Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did

I love strawberry picking.


It's one of those quintessential childhood memories – piling into the car with family and friends, tumbling out in a screeching gaggle, excited to see row after row after row of beautiful strawberry plants, scalloped green leaves revealing lush, red berries… spreading out across a few rows, mums together, kids finding their own corner… everyone laughing, chatting, giggling and picking fruit… competing over who's picking the biggest berries or who is the fastest to fill their punnet… and later, smeared in sticky juices, making our tired but happy way back home again clutching our precious baskets of fruit.

And then, over the next day or two, helping my mum make the most delicious strawberry jam from the fruits of our fun. (I couldn't bring myself to call it a labour!)


At university too, there was a pick-your-own farm just down the road from the campus. Better still, they had an honesty system – when you took your strawberries to the till to be weighed and paid for, a small note asked you to make a guestimate and contribute towards the berries you'd eaten whilst you picked. I loved that, as it meant I didn't feel guilty about popping berries as I picked … I'd even be willing to bet that most pickers over- rather than under-estimated their consumption.

I have picked strawberries now and again, in the intervening years, but must confess that back, hip and knee problems make crouching and crab-walking along the ground difficult to manage for more than a few minutes at a time.

Last year, just too late for the strawberry season, I came across a recommendation for Parkside Farm in Enfield. Mention of their table-top strawberry system appealed hugely and I bookmarked the site, checking on it regularly these last few weeks, waiting impatiently for the strawberry season to arrive.

Finally, on the last Saturday in June, off we went… me bubbling with excitement, just as I had when I was a child. The farm was busy; families with kids of all ages playing hide and seek between the rows, an elderly couple taking their time to select only the most perfect fruits, four middle aged friends striding purposefully from the entrance, people of all ages, speaking many different languages but sharing the delight of picking one's own…

ParksideStrawbPicking-2653 ParksideStrawbPicking-2649
ParksideStrawbPicking-2650 ParksideStrawbPicking-2651

So, what about the table-top system? What can I tell you? I'm an absolute convert! Strolling comfortably along the rows of waist-height troughs of healthy plants, their ruby red fruit hanging so easily in reach, takes away the pain but without losing any of the pleasure I remember so fondly.

(Pete, being 6 foot 6 inches tall, still has to slouch just a little, but for the rest of us, the strawberries are at just the right height).

What did I do with our 4 kilo harvest? Strawberry jam, strawberry ice-cream, strawberry vodka and, of course, fresh strawberries and cream!

The quote in the title, by the way, is by William Allen Butler, a 19th Century American lawyer, poetical satirist and travel writer.


clairetweet said...

Genius! I ended up with strawberry coloured knees when we went. It can't be so cost effective though.

Kavey said...

@clairetweet - I would guess that there was a fair bit of expense setting it up, but it may well be same price in long run... they have set up automatic feeder pipes so watering is dead easy too.
Wasn't as cheap as I remember but then I've not been for a couple of years at least - this was on first weekend of the strawberry season and they were charging £3.89 a kilo.

Josordoni said...

well that's still pretty cheap compared to punnet prices. Where is it? up by the Clay Hill nurseries?

Kavey said...

@Josordoni - it's in Enfield. Here is their website: http://www.parksidefarmpyo.co.uk/

Josordoni said...

thank you!

Gourmet Chick said...

Looks great but £3.89 a kilo is quite pricey - I guess it is more about the experience

Kavey said...

@gourmetchick - it's definitely quite pricey though still cheaper than the regular supermarket prices, though sometimes 2 for 1s bring it closer. I suspect it's partly also because there aren't many farms within close reach of London, so they can charge more. For me, the table-top thing definitely makes it worth it!

Helen (Fuss Free Flavours) said...

There was an article in (I think) BBC Good Food saying that British Strawberries may become really hard to get as no-one wants to pick them Now proper accommodation needs to be provided for the migrant workers that will pick them which local people block the planning permission for.

I used to earn a relative fortune strawberry picking in the summer holidays when I was at school. It was really easy money, but miserable when the weather was bad.

The problem with PYO is that only the choice berries get harvested. If you are picking the entire crop you sort into grade I and II as you pick and put the fruit into the punnets.

I love the table top beds however.

Kavey said...

@helen - oh that's really interesting, will look for that article, thank you.

Didn't know about the grading either, can you tell me more?

Helen (Fuss Free Flavours) said...

Posh punnets for M&S / Sainsburys and the like. And a tray with lots of non posh punnets for market / jam factory etc.

Pretty strawberries into the posh punnets, lumpy ones into the tray, rotten ones chucked behind you. Depending where they were headed the prettiness level moved.

This was all about 20 years ago mind you but I cannot imagine that they are not picked directly into the punnets. I'd crawl down the row leaving a trail of filled posh punnets behind me that I would go back and pick up into trays.

I also worked at a re-packing factory. 10,000 heads of celery / iceburg lettuces / ripe avos etc for M&S then as soon as the order was full we would be given another supermarket's labels for the same produce.

Kavey said...

@helen I would certainly love to read more.

Anonymous said...

Amazing, this is the exact farm I also left it too late to visit last year! I kept looking at the website and seeing new produce popping into season but unfortunately my summer of crippling hand eczema meant I missed out.

Have been thinking I really should try again this year, as I have an ever lurking desire to preserve following last Winter's chutney success and I used to LOVE PYO when I was little.

Definitely going to have to fit this in somehow in the next few weeks. Only problem for me is reliance on public transport as a non-driver, unless I can convince one of my driving friends to come and pick with me!

Nicisme said...

That's the best way to go strawberry picking I reckon. I've always done the crawling through the hay thing, but will look out for a farm like this.
Nice haul of berries!

Kavey said...

@howtomakeamess - we're SW of the farm, if you're in similar area, DM me and we can give you a lift.

@nicisme - yes I'm a convert! I don't know whether the slightly high prices are because a) it was the very first weekend of the season b) because of higher costs c) because too many people eat more than they get weighed and pay for or d) just that prices have gone up in London area PYOs!

Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial said...

So clever! And the strawberries would be free from the snails and slugs!

Kavey said...

@celia Yes indeed, we made the same comment about the slugs and snails!!