Thursday, May 13, 2010

Strawberry Picking

STRAWBERRY SEASON IS HERE! Strawberries are one of my favorite fruits in the whole world and this year I committed myself to obtaining them from the source. I woke up early last Saturday and drove about 20 minutes north of Durham on Guess Rd. and found myself at Double R Cattle Services. Don't worry about the name, they have strawberry patches too. And no, you don't have to pick them while cows are hovering over you. That could be a good business to get fresh cream with your strawberries, but I don't think that's part of their business model. Anyways, on to the berry picking...

Strawberry Plants

The first thing you may notice is that these plants are laden with strawberries of all sorts of ripeness. Everything from the white flowers to the green nubs to the large red berries. Your goal is to only pick the red berries. The reason behind this is twofold: 1) you get the best sweetness out of red berries, and 2) leaving some of the unripened berries benefits people who come to pick their berries in the next couple of days.

Rows upon Rows

The farm has a large field of strawberries with about 15-20 rows of plants. Everyone gets their own row if there's room and you go to town picking. I like to pick the berries with a little stem still on in case I want pictures later. I don't recommend this, but you can eat a couple berries as you go. You do pay by weight so this is a little shady, but how can you resist not popping one of these red marvels into your mouth?

Berry Picker

You don't have to pick your own berries if you don't want to. You can pick up a freshly picked batch while supplies last. It is a little labor intensive to kneel, squat or bend over to pick all these berries. So the farmers have a device that suspends them over the berry patch while laying down. Don't worry, you shouldn't need this device unless your plan is to pick more than 20 pounds of strawberries. Plus it feels more natural and fun to do it on your own.

Row Flagging

The farmer's system is that they place flags at the end of each row. When you're done picking, you move the flag of a particular row to the point where you stopped. I would recommend being very thorough in picking all the ripe berries in your row because the next group of people will start at your flag and any ripe berries in your "already done" section will go to waste. It is a cleverly simple method, but it works well I think.

Buckets o'Berries

I picked two baskets worth of berries. I may have just been overly excited about going picking, but I felt I drove a half hour to get there so I might as well get my fare share. These two baskets together contained 9 pounds of strawberries that cost $11.25. Not bad for a half hour's work.

Washed Berries

I'm guilty of never washing my fruit when I get it home from the store. But I made an exception for these berries. There was not much dirt on them, but there were bits of straw that definitely would not fit into any of the recipes I had planned for these beauties. After a good wash, I patted them dry and stored them in the fridge. I would recommend using your berries the same day if you can, or maybe even the next day. They are at their peak ripeness when you pick them, so they are only going to get mushier or more dried out as time goes on. Plus, you can brag to your friends and family that the pie you are serving contains berries that just that morning were still hanging on to their plant.

Strawberry Sideshow

The normal berries look absolutely gorgeous, but I'm more interested in the freak show berries that you find. You often have berries with multiple lobes, but some of the others that grow are just downright weird. I had one that looked like a tripod, one with a rhinoceros-like protrusion, and a selection that looked like little octopi with different numbers of leg-buds. Nothing is wrong with these berries and they were every bit as good as the rest, but they are just a bit different.

Strawberry picking was a great experience. I normally relish sleeping in on the weekends, but this was definitely worth sacrificing a little sleep in order to have some of the tastiest berries you can get at your disposal. Plus, this is only the beginning. You still have to decide how to use your red harvest. And believe me, that is quite a dilemma, especially when you can just eat an entire basket by itself.

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