It is Strawberry season in New Brunswick, these are the best strawberries in the world in my humble opinion. They are sweet and so very flavourful! When I was little growing up in Nova Scotia my mother would take us berry picking every summer and then we would gorge ourselves on the spoils. In particular, I would look forward to opening a jar of her strawberry jam in the winter and remembering the summer sun. I guess all that sugar wasn’t a bad thing either.
As I did with many other things during my university and apartment living days I hadn’t picked berries in years until two years ago when someone told me they had just been out to the u-pick. At this point even though I had lived in Saint John for 7-8 years I didn’t even know there was somewhere to u-pick nearby so off I went.
Early morning 2016
Last year I decided to pick some berries before work. My friend told me that she thinks I’m the only person she has ever heard of to “run out and pick some berries before work”. In my world you have to get in the experiences when you can and when the berries are ripe you need to pick them (especially since we were away the following weekend canoeing). I am very lucky because my job is flexible and I have no set time I need to be sitting at my desk in the morning, that being said I was still at my desk writing emails and working at 11pm last night.
That morning was one of those perfect summer days, perfectly sunny and at 7:30am very warm but not yet oppressively hot, the perfect time to pick. I took my time driving (which takes about 40 minutes but I always think will take me 20) and enjoyed the windy drive of back country roads. Our local u-pick Bates is a great little family business that has a number of fields and has picking available for several weeks each summer. Even if you are not a berry picker taking a little drive on a beautiful summer day can be enough to boost you through the winter misery.
Late season 2017
This year we were a bit later getting to the fields because we had been away. There is always a first pick with this year (I heard) yielded a huge crop of huge delicious berries. By the time we got there the berries were smaller, sweeter but a bit less flavourful. It will also depend on what field the berries come out of as (like most crops) the soil etc makes a huge difference on what you get.
The best part for me is the process of working in the field and eating a few berries right off the vine. Not that I don’t love going on my own but being with family also makes it a lot of fun. Kirby meticulously picks from a seated position and gets more berries into a basket than anyone I know. Ingrid on the other hand eats one and picks one, takes a long time but picks the best berries. I am all about speed, I want good berries but I want to get as many as I can.
What to do with all those berries
Given my berry picking tendencies I have a habit of picking a lot more berries than I ever plan to. It doesn’t take long when the bushes are full to have huge piles of berries picked and it seems like the best idea in the world to get as many as possible when you can. That is until you get home and you have to deal with them all fairly quickly before they spoil.
The first thing I do is freeze a bunch! We love smoothies and in the middle of winter there is nothing like pulling out berries that you picked yourself and that taste so much better than the ones from the greenhouse.
Before they go in the freezer I lay them on a cookie sheet on top of parchment paper and then put them in the freezer for a few hours. This freezes each berry separately so they don’t stick together. Then they go into large Ziploc freezer bags, put the date on them and you are done.
I always make the kids a batch of strawberry muffins. They love them and sometimes I will even add in some chocolate chips to make them extra fun. Stay tuned in 2018 for a post with muffins!
Jam! I only make jam every couple of years. We don’t eat very much but I love to give it away as gifts and it really is delicious. I always use the old method my mom taught me and it lasts for years – the biggest key is not to cut the amount of sugar no matter how much it calls for. The only times I have had batches either spoil or separate are when I tried to make them “healthy”. Jam is what it is, full of sugar and delicious as a result. Jam in come in 2018 as well!
Tips for strawberry picking
I find that the berries earlier in the season have more flavour, I’m not sure why. They are sweeter later in the picking but aren’t as packed with the strawberry taste.
Picking early in the morning is better for the berries because they aren’t as hot and don’t get as damaged in transport.
Bring something to kneel on. You can sit in the field but there is a good chance you will end up with strawberry mush on your clothes and car as a result. The fields usually have straw in the aisles to keep down the weeds etc. but it is SO hard on your knees.
Leave yourself a LOT of time to deal with the berries. Even in you just plan to eat them fresh and freeze them they do take a long time to prepare. I enjoy standing and cutting off the tops and inspecting the berries but it still takes a lot of time and the downside of the workday picking was that I then needed to deal with the berries that night when I was tired…