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Cheap and Good: Pick Your Own Strawberries

As promised, the DH and I (along with The Boy) went to a local berry farm to augment the strawberry ‘stash’ at Chez Siberia. The DH picked 17 pounds of berries on Friday, most of which ended up being frozen and used as the starter for his strawberry wine (more on that another time). So, with the freezer inventory reading at the ‘danger, danger, Will Robinson’ line for strawberries, we knew we needed to get back to the farm for more.

Lucky for us, they open early, even on Sundays, so we were there in the cool of the morning this morning, along with a bunch of other families, out there in the field picking. Yes, picking strawberries is real ‘stoop labor’ for with the three of us working efficiently in a good field with lots of berries, we knew we’d be out fairly quickly. And we were there, pans in hand, ready to go.

Pans? Yes, pans. No matter how nice the berries are, if you show up with a bucket and fill it, the strawberries in the top 2-4” of the bucket will still be nice when you get home from the farm. Everything else, as you descend to the bottom of the bucket, will be getting softer and softer until you get to the bottom and it’s mush. And you have not even washed them yet – you will lose a lot of strawberry goodness that way.

So, as you can see from the second video, we pick into baking pans and big flattish plastic containers (these actually were saved from our local grocery store – they sell salad greens in them; they are very useful and come with a lid). There are layers only about 3-4 berries deep in those, so by the time we get home from the farm, they are still firm, juicy and NOT mush. We quickly rinse them really well, get rid of the stems and the leaves at the tops, cut off any dubious parts that got missed (I hate slugs and they tend to take just a little nip out of beautiful otherwise perfect berries) and process. These went to being frozen and into making jam, which I will cover in separate posts.

Also – and I’d hoped to be able to show this on the videos better: What you should be looking for in terms of the berries themselves. In one shot, you can see immature berries and ripe berries together. Just to review:

Immature berries : Usually white, dense and hard. Not worth picking at all. Leave them for the folks coming next weekend. That photograph at the top is a wonderful close up of a strawberry flower.

Early mature berries: Any berry with a white bottom (and the bottom of the berry is the pointy end; the top is the shoulders attached to the plant with the leaves). Also, berries that have not filled out or are orange rather than red. These berries will not turn ripe once they are off the plant; don’t bother picking them.

Mature berries: Berries, no matter what their size, that are shiny, smell like strawberries and give when you grasp them at the top and pull them from the stem (and they should come off the stem just as easily as the DH demonstrates in that second video). If they are not in contact with dirt or are held above the straw or mulch, they can stay good like this for a couple of days but no longer. Birds and mold spores love them too much.

Over-mature/dead ripe/past their best/probably dangerous: Berries, no matter what their size, that are no longer shiny, not firm. They might even have a faint wine odor. They also might be showing mold or dirt (don’t try to guess on this one, folks). Don’t pick these no matter how big they are. They are not good to eat any more; leave them for the birds and the slugs.

Oh, a couple of other items:
“You Pick As Entertainment”: If you are thinking about going to a ‘you pick’ farm, call before you go if you are planning to make this a family outing with children. Some ‘you pick’ places take a dim view of kids running around the fields trashing their revenue sources. Some places will let you bring your kids but will expect you to keep complete control over them at all times, which does tend to limit picking effectiveness. As a parent who took kids to pick strawberries when they were small, I can tell you that on a hot day, in the middle of a sticky field, kids under a certain age just will not behave well. Any child who can sit in a row of berries and pick into a pan when it’s 90 degrees and 90% humidity without rebelling needs their breath tested or is a candidate for sainthood. As good as our kids were when they were young, not one of them under the age of 10 would handle more than about 10 min. in a field, so we used to arrange other ‘entertainment’ for the little Siberians while we picked. Once they got older and understood the ‘Little Red Hen Rule’ (if you pick, you get to eat), they became very useful out in the field.

Poundage Discounts: When we were weighing out, the lady at the cash register totaled everything up and said, “Wow..too bad you did not stay a little longer; we offer a discount for people picking over 30 pounds.” Now, we did not have any more pans to pick INTO, but if we HAD, you can just bet we would have stayed. Seven pounds? The three of us had just picked 23 pounds in 20 minutes. We could have done 7 pounds in a flash! So, take an extra pan with you and ask when you get to a ‘pick your own’ place if they give a discount like that.

Again, be prepared: Don’t arrange to go picking for canning or freezing unless you have arranged for time as soon as you get home to take care of the fruit. There is nothing more disheartening that spending your time and money to go pick nice fresh fruit and then get it home, have to run out to do something else and thereby let it sit — you then lose a good deal of it. I can tell you that when we got this fruit home, the DH and I were able to wash, hull, and process the fruit for freezing, and get a pot of fruit and sugar on the stove to make jam ….in ONE hour flat. One hour. You can spare one hour for 23 pounds of fruit goodness later, right?

I thought so.
(photo at the top courtesy of OliBac)

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One Comment

  1. fuzzarelly says:

    Such good advice! Thank you.

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