It’s Strawberry-Picking Time!
Florida in the winter-time. The phrase probably conjures up images of white sandy beaches and magical escapes to Disney World…am I right? That’s what came to my mind until I actually moved here almost three years ago. Now the sub-tropical winters hold an entirely new delight for me – FRESH STRAWBERRIES!
Most famous in the strawberry industry is the delightful town of Plant City, Florida. Plant City, a small railroad town named after railroad builder Henry B. Plant, is deemed the “Strawberry Capitol of the World”, producing the majority of all the winter strawberries in the U.S. on its surrounding 7,000 acres of farmland. It has also been home to the world-famous Florida Strawberry Festival, taking place the first weekend in March, for more than 70 years.
But you need not travel to Plant City to find these juicy ripe red jewels to take home. U-Pick Strawberry Farms are located throughout central Florida, and roadside stands dot the roadways. We recently found a unique farm however, that I think is worthy of an “honorable mention”.
Located off the beaten path near the small central Florida town of Dade City, sits Bane’s U-Pick Strawberry Farm.
What makes this farm unique among the other U-Pick Farms in the area? Several things.
Banes’ berries are grown hydroponically, in a “hydro-stacker”, without the use of pesticides or herbicides. With the use of the “stackers”, this farm is able to grow over 20,000 plants on just 2/3 of an acre of land. And another plus for Moms – no dirt! With this growing system, the children can pick berries without even getting their hands dirty!
- Family Friendly.
We mentioned to the owner of the farm that we were homeschoolers, so this outing was sort of a “field trip” (aren’t all of our excursions?), and she was kind enough to take the time to show the children around, explaining how the growing system works, and answering all of their questions. This kind of courtesy; taking time for children, ranks any business as an A+ to me in customer service!
- Handicap Friendly.
With no one in our immediate family requiring the use of a wheelchair, I often don’t think about the needs of the handicapped (it’s not that I’m insensitive to them; it just doesn’t cross my mind). So I was intrigued when, shortly after we arrived, a van of elderly folks pulled up, some of them in wheelchairs — and they were able to pick berries (something they would have had great difficulty with on a “typical” farm). You can see in the pictures how this type of growing system is conducive to wheelchairs, with wide aisles and smooth level ground. And not just for the wheelchair bound; it is perfect for those with back problems, knee problems, arthritis, etc., as there is no bending, squatting, or leaning required.
I have never met a locally grown fresh picked strawberry I didn’t like. And these were no exception. My 13 year old son proclaimed that they were the best strawberries he ever ate. I would have to agree. Ripe, sweet, juicy – not a hint of sour. Simply delicious. There is simply NO comparison to the store-bought berries. And at only $2 per pound? The value can’t be beat.
Hey, if the grin on little Rey’s face in the photo above doesn’t convince you that strawberry-picking is a fun (and delicious) activity for the whole family, then nothing will!
MORE ABOUT STRAWBERRY-PICKING, SELECTION, & STORAGE
- Season:The Florida strawberry growing season lasts from November/December to April/May. While most commercial farms do not open their fields to the general public until toward the end of the season, usually in March-April (depending on the weather), some small farms (such as Bane’s) are open for the entire growing season.
- Look for bright, deep red, glossy berries with fresh green caps, leaves, and stems. They should also be dry.
- Pick only the berries that are FULLY red
- Stay away from berries that have turned dull and bluish.
- Try to pick early in the morning or later in the day, or on cool cloudy days. Berries picked during the heat of the day become soft, are easily bruised and will not keep well.
- The small berries are often most flavorful.
- Storage & Preparation:
- Sort & remove any bruised or damaged berries as soon as possible and use in sauces, purées or jams.
- REFRIGERATE! Strawberries, will not ripen any further once they’re pulled from the vine. Nothing you can do at home will make a green berry ripen. Place the berries in cool, well ventilated containers in the refrigerator. The moisture content of fresh strawberries is high, so store uncovered or loosely covered.
- Once the berry cap is pulled, it will deteriorate very quickly. Never wash or remove the strawberry cap until you’re ready to eat the berry. Then just wash the berries with a gentle spray of cool water and remove the caps after the berries have drained.
