As a kid, I remember being treated to homegrown strawberries each June, freshly picked from my aunt’s garden. And with each savored bite of those crimson beauties, I wondered how they could taste so incredible. And why strawberries purchased at the grocery store couldn’t taste like this. My mom simply shrugged her shoulders and said, “That’s what homegrown gets you.”
Have you ever tasted a freshly picked strawberry, warm from the morning sun? There is absolutely nothing like it. Juicy, fragrant, sweet and tangy — the likes of these berries can’t be found in your local produce section. When bitten, you’ll revel at their ruby redness with no white centers, and they’ll melt like sweet summer in your mouth.
It’s now a tradition in our family to visit a local strawberry u-pick once or twice every June and July. We head to Afton Apple, where we ride a trailer lined with straw bales and pulled by a tractor, out to the fields to pick. It’s an outing we look forward to all year long, and it finds us all giddy in anticipation. Don’t forget that strawberry season runs approximately from the second week of June to mid-July.
Here are a few picking tips I have to offer:
- Always, always, ALWAYS call the farm right before you head out. Picking conditions vary from day to day, and if the picking has been heavy, ripe berries might not be available. I learned the hard way on this #1 tip, wasting time and gas on a trip that I didn’t call ahead on.
- Fields can be muddy and plants can be wet, especially if it has recently rained. And berries stain. Dress accordingly.
- I like to arrive early in the morning (by 8 a.m.), when the temperature is cooler. I’ve found when we go midday, the kids don’t last as long, making it much less enjoyable for all of us. And berries are just plain better when picked in the early morning or in the evening, not in the hot sun.
- Try to have a plan for what you want to do with your berries (pies, jams, strawberry lemonade, etc.), so you’ll know how much to pick.
- Find out if you need to bring your own containers for picking. Afton Apple provides nice sturdy boxes at no charge, but sometimes a small pail is easier for young kids to use.
And here are some berry handling tips:
- Pick only plump, firm, fully ripe berries. They like to hide, so be sure to thoroughly look under all the leaves.
- Ripe berries squish easily, especially in eager little hands. Teach your children to hold the stem just above the berry and pull down with a little twist. And don’t pile your containers too high, as you might bruise the berries on the bottom.
- When transporting the berries home, keep them out of direct sunlight in your vehicle.
- Berries are best eaten right away without chilling, so enjoy to your heart’s content as soon as you’ve picked. But then get them into the refrigerator to curb spoiling.
- If not serving right away, do not wash. Leave hulls on the strawberries and cover with a slightly damp paper towel in the refrigerator. Just before using, give the berries a gentle spray of water with the hulls attached. Then remove the hulls and drain. Berries will keep in the refrigerator 3-5 days. If you haven’t used them by then, freeze them.
- To freeze, set the washed and hulled berries (whole, halved, or sliced) individually on a cookie sheet, making sure they don’t touch each other. Freeze for an hour and then pack them in freezer bags or containers for future use.
There are plenty of strawberry patches in Minnesota where you can pick your own berries. Searching online at minnesotagrown.com makes it easy to locate a farm near you. Afton Apple predicts good berry picking through the first week of July. But, as I said … always, always, ALWAYS call before you head out!
Brenda Score is the Minnesota blog author of A Farmgirl’s Dabbles, where she shares stories of family and fabulous food. You can find Brenda at afarmgirlsdabbles.com, on Facebook at A Farmgirl’s Dabbles, and on Twitter as @farmgirlsdabble.