Hooray for NC strawberry season

by Brian Clarey

Every spring my family goes strawberry picking. Let me rephrase that: Every year my family goes strawberry picking… without me. Whether it’s been a quirk of scheduling or a deliberate snub I’m not sure, but I do know this: I wasn’t going to miss it this year. So I ride shotgun on Saturday afternoon when we all drive out to Rudd Farms, which from our house takes all of 10 minutes. The fields out here, which have been in the Rudd family for four generations, were once used to raise tobacco and wheat, with the first strawberry plants going into the ground in 2000. Today the pick-your-own crowd works one plot while another is reaped by migrant workers for bulk sale to restaurants and produce markets. They grow other vegetables here, with a summer crop that includes green peppers, hot peppers, corn, watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers, okra, green beans, cabbage, squash, lettuce, potatoes, peas and onions as the season rolls on, and also a type of greenhouse tomato is available all summer long. I can see the stalks under the long, hangar-like structure. They sell all of this, as it grows out of the ground, from an enclosed produce stand by the roadside along with homemade preserves and honey made by the bees on this very farm — a useful homeopathic remedy for allergies. But you better move quickly if you want to do the grab and go because they sell out almost every day. Either way, it is strawberries for which the farm has become known, and strawberries for which we have come. And we are not interested in someone else’s basket of strawberries; we want to pick our own. We drive further along the dirt path, out to the strawberry patches. We each take a row and begin looking under the leafy bushes for ruby-red treasure. It’s fun to pick strawberries, to choose the reddest and ripest fruit and gingerly stack them in the basket. It’s fun to twist them off the stems and eat them fresh off the bush. Fun to see the kids gorging themselves in fresh fruit, with the juice running down their chin, instead of shoveling down cookies or popcorn. “We don’t weigh the kids before they go out into the field,” a woman at the weighing table tells me. We pick and eat for perhaps an hour under the warm sun, after which we bring our bounty up to the weighing table. This is where it dawns on me: What are we going to do with five gallons of strawberries? Well, we’re going to eat them, of course… but not all at once. That would be a huge mistake. The first step, after we get the berries safely home, is to prep a gallon or so and freeze them in single-serving bags. I’ll use those later to make pancake toppings, to drop into hot or cold cereal, to blend into smoothies and whatever else I can think of. I take another couple quarts and puree them in my food processor — yes, I still have a la Machine, and it still works great. To the pureed berries I add a banana, some cream, a bit of honey and couple peeled kiwis just because I happen to have them lying around. In my KitchenAid mixer — yeah, I still got one of those, too — I whisk up a batch of whipped cream and for an appetizer that evening I serve this strawberry soup, though probably it would have been more appropriate as a dessert. But what the hell? It’s fruit. I have plans for the rest of these strawberries: a parfait with dark-chocolate pudding; a salsa with fresh jalape’os, possibly served over a white, flaky fish; a small batch of preserves; shortcake. But also I’ll keep a bowl of them, rinsed and cut, in the refrigerator for the kids to munch on until they figure out that strawberries — high in Vitamin C, iron, calcium, folate and a couple super antioxidants — are pretty good for them. By then it will be time for the peaches to come in.

North Carolina has aperfect climate for early-season strawberries ike these, wehich by thetime this paper hits the streets will have been eaten. (photo by KennyLindsay)

Rudd Strawberry Farm; 4021 Hicone Road;; 336.621.1264