Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Just got back from the "u-pick" strawberry farm yesterday, and I did not go a moment too soon.  The last day for u-pick is Wednesday, although area farms should still have strawberries for another week or two.  Depending on where you live, you may have a couple more weeks of u-pick strawberries, or you may be joining me in the wait for the next wave:  blueberries and blackberries.

Picking berries in the sunshine is one of the true treats of summer, so if you can find a farm that will let you do so, you will have a ton of fun, and you will save some money in the process.  Here are some reminders for when you go:

  • Expect to spend a couple of hours out there, so if you are the type that needs a hat or a long sleeve shirt, bring one.  (These things are called "frugal sunscreen.")
  • Bring your own containers.  If you do, the farm will weigh them, and you will pay just for the berries.  If not (I forgot yesterday), you will wind up paying for the box they give you.
  • Bring a picnic cooler and an ice pack to store your berries for the trip home.
  • Please handle the plants gently. If you are a novice, or if you have kids, this is a good time for a practice session with the first plant you encounter.  Hold the main plant with one hand and pull the berry with the other.  Otherwise, you will pull entire chunks of stem off, which is not good for the plant.  Later, you'll get your mojo going and learn how to do it with one hand.
  • The berries will keep for a few hours while you take a break, but do process them that night while they are full of sugar.
This year, I froze my berries because I still have plenty of jam and preserves from last year.  To do this, just trim the tops, and combine with about a half cup of sugar for every quart of berries, enough to coat but not overwhelm.  Put in a freezer container, label, and enjoy all winter!

The Analysis

Fast:  It depends on how you look at it.  Picking and processing strawberries eats up the whole day, but it is just one day out of the entire year of being able to pull berries out of the freezer for shortcake or smoothies.

Cheap:  Yes, actually.  I spent about $18 on 12 pounds of strawberries, which was about 8 quarts.  This works out to $2.25 a quart.  The same market had pre-picked on sale for $4 a quart, so I saved $1.75 a quart for picking myself.  It took two hours to pick, not including travel time, so I wound up saving $14 or $7 an hour, which is not a bad hourly rate considering it is tax free. 

I'm not even going to do the math comparing these berries to store-bought berries in the middle of winter, which is when I will consume them. 

Good:  Like so many homegrown treats, there is no comparison between store berries and ones you pick from the vine yourself. 
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