CapeMay.com Blog

Strawberries – The Fragrant Fruit

“I just would like people to know that we love growing strawberries just as much as they love eating them but we [all NJ farmers] need the support of the consumers to keep us in business.  They need to buy local produce when it is available.  If their local supermarket is promoting California berries in late May or early June, tell the produce manager that they want Jersey berries.  Open space in California is not doing us any good here in New Jersey.  Farmland preservation is a wonderful thing and I support is 100% but only consumers can preserve the New Jersey Farmer who will farm that preserved land.”

– This quote is from a south Jersey farmer

Traditionally luscious, mouthwatering ripe red strawberries are in by Memorial Day and go well into June. This year, the crop is early. Let’s hope it goes late. There is something about the fragrance of a field of strawberries with the warm June sun, the blue skies and butterflies floating lazily over the berries that stays in one’s memory.

Juicy, ripe berries are delicious sliced and eaten with other fruit, cereal, ice cream or cake!  Combined with white wine in a bowl and garnished with pansies they are fit for a gala. Southern New Jersey cooks have come up with generations of recipes for delicious short cake, homemade berry ice cream, pies, cobblers and beverages. Just be sure that ripe berries are used for best results.

Strawberries have been grown for thousands of years and used not only for the delicious berries, but also for the fragrant leaves, which were used in tea, as a medicine and to strew on floors because of their fragrance. Wild strawberries are found all over the world, and the delicious fruit we enjoy today was an accidental cross of two plants taken from North and South America and grown in France in the 1700s.

Some southern New Jersey residents are happy to pick berries at local farms. Most grow many varieties of berries to stretch out the availability of berries to harvest. Berries need a rich soil and good irrigation in the years there is scanty rainfall. The short season, Memorial Day to about June 20 for commercial berries, can be longer for home owners if they plant ever-bearing berries in their gardens.  A lot of people love to go to a farm for this back-to-earth chance to do a family outing together and gather delicious berries. People begin to show up a bit before 8 a.m. when the fields open and pick the best of the ripe berries.

When asked what problems they have with the berry crop, the farmers agreed that the birds could be a problem. They become quite brazen and eat their share or the berries. Hawks deter them, but there are more birds than hawks.  Then they hope for success with the bird guard. This is an electronic device that has a microchip inside with the sounds of distress calls and predatory calls of birds on it. It can be programmed to alert different species of birds that something is wrong. Sometimes a real hawk does the trick, but there are many feathered thieves competing for the ripe berries.

Usually there are about 5,500 plants per acre. The hungry berries are fertilized in spring when the fertilizer is plowed under to get the plants started. In late May or early June when the plants start to put out runners, the plants are fed again.

Although it is labor intensive, one farmer says, “We clip the bloom off the first year to promote plant growth. We get our first berries off of the field in May of the following year.” Soil pH is adjusted before the field is planted and requires a soil test to all fields every year. Wheat straw or salt hay is spread over the bed in early December to protect the crowns (the “heart” of the plant) from very cold temps over the winter. This straw is kicked off in March to allow the plants to come out of dormancy.  It also helps to keep the strawberries off the ground, which makes the berries cleaner.  Some farms use a floating row cover of woven fabric that is put over the plants in the spring to help them mature sooner.

Homeowners who might want to grow berries need to remember strawberries need to be grown where there is plenty of sun and where the soil has good drainage. Plants are often placed 12 -18 inches apart in the row.  At planting time, the soil should be weed free. After planting, weekly cultivation is recommended to remove weeds so they do not get established with these perennial plants.

There is noting like fresh-from-the-field ripe strawberries for all your favorite dishes.  Eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and bedtime snack.  They can be added to pancakes, muffins, breads, wine, milk shakes and salads. A really easy way to enjoy strawberries is to dip washed and dry berries in melted chocolate. Just remember that the chocolate must be melted at a low temp (30-40 seconds in microwave) or over a double boiler. Even a drop of water will make the chocolate grainy.  Don’t over cook; it is often ready to dip before it completely melts. The heat of the chocolate will continue to melt. Stir and dip dry berries. Allow cooling before serving. Remember that fresh strawberries liven up any salad and make any dessert more appetizing and beautiful.

Strawberry-Orange Smoothies

  • 1 pint strawberries, washed and stemmed
  • 1¼ cups milk of your choice, low fat or soy can be used
  • 2/3 cup unflavored low fat yogurt or ice cream
  • 2½ tablespoons *frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 2 tablespoons honey or sweetener (optional)
  • 4 ice cubes

Combine ingredients in container of electric blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into four 8-ounce glasses. Garnish with orange slices.

Old Fashion Shortcake

Filling

  • 2 pints strawberries
  • Sugar or sweetener to taste

Rinse strawberries, slice and put in bowl with sugar to sweeten.

Biscuits

(or substitute the biscuit mix of your choice)

  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 4 Tbsps. granulated sugar
  • 4 tsps. baking powder
  • 1 dash salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • Dash of nutmeg or mace

For Filling and Topping

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 Tbsp granulated sugar

Sift flour and combine dry ingredients. Cut in butter until coarse crumbs form. Lightly mix in sour cream to make a nice dough. Spoon dough into 6 equal portions or 3-inch circle on greased baking sheet.  Sprinkle with additional sugar if desired. Bake in 415-degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden. Remove from pan.

Slice each shortcake in half horizontally with a shape knife. Fill and garnish with strawberries and whipped cream, ice cream or milk. Serve warm! Makes 6 servings. 

Sharon’s Favorite Cobbler

Filling

  • 3 cups rhubarb, washed and chopped
  • 3 cups strawberries, washed and chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • ½ cup sugar

Batter

  • 1½ cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • Work in 1 stick of butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Combine fruit, cornstarch, and sugar. Put into a 8 or 9 inch baking pan or pie dish. In a separate bowl, combine all batter ingredients. Dollop batter over fruit. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until bubbly and golden tan.

Strawberry Chicken Salad

  • 2 cups diced cooked chicken
  • 1-cup pineapple chunks
  • ¼ cup parsley
  • 1 cup broken or chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup sliced celery
  • ½ cup water chestnut
  • 2 cups washed and halved berries

Dressing

  • 1 cup, mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. Sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix dressing and toss with other ingredients, save some berries to garnish. Serve on a bed of crisp spring greens.

lorraine-kieferLorraine Kiefer has gardened all of her life. She is a garden writer, floral designer and professional horticulturist. Lorraine teaches many classes at Triple Oaks nursery and Herb Garden in Franklinville, NJ. Email Lorraine@tripleoaks.com for garden help or leave your questions below! www.tripleoaks.com