Strawberries in season: Where to find them and what to do with them

Andrea Castillo
Contact Reporteracastillo@dailypress.com

You might be too late for strawberry-picking season this year. Or you might be right on time. The answer depends on where you go.

Some local farmers' crops have already peaked, and some are starting to come into their prime, thanks to erratic weather around the state in recent months, said Elaine Lidholm, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Generally Virginia's strawberry season lasts from late April to June. This year, a period of warmer-than-normal temperatures in February caused several crops — apples, peaches and strawberries included — to bud early, meaning some strawberries were ready to be picked by early April, Lidholm said.

"It's kind of an unusual year," she said. "The season is in full swing. They may not last until June. It's kind of anyone's guess."

Lidholm said many farms in Hampton Roads should still have strawberries available for a few more weeks but advises visiting her department's website, virginiagrown.com, for a directory of strawberry farms as well as calling individual farms for the most up-to-date information about availability.

Among the places on the Peninsula to get strawberries is Wood's Orchards Farm Market, where they've been available for about a month. With the cooler weather in recent weeks, market co-owner Billy Wood expects them to be available for another two or three weeks or so.

"We're still getting blooms, so we've got lots of strawberries," he said.

The cool temperatures have been good for the fruit, according to Wood.

"You would not believe the sweetness," he said.

Once those strawberries are picked, they can be used in a variety of dishes, from cheesecake to a berry lasagna, said Pamela Oliver, co-owner of Oliver Farms Produce in Smithfield. Her personal favorite is a pretzel salad that is made with cream cheese, whipped cream and strawberry Jell-O.

Even better than those desserts for Oliver? Leaving them on the counter for a day or two after picking them and eating them at the peak of their ripeness — she prefers room-temperatures berries to cold ones. Leftover berries can then be frozen for future use.

"If I'm going to eat a strawberry, I like them fresh," she said.

Lidholm, Wood and Oliver recommend that those interested in picking strawberries call the farms ahead to check for availability. Here are a few places in the area you can visit (a full list can be found at virginiagrown.com):

•Mill Farm Christmas Trees & Berries, 4900 Fenton Mill Road, Williamsburg. 757-566-2035.

•Oliver Farms, 18222 Longview Drive, Smithfield. 757-255-4563.

•Wood's Orchards Farm Market, 183 E. Mercury Blvd., Hampton. 757-722-2873.

•College Run Farms, 2051 Alliance Road, Surry. 757-294-3970.

•Faith Farms, 3259 Lake Prince Drive and 123 Raleigh Dr., Suffolk. 757-620-8677.

•Griffin Farms, 7455 Carr Lane, Suffolk. 757-650-3272.

•Lilley Farms Strawberries, Bennett's Pasture Road, Suffolk, and 2800 Tyre Neck Road, Chesapeake. 757-435-2085.

This weekend, you can also visit the following strawberry-themed festivals:

•Pungo Strawberry Festival. Event features parade, carnival rides, a pie-eating contest, berry picking, food and more. 1776 Princess Anne Road, Virginia Beach. 5-10 p.m. Friday (carnival rides only), 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday. For full details, visit pungostrawberryfestival.info.

•And if you can't get enough, try a few strawberry recipes. A few are available here, and more are available at dailypress.com/entertainment/food.

Your turn

Ready to make a few strawberry recipes yourself? Try one of these.

STRAWBERRY SPINACH SALAD

3 cups fresh baby spinach

½ cup sliced fresh strawberries

¼ cup roasted almonds

1 T cider vinegar

1 T honey

1½ teaspoons sugar

Blue cheese, optional

In a large bowl combine spinach, strawberries and almonds. In a small bowl combine the vinegar, honey and sugar and mix well. Drizzle over salad and toss to coat. Sprinkle with blue cheese.

(Courtesy Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences)

Berry Lasagna

Serves 6–8

1 8-ounce package no-boil lasagna

15 ounces ricotta cheese

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 pinch ground cloves

1 pinch chili powder

1/2 cup melted butter

1 pint raspberries

1 pint strawberries, sliced

1 pint blueberries

Whipped cream, for serving

Directions

1. Preheat the barbecue to 350 degrees for indirect heating. (or bake at 325 in a convection oven for 35 minutes.) Butter a 9 x 13-inch metal baking pan.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles for 1 minute. Drain the noodles and put them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain them again and lay on paper towels to dry. Lay 3 noodles in the bottom of the prepared glass or metal baking pan.

3. In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, granulated sugar, and egg and beat until almost smooth. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, chili powder, and butter and mix well.

4. In a third bowl, gently fold the raspberries and sliced strawberries into the blueberries, being careful not to crush the raspberries.

5. Top the first layer of lasagna noodles with one-third of the berry mixture, one-third of the ricotta mixture, and one-third of the flour mixture. Add 2 more layers of all 3 components.

Bake for 45 minutes over indirect heat (or bake at 325 in a convection oven for 35 minutes.). Remove the pan from the heat, let the lasagna cool, and serve with a dollop of whipped cream on each plate.

(Courtesy Oliver Farms Produce)

STRAWBERRY BUTTER

2 cups fresh strawberries

1 stick butter, room temperature

1 cup powdered sugar

Put ingredients in mixing bowl and blend until smooth and creamy. Refrigerate in air tight container. Serve with toast, biscuits, muffins, pancakes or waffles.

(Courtesy Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences)

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