There’s a restaurant in town that has used “The Merry Berry Month of May” as its tagline for strawberry pie as the pie of the month for years (here I go with the advertising again). I’ve never understood this, since the local strawberry season doesn’t really get into full swing until early June. May is still often rainy, cool, and breezy here – not characteristics I associate with strawberries. This past weekend, on a sunny, mid-70s day, it was a perfect June day – and a perfect day for berry-picking.
Although my search for a local organic u-pick berry farm has not yet yielded any results, we did find a farm through a recommendation of a friend of a friend that was perfect for us. Paskorz’s farm doesn’t have much of a web presence, but it’s less than a 20 minute drive from our house (in the same county, which warms the cockles of my urban planner heart since not all agricultural land has been swallowed up by suburban sprawl). It has a variety of berries all summer long, and the strawberry fields hug the rolling Pennsylvania hills. Bucolic is an understatement.
The kids heading to the strawberry fields. Note the red clothing in case massive amounts of strawberry eating ensued.
Check out the contouring – you can’t make fields like that in the Midwest.
After about an hour (with a brief trip to watch the frogs in the pond on the farm), we had a pretty good haul. My three-year-old was more interested in going back and forth and back and forth and back and forth along the rows, but everyone else picked pretty productively. Here’s our haul:
Cleaned up, sorted, and hulled, it filled a 24 cup bowl up nicely.
Ready for jam.
Continuing the dubious tradition of making strawberry jam the night before a trip (though last year I met my husband in Ireland the next day; this week I just went on a business trip), I followed this Mother Earth News jam recipe. It has five ingredients (strawberries, lemon juice, sugar, pectin, and calcium water), uses Pomona’s Universal Pectin, which uses calcium water to activate the pectin (thus requiring a lot less sugar), and it’s dead easy. The hardest part is waiting for the water bath to come to a boil.
Smashing the berries. Getting out frustration is a bonus.
Check out the color of this stuff. It turned ruby red once the sugar dissolved. I’ve never made jam that bright before.
I used pint jars (because I didn’t plan ahead, shame on me) and now realize why people use half-pint jars for jam. Because the recipe batches are small, I ended up having a jar or two in the water bath and one sitting waiting to be filled up with the next batch. That would be less of an issue if I used smaller jars – lesson learned. Our strawberry haul ended up making just over seven pint jars of jam.
From picking to jam production was just over two days, and would have been sooner had we not had other plans in between. This jam is rich, flavorful, and has great late spring memories. Even if you don’t make jam, berry-picking is a great way to get outside, enjoy the local farms that are closer than you think, and get a great snack. Even if you do end up covered in juice.