Strawberry Season

Some people know it’s summertime when they find themselves clamoring to the basement to pull out the air conditioners and install them. For some, it’s when they pack away the last of the sweaters, hats, scarves and gloves and pull out the shorts, t-shirts, and sandals. For me, it’s probably a combination of those things. One very exciting sign that summer on its way is the arrival of strawberry season.

I guess you could say that James and I are passionate about fresh produce — especially fruit. It’s always great to walk into a grocery store and see a display of strawberries fresh off the truck. It’s an even bigger thrill to stroll through a farmer’s market and sample varieties fresh from the farm that aren’t carried in supermarkets. For us, though, the ultimate thrill is hopping into the car, driving an hour or so into the country, and picking the berries straight from the earth.

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The “country”, in our case, is usually Wisconsin. We get up bright and early on a mid-June Saturday, treat ourselves to a hearty breakfast, then zoom off up the expressway until things start to look exceptionally rural and abundantly serene. Wisconsin is a lovely place — beautiful in every season. In strawberry season, the pastures are green and full of wildflowers of all colors; the corn fields are full of barely knee-high seedlings that are a dazzling green; the red barns look so picturesque amongst all these other colors with the baby blue sky as a peaceful backdrop.

IMG_0656It’s good to get away and soak in some of that serenity and beauty. In strawberry season, though, you also get one of your first chances to really dive in and take your food by the bristly stem and experience it firsthand. Strawberries are usually the fruit that requires the most u-picking labor for us. IMG_0655We’re out there in the middle of a giant field filled with row after row of strawberries — the air made alive with the breeze smelling of jam and dirt. If not for the bending, reaching, squatting, and seemingly bottomless berry baskets, the act would be almost meditative. Yet, when you raise up and feel your hamstrings crying out, you realize that you are, in fact, working.

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We went to a different u-pick farm, this year. Instead of heading over to Kansasville, WI, to Walvoord’s Farm, this time we were just across the Wisconsin border in the town of Bristol at Thompson’s Strawberry Farm. The farm is certainly not a well-kept secret! They have acre after acre of strawberries and lots of those acres were full of squatting masses — all of them after the same sweet treasure!

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The strawberries we picked, this year, were mostly the Jewel variety with a few stray Honeyoye berries mixed in. Both are a lot smaller than the strawberries you can pick up at the supermarket, but their taste is truly one of a kind. IMG_0652However, they don’t keep nearly as long as those nearly synthetic supermarket ones, so once we’re done working in the fields, we have to dash home to start preserving them. Therein lies the sacrifice of fruit passion; though you’re tired from picking and would like nothing better than to kick up your heels and eat strawberries, there’s work yet to be done!

Fortunately, preserving strawberries is remarkably easier than picking them. The easiest way is to freeze them. To freeze them, just rinse them a few times in cold water, cut off their leafy stem, and place in freezer bags. If you have freezer space, you can place the berries on sheet pans and allow them to individually freeze before placing them in bags. But, when you pick 36 pounds of strawberries, you do not have that luxury. We weigh the berries in one-pound batches and pack them into quart bags.

IMG_0670The frozen berries are great for impromptu waffles, smoothies, and dessert recipes that allow fresh or frozen berries to be used interchangeably. They lose texture and a tiny bit of their oomph the longer they’re frozen, but they’re still worlds better than the ones that were picked before they ripened, and then sat around for days before being frozen and sold to unsuspecting supermarket goers. (Did I mention we are passionate about fruit?)

We usually freeze the majority of what we pick, but we’ve been known to dry strawberries for use in teas and granolas and we can’t resist making a batch or two of strawberry jam or preserves every year. For our first day of strawberry celebration, though, we reveled in eating them completely fresh from the field. Then, after dinner, we sliced some up and made little strawberry sundaes with our favorite vanilla bean ice cream. In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some of our favorite strawberry recipes as we celebrate strawberry season here in the Midwest.

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By the time we’re ready to give the strawberries a rest, it’ll be time for blueberries, cherries, and raspberries… followed by peaches and apricots… and then the apples… Did I mention we are PASSIONATE about fruit? You have no idea.

Want to have your own u-picking adventure? Go to http://www.pickyourown.org to get started. It’s a great website for finding a farm nearest you that offers u-pick fruits and vegetables. You’ll also find nearby locations of corn mazes, hay rides, farm stands, and tons of other fun. They even have tips for preserving your bounty that are well worth reading. What will you pick, this year?

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~ by Jason on June 24, 2010.

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