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Summer Berry Picking: Strawberries

Strawberry picking, though delicious, is tougher than you might think! I used some of my harvest to make Strawberry Chia Jam.

U-Pick Strawberries

Photo: Sarah Ostaszewski

U-pickers out in the strawberry fields.

Nothing says summer like berry-picking. I visited farms throughout northwest Indiana and Michigan, picking (and tasting) the freshest strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. This post is devoted to strawberries.

Wild strawberries are creeping plants that grow in woods, fields, lawns and along roadsides. Since strawberries are in season, I headed over to Johnson’s Farm Produce in Hobart, Indiana to fill up on some fresh, hand-picked fruit.

Dress For Mess

Picking strawberries is tougher than I had first expected — but well worth the effort.

The strawberry plants at Johnson’s are short little bushes, not to be confused with strawberry trees.

Strawberry patches do well with a couple inches of rain or irrigation water per week, but this farm had experienced a few too many rainfalls this year. Much of the field was mushy or underwater, so pickers had to wade through puddles before finding a dryer area. Since the bushes grow low to the ground, “U-Pick” berry pickers must stoop down and sift between leafy foliage for ripe fruit. Much of the ripest fruit, though, droops on the vines, making contact with the sandy soil and then quickly developing mold.

Pick Like A Pro

What looks like a ripe red strawberry may be deceiving.

Just because one side of the fruit looks red, juicy and unblemished, this is no guarantee that the other side is not mushy or covered in fuzzy mold (or insects). While I am all for eating the blemished fruit that would never make it to groceries or markets, I am careful when U-picking so that moldy fruit is not part of my taste-testing out in the field.

U-Pick strawberries are the freshest you can find. Spending a few hours outdoors on a summer day will do anyone good — I ended up with two overflowing buckets.

When you do find a ripe strawberry, use proper picking technique so as to not harm the bush or fruit.

Place your pointer and middle fingers around the strawberry stem. Place your thumb on the strawberry and gently tug. If the fruit is ripe it should pull away easily; detaching less ripe fruit requires a bit more tugging.

And watch your feet! Try not to step directly over the bushes when searching for the ripe stuff. Instead, walk only between or completely around bushes.

After spending just over an hour picking fruit I realized some of the difficulties of harvesting fruit by hand. Hand-picking is ideal for harvesting the ripest fruit, as it causes less damage than mechanical methods. But it takes much more time and effort!

Strawberries on one bush mature at different stages, so multiple and frequent harvests are necessary. Depending on the month and rainfall, fields may be inaccessible; inevitably, this leads to food waste.

Still, U-Pick strawberries are the freshest you can find. Spending a few hours outdoors on a summer day will do anyone good — I ended up with two overflowing buckets.

Time To Eat

Strawberries have endless culinary uses. They are delicious eaten raw, with breakfast, as a jam, or in desserts and smoothies. They can be added to leafy green salads and smashed into dressing with balsamic vinegar.

My family had eaten nearly the entire two buckets of strawberries, but there were still some fruit that would have grown mold if not eaten soon. So, I decided to make a jam!

Using one or two cups of leftover strawberries, I tested a recipe for Strawberry Chia Jam. Not only is this recipe simple, it isn’t loaded with the refined sugar that most store-bought jams and jellies contain.

  1. First, I macerated the fruit in its own juices, placing it in a pot over medium heat.
  2. Next, I added just a tablespoon of honey to the strawberries and stirred.
  3. When it developed a jam-like consistency, I poured the contents into a jar with about ¼ cup chia seeds. I stirred the mixture and then let it sit.
  4. After the jam cooled a bit, I placed it in the fridge to enjoy for the next day’s breakfast.
Sarah Ostaszewski

Sarah Ostaszewski is a student of anthropology and fine arts at Indiana University. She dreams of fresh summer tomatoes from her family's garden, and she loves tasting unique ingredients, learning culinary histories, and tracing foods back to their roots.

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