On Your Table: strawberry picking at Highland Orchards

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By Cathy Branciaroli,  Food Correspondent, The Times

highland orchards pickers fixed

Mother and son Stephanie and Joshua Lichowid came from the Exton area to enjoy opening day of berry picking at Highland Orchards.

A sure sign that summer is finally on its way is the day when locally grown strawberries start to appear at farmstands and markets.  Although the long, cold winter delayed this year’s crop, local strawberries are now in season, and they are just as juicy and sweet as ever.

At Highland Orchards, Chester County’s largest orchard and pick-your-own operation, I visited with owner Dave Hodge and events manager Art Whitehouse as families flocked out to the fields for the first weekend of berry picking. “The strawberries are starting off fantastic, and assuming the weather stays mild, folks will be able to come out through most of June for picking,” Dave told me.

Then Art and I jumped into his Kubota all-terrain vehicle to get a look at the fields for ourselves.  Right now at least two acres of strawberry plants are open each day for pick your own visitors, he explained.  Different varieties have been planted so that they ripen in a staggered fashion, assuring lots of fruit throughout the nearly month-long season.  The first to ripen are the Earliglow, which are early producers yielding medium-sized berries with intense flavor.  They will be followed by five other varieties, one tastier than the next.

highland orchards sign fixed

Cheerful fruit and a guide to what’s in season greet visitors to Highland Orchards.

As we toured the fields, Art said, “Because of the bad winter, there is a lot of pent up interest in getting that first taste of the season. Families enjoy the outing on a sunny weekend like this one and the kids have a ball picking their own fruit. You can’t get anything fresher than berries you’ve picked yourself.”

I can attest to that.  In the middle of our field tour, Art stopped the Kubota and encouraged me to jump out and taste a few berries.  Reaching down between the plants and their straw blanket I plucked some warmed by the sun and popped them into my mouth.    First came the sensation of warmth, followed by an explosion of sweetness.  Supermarket strawberries never tasted this good.

We then watched as clusters of children crouched among the rows, eagerly filling basket after basket, guided by attentive moms and dads.  “Make sure to look for the red ones,” one mother instructed her toddler.

“You would be surprised how many families get eight or more quarts,” Art told me, “And I’ll bet you most of what they bring home gets eaten by the end of the first day.  My personal favorite is to load up a bowl of vanilla ice cream with lots of berries.  They are so sweet they don’t need sugar.”

That sentiment was shared among the folks we chatted with, and strawberries with ice cream emerged as the definite favorite in the straw poll we conducted.

For the economically minded, picking your own fruit also offers a cost advantage.   A two-quart container of  Highland’s pick your own costs 15% less than the same quantity purchased at their farm market.

Finally, for those who would like to try strawberries without ice cream, here are two tasty treats courtesy of Highland’s recipe booklet.

 

Strawberry Salsa

2 cups Highland Orchards strawberries, sliced

4 plum tomatoes, seedd and chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

juice of one lime

1 tbs olive oil

salt & pepper

 

Gently combine all ingredients in a large bowl, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste and adding additional hot sauce if a fiery taste is desired.  Cover the dish and chill for two hours before serving with tortilla chips.

 

Strawberry and Spinach Salad

5 cups baby spinach or spring greens

2 cups Highland Orchards strawberries, sliced

3 tbs olive oil

1 tbs white balsamic vinegar

2 tsp strawberry jam

salt & pepper

 

Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar and jam.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Toss dressing with the spinach and strawberries, making sure to coat evenly.  Serve immediately.

Highland Orchards (www.highlandorchards.net) is open year-round and offers seasonal fruits and vegetables including apples, blueberries, cherries, sweet corn pears, peaches, peppers, plums, pumpkins, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, and tomatoes.  Their market sells pre-picked produce and snacks.  The grounds include a picnic area and farm animals.  Highland Orchards is located north of Marshallton, PA at 1000 Marshallton-Thorndale Road, West Chester, PA 19380. Phone: 610 269-3494.  Visitors should stop at the produce shop to register and pre-pay before heading out to the fields.  The orchards are open for picking Monday through Saturday, 9 am to 6 pm and Sunday 10 am to 6 pm.

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Tags: chester county, fresh fruit, Highland Orchards, strawberry picking

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