One of my mother’s favorite times of the year is finally arriving! Of course, we all enjoy spring and the renewal of warm weather, but the true occurrence of this annual season that sets many appetites in motion, is the ripening of big red Tennessee strawberries. All across the state, folks just like my family will be invading strawberry patches, ready to fill their baskets with the sweet berries that will soon grace their family kitchen tables. My mother, who is now 92, could out pick anyone in a strawberry patch. She thought strawberry picking was a sport and if they had put it as an event in the Olympics, she would have won the gold medal.
Strawberries have always been one of my favorite Tennessee-grown fruits, along with tomatoes, blackberries and cherries. And, when it comes to gathering the produce, picking strawberries has it advantages over two of those crops due to your not having to worry about chiggers or climbing anything. I’ve never fallen off a ladder or come out of a strawberry patch yet having the urge to scratch. My only problem with strawberry picking in the past is eating more than I picked, which is also a problem for the producer who has allowed me in their patch.
I have even scouted out a new patch near me that looks very promising. I slipped into the well-manicured Batey’s Berries modern patch early one morning recently to find a whole lot of green berries and blooms. Something unusual about this berry patch is that it is located in the site of an Embassy Suites Hotel, the Chamber of Commerce, the Avenue shopping mall, I-24 and the city limits sign of Murfreesboro. Former Tennessee Young Farmer and Rancher state chairman and swine producer Brandon Whitt has created a berry picking location that will be an agricultural experience appreciated by young and old alike right near the bright lights of Best Buy and numerous upscale eating places. It’s good to see the farming and commercial businesses working along side each other in one of Tennessee’s fastest growing cities.
However, the Bateys are not the only ones with strawberries getting ready to bring forth fruit. Strawberries are grown all over Tennessee, so the opportunity for fresh-picked strawberries is there for everyone from Mountain City to Dyersburg. You won’t just be doing local farmers a favor by choosing locally grown berries, you will also be doing yourself and your family an even larger favor. Picking Tennessee strawberries yourself assures that you get the very freshest, ripest berries possible. Make sure you get extra strawberries for freezing or processing into preserves, so you can enjoy them all year long.
Looks like we didn’t experience any winter damage to this crop that stays in the ground year round, but there were some close calls with frost. It still looks like it’s going to be a good season for fresh strawberries this year. Tennessee has a long, famous history with strawberries””in fact, Tennessee was at one time the strawberry capitol of the world””but wide-ranging temperature variations keep strawberry farmers and customers wary until the last chance of a hard freeze has passed. Depending on the location in Tennessee, that date could range from mid-March in the southwestern tip of the state to mid-May at the northeastern end. You can usually find strawberries somewhere up until the middle of June in many places of the state depending on the varieties. It is always good to call ahead and check to see if berries are available.
A list of the state’s strawberry producers is available through the Tennessee Department of Agriculture websites. The best way to access the information is with a visit to www.picktnproducts.org.
I use to always look forward to a fresh bowl of strawberries covered with cream just like I used to enjoy as a kid. If you can get your wife to supply a plate of homemade biscuits with some “real” creamery type butter, spread in the center, to drizzle over the top of the berries while eating the berries and sopping your biscuit in the creamy dish, you’ll be in strawberry heaven! Now that’s what I call good country eating.
Get picking those berries because they will not be back until this time next year and that is just too long to wait.
– Pettus L. Read is editor of the Tennessee Farm Bureau News and Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com