In late June, pints of strawberries start showing up on the counter at home. When I was little, mom would slice them in half and put sugar on them. I can still see the sugar, as the juice from the strawberries would erase its granular texture.
As time goes on, consumption habits change. Sugar was looked at differently in the ‘90s than it is now. But strawberries remain a delicate yet delicious treat in early summer, and when ripe and freshly picked they hardly need the help of a spoonful of sweetener anyway.
It’s by my hand these days that strawberries would come to occupy my kitchen. I also happen to spend more time with farmers these days, asking pesky questions and being of more detriment than use when I lend a hand in the field, and so I’ve begun to dream of starting a garden of my own. Connection to the seasons can hardly be felt more intensely than with trips to the garden in the morning to harvest or feeling dirt under your nails after weeding. Just-picked produce is something that you can get spoiled on.
It’s too late in the season for planting a strawberry patch, which have to go in as soon as the ground is workable after the last frost in spring. Anyone who’s waited until now to start planting mostly has radishes and beets to choose from but it’s always enticing to think of missed opportunities, isn’t it? Perhaps next year my timing will be better.
There is hope in sight, or at least within driving range. Door County is home to farms that offer pick-your-own strawberries; they’ll be opening within the week.
Before you go, a few tips to make your picking easier:
• Make sure to go in the early morning, before the berries are warmed up by the day’s sunlight. Most strawberry patches only allow picking in the morning, anyway. Added benefits of being the early worm include beating the heat yourself as well as beating the crowds.
• If you’re having a hard time finding fully ripe strawberries, try moving the leaves around. Sometimes the best ones are the ones that are the most hidden.
• Don’t be tempted to pick under-ripe fruit. Unlike other fruits, green strawberries or strawberries with white tips will not ripen off of the vine.
• Make sure to call in advance to make sure the farm is open and welcoming pickers.
• Eat or freeze your strawberries within a few days of picking them for maximum freshness. Strawberries will develop a grainy texture as the sugars in the fruit begin to break down.
• Strawberry season is short – about 3-4 weeks. Don’t put off your visit!