Strawberry season is upon us. Make the most out of it with these tips from author Rachel Weston.
I only open my last precious jar of homemade strawberry jam when I know I’ll have ample access to fresh New Jersey strawberries within a few short weeks. Until then, I earmark new recipes to try this season and impatiently wait.
The pick-your-own farms across the state are slowly starting up for business again. Always give a farm a ring the night before or the morning you plan to visit. Most farms have a recorded message that provide visitors with important details about which varieties they are picking that day, whether the field is closed, parking information and other important details. Many of the farms also share important updates on their Facebook pages.
To find a farm near your home, click here.
Donaldson Farms, Hackettstown
Donaldson Farms in Hackettstown told me the cold weather this year slowed them down a bit but their fields will be open in late May and should be really plentiful for pick-your-own visitors by the first week of June. Their annual Strawberry Festival celebrates the fruit’s fleeting season with music, strawberry milkshakes, and fun for the whole family. The fields will be open for picking.
Donaldson Farms Strawberry Festival
Saturday, June 13 (rain date June 14)
12 to 4 p.m.
358 Allen Road
Silverton Farms, Toms River
I usually spend a sunny morning picking at Silverton Farms in Toms River. After carefully selecting a few baskets full of ruby red gems, I stop to admire their goats and regroup with my friends at the shaded picnic tables for a snack before heading home to the kitchen for an afternoon of making jam.
Pick-Your-Own Essentials and Tips
- Wear practical shoes
- Bring sunscreen, a hat, and water
- Follow the directions and signs that tell you what rows are open for picking
- Use the provided flats or buckets to store your produce in as you pick
- Know the price per pound and how to gauge what you are picking
- Keep track of your little ones at all times
- Leave your pooch at home
- Don’t litter
- No snacking while picking (This is the hardest one!)
If you don’t have time to pick, plenty of farms have roadside stands and farmers markets that make it incredibly easy for you to access strawberries.
SAVE THE DATES
According to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, limited quantities of berries will be available the first week of June this season. By the second week in June things should be in full swing although it will be a week after that before northern operations have much volume.
When picking, look for berries that are dry, firm and completely red. Strawberries do not ripen further once they’re picked.
In addition to all the strawberry-scented magic I’m planning for my home kitchen, I’ll be teaching a class on May 30 at Heirloom Kitchen in Old Bridge with some of my favorite recipes such as a strawberry rose yogurt lassi, strawberry and poppy seed salad dressing with little gem lettuces.
The Ramsey Farmers Market kicks off its market season with a strawberry festival on June 7 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
I’ll be offering samples of roasted strawberries with a black pepper cracker, balsamic reduction and ricotta made with milk from Cherry Grove Farm at their Grass Fed BBQ event on June 13 in Lawrenceville.
PLACES TO VISIT
I was happy to see Cross & Orange in Asbury Park offering Eton Mess on their dessert menu. Crisp meringue, creamy mascarpone and strawberries puree hits all the notes of a crave-worthy meal ender. When asked about the working with seasonal strawberries, Chef Sam Byrne said “the best thing is their ability to pair with so many sweet and savory ingredients depending on how you treat them – one of my absolute favorite ingredients.” He signed off from our email exchange with “strawberry love.”
Storing and Preserving
Store your berries in the refrigerator. Strawberries should be rinsed right before using them. Lay them in a single layer on paper towels to dry. I’m a fan of the strawberry hulling tool to quickly pull out the stems but the greens are completely edible. Feel free to include them in your morning smoothies.
It is a long 11 months between strawberry seasons here in New Jersey and I choose not to eat berries shipped in from far off locations. Making jam is my favorite way to preserve the season but freezing and dehydrating are other techniques to include in your repertoire.