Strawberry picking in June is an Ontario tradition you don’t want to miss out on. If you haven’t tasted fresh-picked strawberries, then it’s definitely time to sample Ontario’s sweetest treat! Make the most of your first strawberry picking excursion, and ensure your berries are at their best with these suggestions.
When Does Strawberry Picking Season Start?
Strawberries are at the peak of freshness from the end of June to mid-July in Ontario. Since availability is entirely up to mother nature, it’s wise to check with your local farm before planning your trip. Many farms also have an annual Strawberry Festival. Strawberry Festivals are held when strawberries are at their freshest, and usually attract crowds of strawberry lovers with strawberry-themed entertainment and strawberry treats.
To be prepared for your day of strawberry picking, it’s important to bring water, wear a hat and bring sunscreen. It’s also a great idea to bring a gardening pad to comfortably rest your knees on as strawberries are harvested from the ground. To prevent waste, you can also bring your own shallow containers from home.
Strawberry Picking Tips:
• Be choosy with your berries. Pick only the ripe berries that are red all the way to the hull (green tops) and leave the rest to ripen on the plant. Unlike other fruits like tomatoes, strawberries do not ripen after picked.
• To pick the berry, don’t grasp it on the fruit itself, but pinch the green stem and gently twist it. Allow the berry to gently fall into your hand. You can pick with two hands to speed up the process.
• Lay the berries gently in a shallow container, and do not stack them too deep, as the weight of the berries on top will cause bruising on the berries below.
• The ideal berry-picking day is overcast because the berries are cooler and won’t spoil as quickly. It’s perfectly fine to pick in the rain. In fact, it’s enjoyable to pick in a light summer rain!
• Pre-plan what you will do with your berries, and freeze the left-overs, so there is no waste.
• Pick enough strawberries to share with friends.
• Carefully transport the berries home and refrigerate them immediately in a shallow dish, after removing any bruised or spoiled berries. Don’t store them in a hot car for any amount of time as this will speed up spoiling.
• Wash and hull berries (remove the green top and white core) only when you are ready to eat them, as adding moisture by washing will cause them to grow mould. After washing, gently dry with paper towel to remove excess moisture.
How to Freeze Fresh Strawberries
Don’t worry if you over-picked your strawberries! They can be easily frozen to enjoy in milkshakes, smoothies or over ice cream. The trick to freezing strawberries is to do this before they have started to spoil.
1. First, remove any mouldy or soft berries. Next, hull, wash and carefully dry your berries. Since they will be soft after thawing, you’ll want to ensure you chop them to your preferred size before you freeze.
2. Once you have prepared your berries, lay them out on a cookie sheet with a layer of parchment beneath, without touching. Freezing them separately is important, otherwise, they will freeze together in a hard lump that will be too difficult to use.
3. After the berries have fully frozen, transfer them from the cookie sheet to freezer bags and squeeze out all the air before sealing. If prepared well, berries should last 6 months in the freezer, and are ideal to add to your morning smoothie recipe.
Our Favourite Fresh Strawberry Recipes
Strawberries are best enjoyed in classic recipes, such as strawberry-rhubarb pie, strawberry shortcake, jam, and of course, sliced and topped with whipping cream. Strawberry Pie can also be made ahead and frozen to enjoy later.
Celebrating the harvest with strawberry picking and strawberry festivals is a tradition that comes from Ontario’s agricultural heritage. It wasn’t that long ago that harvesting the berries and preserving them for the rest of the year was a very important task, as it meant the sweet taste could be enjoyed for later. Now that strawberries can be imported from other parts of the world, this important piece of Ontario history needs to be preserved. Plan to make strawberries part of your own family’s summer traditions and make memories to cherish out of this short and sweet growing season.