Strawberry Season

June 29, 2011 · 10 comments

On Sunday, I went to a local farm with a U-pick strawberry patch and harvested 34 1/2 pounds in just under two hours. I was kidless, and the picking was easy. Western Oregon finally got several days in a row of summer sun, so there was an abundance of medium-large, fully ripe berries.

If you like berries at all and have even a few minutes to carve out of your busy schedule, FIND A FARM TO U-PICK YOUR OWN BERRIES! In my mind, it goes with out saying that you should never EVER buy berries at a grocery store. They will be terrible compared to what you can pick yourself. And unless you are totally desperate, don’t buy berries at the farmers’ market. You will pay a million times more than if you pick your own. If you think about it, one of the biggest factor for farmers determining how to price berries is the cost of labor. Without that cost, they are WAY cheaper (and fresher, and you have the satisfaction of DIYing it).

There are all types of U-pick berry farms. Some are really well organized, assigning you to a specific row or section. Some are laid-back and kind of funky but pleasant. Some are a little sketchy and can be hard pick enough nice berries to make it worth your time. Scope out various farms or get a recommendation from a friend to find the best/easiest/cheapest places to pick.

One a side note, while I was picking away in my button-down shirt and dirty jeans, a young boyfriend/girlfriend couple breezed in to do a little berry picking. She was wearing short shorts and a bikini top. Now I’m not prudish, and maybe it’s just the fact that the idea of wearing a bikini anywhere (even to the beach) after having two kids is appalling to me, but I just wanted to turn to her and say “Put some clothes on!” I was able to restrain myself. The middle-aged couple that joined me later brought their own knee-pads, and I thought that was great. Not surprisingly, they were awfully nice, too.

These strawberries were June-bearing ‘Hoods.’ This particular variety stays a little on the pinkish side even when fully ripe. They often have a slightly pear-ish top on them, making them easier to de-hull, and you can distinguish from other varieties.

My preferred picking method entails straddling the row of berries, bending over, and picking with both hands. I think it’s the most efficient way to fill up my bowls, but it definitely puts a strain of the back-of-the-thigh muscles. Apparently I haven’t been doing enough weeding lately because I was sore the next day.

My de-hulling method alternated between gouging out the hull with my fingernail and cutting off the tip with a knife. The fingernail strategy was definitely quicker and less wasteful, but eventually I got enough gunk shoved under my nails that it became uncomfortable and unpleasant.

I fed this strawberry waste to the chickens. They were happy but would have appreciated a little more berry flesh.

It actually took over two hours to de-hull and wash all the berries. I’m glad I didn’t pick any more than I did.

I saved out about four pounds for us to eat fresh. Strawberries keep better/longer unwashed with the hulls intact, so don’t process the ones that you want to keep around for a couple days until shortly before you’re going to eat them.

About 30 pounds of berries got frozen whole. After washing, I spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer.

The next day, I scraped all the berries free from the pan and packed them into gallon freezer bags. Thirty pounds yielded 6 1/2 gallon bags of frozen strawberries.

Freezing them on the pan first prevents them from clumping up in one big lump in the bag. You could probably get away with only pre-freezing them for an hour so before transferring them to a bag (making it quicker to do in small batches), but I’ve got access to a great big freezer that can fit big pans, so I just do it and forget it for one or more days.

These berries will be cooked up into sauce at some later date or perhaps snacked on partially thawed on some fruitless day in January. We don’t eat a whole lot of true jam, and we are often gifted jars of it, so most of the berries I pick during the summer get frozen whole.

There are benefits and drawbacks to freezing whole berries.

Benefits:

You don’t have to deal with jamming (or doing whatever to) them right away. That can wait until some quiet winter afternoon.

You don’t have to add a ton of sugar to preserve them.

You can change your mind about what you’d like to make them into.

You can mix them up with some other berries/fruit that are not ripe at the same time.

Drawbacks:

They take up a lot more freezer space (and energy).

You have to deal with them later instead of just getting everything over with now.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

kara rane June 29, 2011 at 9:24 am

hi Camille~
L?ve U-pick farms!
and for (frozen) berries – I have a great berry/yogurt/muffin recipe.
(for strawberries cut up in smaller pieces*)
great suggestion on freezing whole too.
if you would like the specifics on the recipe – You can e-mail me, and I will send to you or anyone interested.
enjoy~

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Camille June 29, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Sounds delicious!

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marni June 29, 2011 at 10:07 am

Yum. My mom had this great little strawberry huller, it looked like tiny tongs with round ends. I thought it was silly, but for someone processing that many berries, I could see it being helpful!

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Camille June 29, 2011 at 2:36 pm

I’ve seen those before, but I’ve never used one. Test it out for me and report back, okay?

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abby June 29, 2011 at 10:49 am

Way to go, that is quite the pick! I am patiently waiting for our U-pick blueberry farm to open, right down the road. I am sadly allergic to strawberries (at least the last 2 times I checked!), or I would be looking up a farm right now.

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Camille June 29, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I will be picking a LOT of blueberries this summer, but sadly they are really late this year. Here in the Valley, they’re probably still several weeks out. boo.

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Riley Wing June 29, 2011 at 1:53 pm

I live just down the road from a really great U-pick farm in Maine. My mum and I just drove down and picked a few pounds of berries this morning and I’m really excited to try my hand at jam-making this year!

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Camille June 29, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Good luck! I’m sure a good time will be had by all.

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Camille June 29, 2011 at 4:51 pm

I’m hoping to pick strawberries at least once more in the next week or so. Thirty pounds in the freezer just isn’t enough!

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vinita July 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Lovely berries! Thanks for getting the creative juices going.

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