Deep deep in my heart, I think I’m really a farmer. Growing and making things with my hands is so deeply satisfying I can’t quite explain it. I think this is why I have such an appreciation for farmers markets and try to coax my sad little city window boxes to do impossible things with varying degrees of success. Herbs, yes. Tomatoes, not so much.
Every summer, I fall in love with U-Pick farms all over again. First of all – GENIUS! Are you kidding me? “Hi I’m Farmer Bob and you’re going to pay me to pick my fields, OK?” How freakin’ brilliant is that?? City folks like me gladly hand over their hard earned money to work for their food and feel close to something that is becoming harder and harder to find. The whole premise sort of borders on the absurd and I love it.
So every summer, I’m one of those people, baskets and cash in hand, smile on my face. For the last few years, my friend Gale and I have rounded up her kids and gone strawberry picking in Wisconsin. I dig out my ratty pickin’ shorts, red stains on the butt from where I sit amongst the plants (ever so flattering but what the hell), slap on some sunscreen, grab my sunglasses and literally run out the door. We sit right in the middle of the rows, talk about what we’re doing in our lives, harass the kids for not picking fast enough and laugh hysterically. This year we couldn’t quite get our act together in June but due to this crappy summer, there were still berries this late in July. Highly unusual. I was surprised to find the plants still loaded with small but sweet deep red berries. It was pretty easy picking and within 2 hours we had 6 heaping baskets.
Some thoughts on child labor. In general, I oppose it but for a family U-Pick situation, I’m all in favor. I think many of us have visions of a lovely, Little-House-on-the-Prairie type of family experience where everyone is laughing and joyous, filling untold numbers of baskets for some old fashioned hand cranked ice cream back at the ranch. In actuality, it’s usually a lot of yelling, whining, I told you so’s and stomach aches. Oh wait, maybe that’s just my family.
But you would think that kids would be good at this, wouldn’t you? They’re low to the ground, picking is a competitive sport and they’re picking FOOD for god’s sake. Uh, not so much. After observing and conducting several field experiments (literally), kids are interested for about 10 minutes until the fascination wears off then spend the rest of the time running through the patch pelting each other (and you) with overripe berries and trying to steal out of your basket to make it look like they’re doing something. Highly entertaining but don’t count on them for massive quantities. Last year, I calculated that Gale’s pre-teen son averaged 1 berry in the basket every 12.2 minutes yet 14 berries in his mouth every 1.7 seconds. Lower your expectations and be prepared to do all the work. Think of it as a good workout – a few hours of squats and deep knee bends. Hell yeah, I recorded it as a legit workout on my IPhone “Lose It” app. I’m no fool.
Afterwards we took our tired, strawberry stained butts for the second part of our annual pilgramage. The Brat Stop in Kenosha, WI. Oh yeah. No strawberry picking adventure is complete without brats and fried cheese curds. It is Wisconsin after all and there is nothing, nothing I tell you, that makes a better nibble than a fried cheese curd. If you have not had these, I just shed a little tear for you. Boy, do I love Wisconsin. Sprecher, New Glarus, the kringle, cheese shaped like Packer helmets, encased meats, state fair cream puffs. Ahhhhhhhhh……. it’s paradise for a good eater.
The final part of these outings is always a jam session at Gale’s house. Massive amounts of strawberry jam from berries that were on the vine just a few short hours ago. Quite fantastic I must say. Our berries were gorgeous – tiny, perfect, sweet. Just gorgeous. I’ll discuss more on jam making in the next post when I make my own batch and remember to actually photograph something. My hands were busy and sticky this time around though I did manage a pic or two of Gale stirring. And I’ll probably make a pie and some ice cream too. I have an embarrassment of berries in the fridge right now that I need to deal with.
So now Gale and I are thinking blueberry and raspberry picking is in order. How about that! Oh the things we can do.