Battling the berries: the struggle of conquering the strawberry


The middle of June marks the heart of the strawberry season. And there’s nothing quite like an early morning strawberry hunt to remind me just how unproductive I am. Most people can go to a field, pick their strawberries and leave, whereas, more often than not, I lack the self-discipline to place a newly picked berry into my cardboard flat.
Coastal Point • RUSLANA LAMBERT: Strawberries galore at Magee’s Farm in Williamsville. Magee’s is one of the only places in Sussex County where you can hand-pick strawberries.Coastal Point • RUSLANA LAMBERT:
Strawberries galore at Magee’s Farm in Williamsville. Magee’s is one of the only places in Sussex County where you can hand-pick strawberries.

No matter how many times I go, it’s always the same result — an hour and a half of my life gone with nothing to show for except an ever-diminishing cardboard box of berries, a stomachache unmatched by most taco joints, and back and leg cramps that make me feel like I was stored in a suitcase during a trans-Atlantic flight.

Don’t get me wrong — picking strawberries is really not a strenuous or tiresome task. Unless, of course, you’re working on a 1:54 keep-eat ratio.

Down the road from the Fair Hill, Md., home in which I grew up was Walnut Springs Farm, a pick-your-own farm that offered everything from asparagus, blueberries and red raspberries to black raspberries, rhubarb, and of course, strawberries. Whether it was on a weekend afternoon, or sometimes before the bus came (trust me, strawberry-picking is usually the last thing on a middle-schooler’s mind at 6:45 in the morning), I’d be out there “helping” my mother.

“How are you doing?” she’d ask.

“Prmmugh grmmd.” You’d be surprised with the number of letters you can still pronounce with seven strawberries in your mouth at one time. If I was really feeling lazy, I’d go right over to her collection and grab a few. My mother joked that she’d have to weigh me before leaving. I failed to find the humor in that.

My sister, who abhorred the taste of most fruits when she was younger, was a great asset to the farm when she was hired to work there. As she got into those fields, she did her work and got out. Employment at the farm was a no-brainer for me. I’d only run them out of business if I was stooped between the rows all day.

Now, a decade or so later, I assumed that had I matured in my picking habits and decided to once again return to the fields. After I determined that the inside of my refrigerator could use a little more color — and a healthier alternative to some of the junk that was already in there — I set out to Magee’s Farm, in Williamsville, west of Fenwick Island, one of the only places in Sussex County where you can hand-pick your own strawberries.

Just a few days into the new season, I had timed my quest perfectly. By 8 a.m. the sun was just starting to dry off the dew and there were only six or seven other pickers in the field. I had row upon untouched row all to myself.

The first few plucks are always the same — you’re out here to pick berries, so that’s what you do. There’ll be plenty of time to eat them later. For now, just enjoy a little exercise, fresh air and the chirping of…

“Gulp!”

OK. That’s fine, just don’t make a habit of it. Grab a nice, plump handful and place them in the…

“Gulp, gulp!”

From there, it’s a sheer feeding frenzy. All it takes is that initial taste. Be it the perfect specimen, the poster-strawberry that all budding berries strive to look like — the ones you see on the cereal boxes — or the mutant berries, where three or four fused themselves together in a colossus of flavor, I can’t possibly pass them up.

Five minutes stretch into 20, then an hour. Worse yet, I can still see the bottom my cardboard flat. Finally, the melee has ceased, and I waddle to the stand to escape with what I can. Satisfied with my 15-pound-conquest, I take them home to wash and de-cap. Even then, most don’t make it back into the bowl.

I’m just waiting until they come out with classes for those who can’t quite kick the berry.

“Hello, my name’s Ryan and I’m a strawberry-holic.” I can see it now: a group of grown men and women, sitting around a circle consoling each other, dribbles of strawberry juice staining every T-shirt they own, their lips and tongue a permanent red. “I was able to pick an entire pint the other day in under two hours.”

“Way to go. Great job.”

Perhaps the most appealing part of the fruit is the versatility. With a quick wash and the cap cut off, a bowlful can be the perfect morning or lunchtime snack. Throw some on a blender with orange juice, a banana and ice, and you have a fresh, summertime shake. You can’t even mention “shortcake” or “preserves” without strawberries coming to mind. They’re a perfect topper to any bowl of cereal or ice cream, too.

Maybe it’s the size and simplicity of them. Most other berries are too small to whet my appetite, and filling a container with blueberries or raspberries looks like a hefty endeavor from the start. Whatever the case, they are arguably the most practical and enjoyable fruits of the summer.

With only a few weeks left in the strawberry harvest, get out and grab a pint or flat of those juicy, red morsels. Hopefully, you’re experience will be more successful and productive than mine. If not, I’m sure I’ll see you at the next Strawberry-holics Anonymous meeting.

Magee Farm is located off Route 54 in Williamsville, about five miles west of Coastal Highway. Hours run from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. all week. For more information, call (302) 436-5589.