We plant about 500-750 new strawberry plants each year in addition to transplanting daughter plants and maintaining the previous year’s mothers. These new ‘bare root’ plants come from a supplier in what looks like a box of tangled, dirty never-gonna-grow roots. With careful planting – the roots below the surface of a plastic-mulch-covered raised bed of soil, the crown just above – the plants will take hold, and begin to produce flowers in 4-6 weeks.
That doesn’t mean we’ll get berries at that point. In fact, and this probably goes against instinct, but we actually pluck off the first set of blossoms and any runners that appear. This actually stimulates fruit production.
It’s a simple matter of survival. A plant’s job is to reproduce for the preservation of its species. If the blossoms (future fruit) are destroyed or damaged, well, that plant better work twice as hard to produce offspring.
We think we get more berries this way. Have we done a scientific study? Nope. But perhaps that will be something to keep MY beloved offspring busy come Spring 2014.
Strawberries are extremely perishable and there is only a small window in which to harvest. We pick our berries every 3 days and sell what we can, freezing any ‘seconds’ (non-salable berries) for winter consumption. That being said, if we have very rainy weather, the berries will become swollen with water and will be unusable even for jam. They are waterlogged compost 😦 We are very careful to remove the rotten or damaged berries from the field. If we don’t, they act like a flag directing hungry birds to the strawberry patch. Birds are a terrible menace to berry crops.
As for the jam berries, my father is the preserver in the family and it doesn’t phase him one bit to sit down at night, after a 15 hour day of hot, dusty field-work, and hull quart upon quart of strawberries. He tosses them with a bit of sugar and lets them sit in the fridge overnight. Come morning, the berries have released enough juice to create a lovely red-hued syrup and he will scoop them into quart-sized freezer bags.
They will be cozy in the freezer until Dad wants to spoon some barely-thawed berries atop his shredded wheat. Being the good (and ridiculously active) farmer he is, he will pour whole milk – or half and half if he’s out of milk – slowly over the berries, allowing a few ice crystals to form. He loves the way it almost tastes like ice cream.
Strawberries and rhubarb are a classic spring/early summer combination to be sure. After a winter of frozen fruits, citrus, and local apples, it’s time to pump up the volume a little and wake up the taste buds.
This strawberry-rhubarb sauce will do exactly that.
I have frozen this sauce in the past but my freezer is so jam-packed (no pun intended) that I prefer to water-bath can it. I can store it in the pantry and pull out a fresh 4-ounce jar anytime I need a bright pop of color and flavor to top my yogurt or a fresh pound cake. I love it on french toast or pancakes or to drizzle over profiteroles on Valentine’s Day. I have even been known to bring a jar with me to the ice cream stand (custard stand in my family – what do you call it?). No commercial product could ever come close…
1 pound rhubarb, sliced about 1/2″ thick
1/2 c sugar (+/- depending upon the sweetness of berries)
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
1/4 cup water
1 pint strawberries, washed and hulled, halved if large
Combine first four ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cook the mixture for about 8-10 minutes or until the rhubarb has broken down completely. Stir in the strawberries and continue to cook for a minute or two longer. Taste for sweetness and add extra sugar if necessary. Stir and cook another minute to be sure added sugar has dissolved. Better to err on the side of ‘not sweet enough’.
Chill the sauce until ready to serve, preferably in a closed container lest you keep dipping a spoon into it and polish it off before anyone else has a chance to sample. If you want to store it long-term, transfer the hot sauce to sterilized jars, seal and process in a water bath.