Well, maybe not Strawberry Fields Forever. What could that song be talking about anyway? Strawberry fields open around here in early to mid-July. They’re pretty much done within a three to four week period.
And this year, according to the local gossip, it’s been a challenging Strawberry Year. The cool weather may not be compatible with the strawberry’s growth cycle. Or something like that.
I called my friend, Pat, from Hughes Farm near Calumet. They grow good organic berries, delicious berries, the kind you’re happy to cut up atop your cereal or bake into juicy pie or pile over strawberry shortcake drenched with whipped cream.
“It’s been a crazy strawberry year,” she sighed. People are in the fields by 7 a.m. and the berries are sometimes gone by 8 a.m. I also heard stories, told in a hushed whisper, by another friend that other local berry fields were extremely “challenged”.
Nonetheless, Jennifer and I had a strawberry-picking date at 7 a.m. this morning. We drove up to Hughes Farm in the drizzling rain. We had a secondary plan. If it rained too hard to pick berries, we’d luxuriate with a cup of coffee at Cyberia Cafe. We’re always good for a cup of coffee when we’re together. Maybe two.
Weather: no rain by the time we drove into the farm! The fields were already filled with eager pickers.
It was fun to discover another friend, Cheryl, picking in the very next row. Cheryl and I chatted while Jennifer picked at a slower pace and discussed Harry Potter movies with a nearby fellow-harvester.
Here’s how it all unfolds, in case you’ve never attempted to pick-your-own.
You lean over at a rather uncomfortable angle (unless you simply don’t care about your clothes at all, in which case you plop down unceremoniously on the wet ground and proceed to get all muddy. Didn’t see anyone doing this today.) and your fingers search nimbly for berries among the foliage. You are assigned a row. Mine was #12 and Jennifer took #13. Cheryl had #11.
You pick until you’ve filled your crate with the sweetest juiciest ripest berries you can find, then you stick a flag into the ground where you stopped. That way the next picker can start where you left off.
After awhile your knees ache, or your back, or sometimes you get dizzy when you stand up too quickly. You can’t forget to admire the sky, the greenery, and the landscape. You can’t get too strawberry-focused. However, that’s nearly impossible to avoid at times. I admit to becoming too strawberry-focused today. And too focused on conversation. Forgot to admire the wider view as much as might be enjoyable. Well, there’s always next year.
In the old days they used to have individual quart-sized strawberry containers like you buy in the supermarket. Not any more. Now you purchase your berries by the pound. I forget how much they cost per pound. Since they are organic, they cost more than the chemically sprayed variety. But I think it’s worth it. My fairly full basket cost somewhere around $18. And I’m still cleaning berries and it’s late in the afternoon.
Now comes the big decision. What to do with the berries. Here are some options. 1) Eat them all now. This is probably not a good idea. 2) Eat some of them now and freeze the rest. This is the usual plan. 3) Another option has presented itself. Jennifer is going to try drying some with her dehydrator. We have a dehydrator in the basement. This sounds intriguing. At least to try with a few. We shall see how much ambition presents itself in the next day or two.
Strawberry blessings to all of you!