It all started with Saskatoon berries.
My mother-in-law grew up in Saskatchewan and spent most of her adult life in Calgary—both places where Saskatoon berries were an accessible crop each summer. Since moving to Victoria several years ago, however, she has had to accept that the only Saskatoon berries she can find are of the bottled syrup variety. So when my wife spotted an ad for a farm in the Cowichan Valley offering pick-your-own Saskatoon berries, I suggested we build a family day trip around visiting that farm to celebrate Grandma’s July birthday.
We booked Grandma for an upcoming Saturday, telling her not to wear white, but keeping the rest of it a surprise. When I called the farm to confirm the details, however, I learned the season for Saskatoons was already over. We could buy frozen berries, but could not pick any fresh ones any more. We quickly adjusted, locating a raspberry farm nearby that was open for picking.
Saturday arrived bright and sunny. We picked Grandma up at 9:30am and drove out of town, crossing the Malahat Summit in good time—arriving at the Cowichan Bay Raspberry Farm about 45 minutes after we’d departed.
I pulled some empty ice cream buckets out of the trunk and we walked into the fields for an idyllic hour of picking and sampling (encouraged by the farmer).
After filling our buckets, we paid for the berries based on their weight, and then took a short drive to our lunchtime destination, Merridale Ciderworks in Cobble Hill. Merridale is a working farm and cidery with a big apple orchard surrounding a central cluster of buildings—a barn where the cider and distilled products are made and another building that houses a tasting bar and bistro, as well as a bakery, gift shop and deli. Wedding receptions are hosted in a gazebo next to a duck pond nearby on many summer weekends. Two deluxe yurts are also available for overnight accommodation.
Pretty much the whole farm is open for self-guided walking tours, but before we explored, we sat down in the bistro for lunch. While the others enjoyed pizza baked in Merridale’s own brick oven, I couldn’t resist the chalkboard special: smoked bison Osso Bucco with Portobello mushroom and potatoes. Wow. It was perhaps a bit of a heavy lunch for such a hot summer day, but it was delicious, especially with a glass of tart cider to wash it down.
Afterwards, we set off for a walk through the orchard. It was easy to envision how beautiful the rows of trees would look in the fall when they were overflowing with big, red apples. A perimeter path proved a fun adventure walk for my son as it is lined with informational signs and hidden apple blossom faerie stations.
Once we’d walked off lunch, we returned to the gift shop to buy a couple of bottles of cider to bring home, and then got back on the road. Grandma assumed we were done and was already talking about how wonderful the day had been, but I told her there was still one more stop. After our earlier adventures, the Saskatoon Berry Farm just across the highway was not that exciting since all we were doing was paying for a sack of frozen berries, but believe me, the Saskatoon berry-and-rhubarb crisp I baked later was a big hit.