Monday, May 10, 2010

Strawberry Pickin' & Jam Makin'

It's taken me awhile to get around to this post because, well, I've been busy with strawberries. I love this time of year because strawberry picking has become a tradition now (four years and counting). Recount my first experience here. For good tips on what to pack for a pick-your-own farm, check Gabe's post here.

This year I made my annual pilgrimage to Rutherford's Strawberries in Maryville with my friend Mitzi, her 3-year-old, my 3-year-old and my 1-year-old. On the way there, Mitzi fantasized how our children will one day reminisce about how special it was to pick fresh strawberries in a field! I hope pick-your-own farms will never disappear and that I'll still be out there in 50 years. I firmly believe that children learn far more about the values of sustainable farming out in a field than in a classroom and that nothing instills a passion for buying locally-grown like the taste of a strawberry right off the vine. The flavor is beyond compare what you can buy in any store.

That said, strawberry picking with kids is wonderful but can be challenging. So I do have a few tips for making your trip more pleasant for all of you.

1. PICK THE RIGHT DAY AND TIME: They are open M, W, F, and Saturday, 8am-1pm and 4-8pm. They've been busy every time I've gone on a week day; I can only imagine the mad house on Saturdays but I could be wrong. I like first thing in the morning because it's not too hot, the kids aren't hungry or tired, and you get first pick of the fruit that's been growing for two days. And try not to go right after a rain; the fields will be soaked.

2. WEAR APPROPRIATE CLOTHING: All of you should wear older clothes and shoes. I prefer jeans since I'm inevitably crawling on the ground at some point. Mitzi wore rain boots and I chose old sneakers. Bring a change of clothes for everyone when you're done. Devin had mud from head to toe as you can see. And wear a hat with a brim, even in the morning.

3. BRING YOUR OWN CONTAINERS: It's up to you to bring suitable containers to put the strawberries in. One suggestion for the kids is a sand bucket--something with a handle they can carry easily. I would not suggest your good Tupperware as they write on the outside with Sharpies and it took a good six months for that to come off one year.

4. START FAR AWAY AND WORK YOUR WAY BACK: It's so tempting to pick the first row and go, but you'll find better selection further from the check-out stand. Pick a row that's not so muddy, go to the end, and work your way back.

5. ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE, TAKE PICTURES, BUT DON'T DAWDLE: I find it's a constant juggling act teaching the kids about what to pick and what not to pick, capturing their expressions in pictures, and actually gathering strawberries. One hour is about their limit. If you don't focus, you won't get enough berries for jam if that's your goal. Aim for at least 10 pounds.

6. KEEP EXPECTATIONS REASONABLE: If you're coming with kids, take a deep breath and try to have fun. Some kids get bored quickly and others just want to run up and down the rows (which they frown upon but rarely say anything about). They'll inevitably have to go to the bathroom and there is no port-a-potty. Bring a travel potty if you have it and lots of wipes. Look at this as yet another opportunity to engage, educate and entertain your children.

7. PLAN HOW YOU WILL USE THE BERRIES AND PICK ONLY WHAT YOU NEED: If you're able to get an abundance of strawberries (there was one woman who picked 115 pounds in 2 hours--amazing!), you'll want to consider making jam the old-fashioned way: Gabe walks you through it all here. I, however, prefer making freezer jam: it requires fewer berries, less sugar, doesn't require cooking, and tastes amazing. With my 13.5 pounds of berries I picked on Friday, I made two batches of jam (12 cups), froze 2 trays for smoothies, and ate 1.5 pounds fresh.

8. SOME TIPS FOR THE FRUIT WHEN YOU GET HOME: Since I believe Rutherford's uses minimal pesticides, the berries are more fragile than what you buy in a store. I'd advise you to either make jam, freeze or dehydrate them within 48 hours. (I've never dehydrated them before but that's what I got for Mother's Day! Hopefully, I'll get one more trip to the farm so that I can use it.) Once home, I sorted the berries into the nicest ones to eat the next few days, the good but not perfect for freezing, and the slightly mushy or those with imperfections for the jam. Do not wash them until you're ready to make jam or freeze them and do not submerge them in water; I used a spray nozzle and a colander.

9. FREEZER JAM IS QUICK AND EASY: Mitzi came over to make the jam with me and was surprised how easy and fast it was. I had told her in previous years but she didn't believe me.
If you're interested in making freezer jam, you should be able to find the freezer jam pectin packets and containers at Kroger, Target, or Wal-Mart this time of year. You'll need 4 cups of crushed fruit (about 4 pounds) per batch, and you simply follow the directions on the pectin packet. The most time-consuming part is washing and de-stemming them. Kids love mashing the fruit and stirring in the sugar and pectin. Put down old towels where you'll be pouring the jam to avoid messy stains.

10. SHARE THE JOY: Use this as an opportunity to share your talents and hard work. I like giving jam to teachers at the end of the year or to relatives now or at Christmas. The jam is good in the freezer for a year.

Basics about the farm.
Address: 3337 Mint Road, Maryville, TN 37803.
Phone: (865) 982-5891
Directions: Their recording gives you detailed directions; I find these better than what I originally got off Yahoo maps. It seems like it's far away, but it usually takes about 15 minutes from the airport to get there.
Price: $1.25 / pound--great price (these are not organic but this farmer works hard to use the minimum amount of pesticides). CASH IS BEST.
Times of operation: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays 8am-1pm, 4-8pm

No comments:

Post a Comment