Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Perfect Strawberry

Hello again from Hannah, RFC correspondent and self appointed blogger in search of the perfect strawberry. As soon as the calendar hits May I'm ready for a taste of red and pure sunshine in a ripe, seed studded body. As I child, I grew up filling my own green cardboard quarts with Sweet Charlies and Early Glows. Now I can't stand to pass a farm with a sign marked "U-Pick." If I haven't picked a flat and gotten a farmer's tan by at least Mother's Day, I'll be eager to hit the field.

Still, this year my search began in Mechanicsville, at Pole Green Produce off of Pole Green Road. This highly evolved farmer's stand offers local produce in addition to items shipped from (gasp) out of state. There are flowers and melons, jams and Montana Gold Bread products in addition to the local salad greens and onions. But I walked past it all for the green quarts of berries, still encrusted with local VA dirt, and not a bad price. I ate half for breakfast.

But I wasn't satisfied. Not until my knees bear red marks from an hour leaning over a row of berry plants (and on a few squished berry guts) will my quest end. I perused that excellent publication: Virginia Grown Guide to Pick-Your-Own and Select-Your-Own Farm Products. Hanover has some prospects, which I soon hope to review. Also listed is Mount Olympus Berry farm, out on US 1 (or I-95 North) in Carmel Church, past King's Dominion.

The sun was out the day my sister and I trekked up to the home of the gods. It had been sunny all weekend-- which is great for the berries. The more sunlight, the more flavor packed into each juicy bit. The smaller berries are often my favorite, for the flavor is more concentrated. Mount Olympus offers Sweet Charlies as an early variety and Chandler for a later one. The season, I'm told, can last six weeks, depending on heat or rain. Strawberries dislike both.

The Charlies at Mount Olympus were very happy berries. We picked two flats, enough to make jam. While we were there, we looked around the extensive market offerings: vegetables, herbs, potted plants, flats of flowers and landscaping shrubs. There's a green house on site, as well as a field of blueberries, a row of blackberries, and three ponds (no fishing allowed).

In addition to strawberries, an avid picker can stock up on berries of other shades (blue, black), corn and melons, or vegetables like heirloom tomatoes and twenty varieties of pepper. I was told that folks are welcome to pick their own vegetables, but this has never been a popular option. The farm also supplies an impressive list of farmer's markets around Virginia, if working in the fields is not your style.

I hope you will try to at least visit some local farms. If you can be tempted, go ahead and fill a quart with nothing but the reddest fruit you can find. You'll be sure each one is the perfect strawberry.
Information for Mount Olympus Berry Farm is available at Or call 804-448-0395.

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