Like a freight train tracing the Hudson’s shores, strawberry season passes through the Valley swiftly, departing as suddenly as it arrives. Once the first crops hit their peak in early June, the fruit is harvest-ready for only three to four weeks. Fortunately for strawberry lovers, the region is packed with pick-your-own farms where Valleyites can nab the freshest, sweetest varieties themselves.
Picking strawberries is a different experience from picking apples; the low-lying berries are easier to reach, but June’s sometimes sweltering heat means you won’t be fruit-grabbing amid a pleasant breeze. Pickers should aim to arrive in the early morning or on a cool afternoon. This will increase their own personal comfort as well as maximize the quality of the fruit they take home, as intense sunlight and heat damage the berries. Most farms are open to visitors six or seven days a week.
When picking strawberries, keep a careful eye out for the ripest fruit. “You want it to have a full, red color all the way around,” says Rick Lawrence, the co-owner of Lawrence Farms Orchards in Newburgh. As with apples, strawberries have distinct varieties. The first strawberries of the season are small and flavorful, which makes them a great match for desserts or for freezing for later use. The berries get plumper later in the season. Since each variety only maintains its peak ripeness for two or three days, it’s important to know ahead of time which berries to look for. “Always ask farmers; they’ll tell you what varieties are ready when,” Lawrence says. “Try them, too — that’s the best way.”
A few other tips every strawberry picker should know: Take extra precaution with where you step, since berries lie so close to the ground. Don’t be overzealous in the volume of your picking; stacking the berries more than five inches high bruises the fruit on the bottom. Once you’re home, you can keep the berries in the fridge for up to three days before they lose their ripeness. You can also freeze them for later use using a dry-sugar or syrup pack. When it comes to including the fruit in a recipe, think dessert (shortcake, strawberry-rhubarb pie) or a sweet snack (jams, preserves). Visit hvmag.com for a list of local farms that offer strawberry picking.
The flavorful strawberry is among the liveliest of fruits, so it makes sense to herald its arrival with a festival or two. As it has for the past three decades, the Beacon Sloop Club holds its annual Strawberry Festival in Beacon Riverfront Park, this year on June 14 from noon to 5 p.m. The festival, which bills itself as “zero-waste,” features folk music (Pete Seeger is a frequent guest), crafts vendors, children’s activities, river rides on the club’s sloop Woody Guthrie, and — of course — lots of strawberry treats. The always-popular shortcake consists of a biscuit made right on-site, topped with a combination of strawberries frozen overnight and picked fresh that day.
Klyne Esopus Museum in Ulster Park holds a similar event, dubbed the Strawberry Social, on June 20. Besides shortcake, smoothies, and sundaes, the social features a white-elephant yard sale and a raffle; the top prize is a weekend stay in a Costa Rican vacation home.