To the uninitiated, the fields of green across rural Midwestern roads could hold anything: carrots, kale, rabbits. But the savvy ones know that this is the kick-off for berry-picking season and those fields don’t contain just any given fruit. It’s strawberry time.
Since the strawberry season usually wraps up around the Fourth of July, you’ll want to make sure you put “stopping by a patch” on your pre-holiday to-do list. It’s hard to create that show-stopping red, white, and blue dessert without the red berries, you know, and the bending and stretching will keep you limber for the rousing series of drinking lawn games you have planned for the Fourth.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture keeps a handy-dandy list of state strawberry growers on the Minnesota Grown website, but before you head out, call the grower to make sure he or she is open for picking that day. After a day with lots of visitors, some growers will close their fields for a day or two to allow the new berries to ripen. Many growers will provide boxes free of charge, but you’ll want to bring cash since credit cards aren’t accepted at every strawberry patch. Other essentials: sunscreen, a hat, and perseverance. Sometimes it takes a little foraging to find those sweet berries hiding among the leaves.
The strawberries pictured above hail from Rockford’s Apple Jack Orchards, a popular west metro destination in the fall for apple picking, but it features an extensive strawberry patch as well. Apple Jack conveniently provides wooden baskets in which to rest your boxes while you tromp through the field, allowing you to channel ’80s icon Strawberry Shortcake as you pick berries. (Sorry, there are no cats for lend, so you can’t stick one in your basket, too, a la Strawberry Shortcake’s friend Custard the Cat.) The folks in the strawberry shack will guide you toward the rows with the most berries, but you don’t have to heed their suggestions — sometimes the best strawberries are found just one row away from the crowds.
If you need any inspiration for what to do with the mountains of berries, magazines such as Cooking Light and sites like Epicurious have oodles of recipes this time of year. Local food blogs A Crafty Lass and Food Snobbery is my Hobbery also offer fresh takes on traditional strawberry concoctions like jam and frozen yogurt.