In The Dirt: U-Pick it a Sweet Deal
It’s a crisp, cool morning punctuated by a strawberry-scented breeze. Sunlight shines upon rows and rows of juicy red jewels. Together, many sets of hands—big and small—work to harvest baskets of sun-ripened fruits, sweet as candy. It’s strawberry season, and the local pick-your-own farms are bustling! A trip to the U-pick promises a bounty of freshfrom- the-farm berries, plus a wholesome experience that’s fun for the entire family. Before you head out to the fields, read our strawberry picking guide for tips and ideas to help make the most of your day, and your harvest.
BEFORE YOU GO
A little advance planning will make your U-pick experience most enjoyable and successful.
- Plan your outing for early in the day. Strawberries harvested in the early morning are at their peak of firmness and flavor, while berries picked in the heat of the day tend to become soft and bruise easily.
- Call ahead to inquire if the growers provide or sell containers, or if you should/ can bring your own. If you plan to use your own, bring shallow baskets, or even pots or pans. Keep in mind that piling berries over five inches deep can cause the bottom berries to bruise.
- Consider making a day of it. Some pick-your-own destinations have children’s play areas, petting zoos, picnic facilities, and more. You may wish to pack a lunch to enjoy in the shade, or plan to purchase food on-site, where available.
AT THE U-PICK
For the freshest, most flavorful fruit, follow these berry-picking tips:
- Pick strawberries that are fragrant, firm, and bright red. There should be no white or green around the stem, and no soft spots. (Unripe berries will not ripen once picked.)
- To pick the berries, grasp the stem just above the berry and pull with a slight twisting motion. Alternatively, some farms provide kid-friendly scissors for snipping the berries from the plants.
- Be sure to place the fruit gently into containers to prevent bruising. And avoid overfilling your containers, or trying to “pack down” the strawberries.
- If you’re planning to stay at the U-pick after harvesting, find a cool, shady place to tuck your berries until you leave.
STORING YOUR HARVEST
For maximum flavor and freshness, plan to process, refrigerate, or freeze your strawberries immediately upon returning home.
- If you plan to use your berries right away, do not refrigerate them.
- Strawberries will keep fresh in the refrigerator for two or three days before losing their bright color and fresh flavor. Do not rinse or hull the berries (cut off the green tops) until you’re ready to use them, as they become more prone to spoiling.
- To freeze your berries, rinse and hull them, then freeze them in a single layer on parchment-lined baking trays. Once frozen, transfer the strawberries to a freezer bag, removing as much air as possible. Store in the freezer for up to one year.
ENJOYING THE FRUITS OF YOUR LABOR
Fresh-picked strawberries are delicious just as they are, as well as
- on yogurt or cereal
- in smoothies and pops
- dipped in whipped cream or chocolate
- baked into muffins or sweetbread
- processed into jam or syrup
- sliced onto salads or pancakes
HELPFUL WEIGHTS & MEASURES
1 quart of strawberries = 2 pints, or 4 cups, and weighs 1.25 pounds to 1.5 pounds
LOCAL U-PICK STRAWBERRY DESTINATIONS
8276 Ibis St, Sarasota; 941-405-0015;
5500 County Rd 675, Bradenton; 941-322-2168;
11608 Upper Manatee River Rd, Bradenton; 941-405-5207;
O’Brien Family Farms:
16505 State Rd 64 E, Bradenton; 941-896-4811;