Strawberry Fields Forever
Nothing celebrates the arrival of fresh spring produce like plucking a sweet, succulent strawberry fresh from the ground. As one of the earliest crops to begin producing, strawberries are a staple of spring dishes – all of which are that much better when made with fresh, local produce.
“Ours are prettier and usually bigger, and they are delicious – the sweetest thing you’ll ever sink your teeth into,” said Becky Herbert, manager for Boone Hall Farms’ U-Pick Fields.
As some of the first crops to produce each spring, strawberries are a local favorite, especially for fruit lovers who want to get their hands dirty and pick their own.
Herbert expects a good crop this year at Boone Hall’s popular U-Pick Fields, located on Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant. (This year’s entrance will be on Long Point Road.) Herbert expects the 12 acres of strawberries to be open for business around the end of March.
Boone Hall, a popular destination for locally grown produce, will follow the strawberry season with an assortment of other local favorites, including tomatoes, collard greens, mustard greens, sweet onions, peaches, blueberries and broccoli. While Boone Hall is also known for its October pumpkin patch, Herbert said they grow some that are sold there but must purchase most of them to keep up with the high demand. But the red berry kicks it all off.
“Strawberries are always the first thing,” Herbert said.
An uncharacteristically cold start to 2018, complete with a once-in-adecade snowstorm, actually might have helped this year’s strawberry crop.
“When it snows, it’s really nice because it provides a blanket of protection,” said Johnna Livingston, who comes from a long line of farmers and, along with her husband, Jimmy, runs Wabi Sabi Farm in Cordesville, South Caroina. “The old-timers say that when it snows like that, you’re gonna have a really good farming year.”
At Wabi Sabi – whose names comes from the Japanese philosophy of “embracing the beauty of life’s imperfections” – Livingston also runs a you-pick field and anticipates a late March/early April opening. She said she loves to see families come out and pick together and seeing folks sneak a few bites along the way.
“It’s cool to see the kids come back to the stand and pay for them, and their faces are all red and there’s dirt everywhere. That’s the fun part,” said Livingston.
Walter Early, owner of Hickory Bluff Nursery and Berry Farm in Holly Hill, South Carolina, concurred that the winter has been good for strawberries and anticipates a healthy crop ready for picking.
“Actually, it’s been pretty good. Strawberry is a cold weather crop. The plants look really good so far,” he said.
Early, who started the strawberry crop about a decade ago, said that even if the temperature dips below freezing, he can still protect his crops. The main danger would be an extremely hard freeze in February and March.
“We can protect it in the late 20s. If it gets 15 degrees, there’s not much we can do,” he said.
Early said a strawberry purchased at a chain grocery store is less flavorful and not as aromatic as a fresh-picked strawberry because it has been out of the ground much longer.
“Most of those berries (at grocery stores) come from California and Florida. The ones we grow right here are always sweeter,” he said.
As for a strawberry dish closest to his heart, Early said he doesn’t necessarily have one – just a favorite ingredient.
“Whatever they cook, they just need to use a fresh strawberry,” he said.
For those looking to take their strawberry experience beyond picking, Boone Hall hosts an annual Strawberry Festival every April, featuring carnival rides, a petting zoo, inflatables and, of course, plenty of strawberry treats. In addition to the myriad of strawberry dishes and offerings from other food vendors, there is – as there should be at any proper festival – a pie eating contest.
And while you’re standing in the field, surrounded by strawberries, pluck a fresh one, raise it to your nose and inhale a great, big strawberry-infused breath.
“You can always smell a good, fresh strawberry,” Herbert said.
By Mike Gibbons
Looking for our 2019 Lowcountry Strawberry Festival article?