Strawberries are one of Ontario’s sweetest reminders of summer. It’s not unusual to feel nostalgic when thinking of summer afternoons spent in the strawberry fields—sneaking the occasional sample as you plucked from the bushes—only to return home with plastic quarts full of red jewels. You can recognize a strawberry field by the lush, green rows dotted with little, glistening spots of ruby red. For those who understand the seduction of the first sweet bite of the season, it signifies not just the return of our beloved strawberries, but the start of a 6-month long bounty of local food that begins in the many fields surrounding our homes.
Early to mid-June marks the start of Ontario’s strawberry season; however, the season varies depending not just on the weather, but also on location. For instance, strawberry fields in Niagara and Simcoe traditionally harvest first, around the end of May or the first part of June, while the fields in York Region area usually ready around mid-June. Most importantly, the ruby red berries with enough juice to stain your fingers are dependent on sun, warm days and rich soil.
To truly indulge in Ontario’s berry bounty, you’re best to pack up the family and head over to one of the many local pick-your-own farms and get your summer fruit fresh from the source. Before going to the farm, it is important to know what you plan on using your berries for. If you plan on eating them fresh, make sure not to pick too many as they will start to go bad within two to three days. If you want to try your hand at a strawberry dessert, or jam making, settle in for a long afternoon of picking several quarts.
When picking, do like the farmers would and choose plump, firm berries that are completely red in colour. Unlike tomatoes or other fruit, strawberries stop ripening the moment they are picked. The best indication of ripeness can be found by looking at the tip of the strawberry—if it’s almost entirely red, it’s ready to eat.
To claim your juicy prize, hold the stem of the strawberry between your thumbnail and index finger, about half an inch above the berry itself, while cradling the fruit in your palm. Gently sever the stem with your thumb by slightly twisting it and the berry should roll into your waiting hands. Keep in mind that strawberry picking is entirely dependent on both weather and crop size. It’s important that you call the location you’d like to visit before you arrive to make sure they have a good crop to pick from. Chances are, the sunnier the day, the busier the farm.
Around this time, local grocery stores like Vince’s Market will tempt customers with fresh berry displays at the door, freshly delivered from local farms. “For those who don’t have the time to pick their own, we receive fresh strawberries daily at our stores,” said Carmen Trimarchi, president and CEO of Vince’s Market. “In season, we buy from local growers, and can get them from southwestern Ontario and Niagara even sooner than you can pick them here.” According to the Berry Growers of Ontario, you can store strawberries in the refrigerator for 1-2 days, and then wash and hull them just before using.
Strawberries are one of summer’s little luxuries and to get the most of them you need to find your own farmer who can supply you with strawberries so sweet it makes you swoon. Check out our list of local pick-your-own spots and get a taste of summer before it’s gone.
There is a $3 prepaid charge per customer to enter Brooks Farms’ Strawberry Fields; however, it will be credited to towards your total once you have finished picking. Pricing: $2.75/lb.
122 Ashworth Road, Mount Albert
(905) 473-3246 brooksfarms.com
Strawberry Creek Farms
This family owned and operated farm has been in business for more than 15 years and has a reputation for its bountiful strawberry fields.
17471 Woodbine Ave, Newmarket
(905) 868-9996 strawberrycreekfarms.ca
Lynn Ogryzlo is a food writer, culinary nutritionist and founder of FOOD 101, food education classes in Niagara and Toronto (www.FOOD101.ca)