- You can keep ripe strawberries in the refrigerator a day or two and still have pretty good berries, but the best thing to do is to eat strawberries the same day you buy them. Just as important: store the strawberries untouched.
- Strawberries are excellent frozen! Perfect for smoothies! Again, you’re planning to freeze the berries, do not remove the caps. Just pop them into a plastic bag and put them into the freezer unwashed and uncapped. Rinse briefly and remove the caps only when you’re ready to serve.
HOW TO FREEZE STRAWBERRIES:
- Freezing Strawberries Without Sugar for Jam and Other Uses *
Fill freezer containers with prepared sliced, or washed and dried berries to within 1/2″ (1 cm.) of top. Combine 4 cp. (1 L.) cold water with 1 tbsp. (15 mL.) of lemon or lime juice and pour over berries before freezing. Seal, Label and Date.
- Freezing in Sugar Syrup*
Fill freezer containers with prepared berries to within 1/2″ (1 cm.) of top. Combine 4 cp. (1 L.) cold water with 4 cp. (1 L.) sugar; stir to dissolve. Pour over berries. Seal, Label and Date. Allow 1-1/2 cp. (125 mL.) prepared fruit and 1/3 to 1/2 cp. (75 to 125 mL.) syrup per 1 pint (500 mL.) container.
- Freezing in Dry Pack, Sweetened*
Toss together 3/4 cp. (200 mL.) sugar with 4 cp. (1 L.) prepared berries; let stand until juice forms and sugar is almost dissolved. Pack in freezer containers leaving 1/2″ (1 cm.) head space. Seal, Label and Date.
- Individual Quick Freezing — Minimizing Berry “Mushiness”*
For long term storage of individual berries individual quick freezing is recommended. This will minimize the “mushiness” associated with freezing the berries. Strawberries can be frozen and safely kept for up to 1 year. Place the berries on flat trays in a single layer, well spaced out, and put into the coldest part of the freezer (the colder the better). Choose firm, ripe berries; wash in ice water before hulling. Carefully drain well on several layers of paper towels first. When frozen, store in quarts (litres) or pints (500 mL.) containers or place in heavy freezer bags, tightly sealed. If freezer bags are used, try to suck out as much air as possible to minimize freezer burn. Seal, Label and Date. These berries can be used individually, if desired, for special desserts, on cereals or as ice cubes in fancy drinks.
STRAWBERRY FACTS – Did you know?
- Strawberries measurements:
1 quart = 2 pints = 4 cups and is about the same as 1 liter and weighs 1.25 lbs (or 600- 625 g).
1 quart is normally enough for 4 servings.
- Packed full of nutrition, strawberries are a low fat, low calorie, low glycemic-index food, and are a great source of vitamin C, fiber, folic acid, potassium.
- Although dating back to Ancient Rome, first American species of strawberries was cultivated about 1835.
- How did it get it’s name? The berries seem to be strewn among the leaves of the plant. The plant first had the name strewberry, which later was changed to strawberry.
- Strawberries are the only fruit with seeds on the outside:
The strawberry plant has seeds on the outside skin rather than having an outer skin around the seed, as most berries do. They do not however, normally reproduce by seeds. When the fruit is developing, the plant sends out slender growths called runners. These look like strings. They grow on the ground and send out roots in the soil. The roots produce new plants which grow and bear fruit. Sometimes these plants are taken from the soil and replanted to start a new plantation of strawberry plants.
- The average strawberry has over 200 seeds.
- The strawberry, a member of the rose family, is not really berries or fruit in the “botanical” sense (i.e., the end result of a fertilized plant ovum).
A strawberry is actually an “aggregate fruit” — the “real” fruit are the objects we think of as the “strawberry seed” — properly called “achenes” — which are fruits in the same way that a raw sunflower seed with it’s tough shell is a fruit. The “berry” is actually an “enlarged receptacle” and is not reproductive material. As a result, strawberries must be picked at full ripeness, as they cannot not ripen once picked.
* information from: Handling Tips From The NASGA Fresh Strawberries Booklet