Summertime Ideas: Berry Picking

We headed out to Gilbert’s Crossing yesterday (intersection of 15 and 50) to Wegmeyer Farms to pick our own Strawberries yesterday. The price was just okay ($3.99 for pick your own), but we had a fun time and picked a ton of berries.

 Obviously, since Virginia is the new Seattle and it’s been raining for 30 days, the ground is a little mushy and boots are a good idea.  Also, anywhere you go to pick your own items, you should always call and make sure they’re having picking that day- weather, too many patrons over the weekend, or any kind of farm issues could mean they’re closed on the day you wanted to go, so a quick call is a good idea.  This farm offered a CSA and pick your own asparagus and strawberries.  I think my favorite PYO Berries is still Westmoreland Berry Farm, but we also have an in-county option at Yankey Farms.

At the Gilbert’s Crossing location we went to, you parked up at the top and then walked down a little dirt road to get to the actual berry patch, and they had an upper and lower field.

I liked their organizational method- a farm employee assigned you a row and planted a red flag to show that area was being picked.  He also gave us a flag to plant at the end of where we picked so that they would know where to start other people who came to pick after us.  Those buckets we’re holding are $1 each (if you want to keep them) and hold about 5 pounds.  We came to get berries, so we left with 10 pounds, but opted for a box, not the baskets.

The kids had the most fun finding unique-looking berries (“I picked a cow udder” was my favorite) like this round berry that my middle guy found and insisted I keep safe for later.

My daughter picked hardly a thing, but she had a really great time stomping around in the mud.  We brought my daddy’s truck with us, so we could just throw boots in the back, but if you’re going to come out and pick and it’s still monsoon season in Virginia, I recommend bringing a few plastic bags to hold boots and a change of shoes for in the car.

We picked three of these boxes full of berries.  That’s about 50 pounds.  What do you do with 50 pounds of berries that you picked? I’m so glad that you asked!! I have an answer to that question!  First of all, you can make any of these recipes with any amount of berries that you overpriced, so keep that in mind.  We intentionally bought a hot mess of strawberries so that we could make jelly, but I have a few recipes that I adore that I want to share 🙂

First of all, no matter what you do, you’re going to need to wash your fruit and hull it.  If you’ve got a sink with a drain plug, I like filling up the sink with cold water and floating the berries in it to rinse any debris and little friends that may have hitchhiked home on your berries down.  A colander also works well.

For hulling you have a couple of options.  If you have a strawberry huller, that works well, as does a paring knife.  If you have little helpers, a straw (imagine that) will actually do the job quite nicely, too.  You just have to cut off the actual stem and leaves, you don’t need to lop off the whole top of the berry.  I tell you this because my grandmother used to yell at me for wasting all the berry tops when I cut too much off.  She’s not with us anymore, but I can’t promise she’s not in a better place yelling about how wasteful we all are, so, you know, don’t waste berries.

Next, it depends on what you want to do.  You can slice your berries onto a sheet tray and freeze them, and then repackage them in ziplock bags for use in recipes or smoothies.  You can also freeze them whole, it just depends on what your blender likes to work with.

We turned ours into jelly.  We actually had a rather lengthy mishap because we’ve always used the SureJell low sugar freezer recipe, but on the new liquid pectin that we bought, they changed the recipe to be 2 cups of berries to 4 cups of sugar.  It literally just tasted like sugar, so we ended up taking all the jelly we’d already made out of the jars, which was about 30 pounds of berries worth of jam, and mixing it to the old recipe once we realized.  Now we’re hoping it gels.  If you’d not like to have that happen to you, I recommend the old recipe.

The Old Sure Jell Freezer Recipe:
4 cups of crushed strawberries
3 cups of granulated sugar
1 packet of SureJell Pectin (prepared according to directions, there are various varieties, look for the low sugar kind for this recipe)
2 tablespoons of lemon juice

Prepare pectin according to package directions.  You may or may not be boiling it with the sugar or mixing the sugar into the berries and adding the pectin.  We like this proportion of berries to sugar so that it’s VERY berry flavored.  It works best with fresh-picked berries, although if you’re a little short, you can mix fresh picked and store bought for a pretty good flavor profile.  Jar and allow to sit on the counter 24 hours to gel.  Move to freezer, and take out as needed.  It keeps in the fridge for about a week once it’s thawed.  It probably keeps longer than a week, but I wouldn’t know about that, because my kids can put down some PBJs.

Other Ideas I love:
Pioneer Woman’s Strawberry Oatmeal Bars
Strawberry Ice Cream (No Ice Cream Machine)
Strawberry Ice Cream (With Ice Cream Machine)
Strawberry Salsa
Strawberry Soup
Strawberry Lemonade
Strawberry Pretzel Salad (This is my hubby’s favorite.  It is in no way a salad.)