio Paw Paw Growers Association, told us. "It can be an unpleasant bitter experience if you don't use a ripening chart." He also recommends that those who find wild paw paws not eat the skins, as "even the raccoons won't touch them."

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-David Ressel, The Daily Meal