Pick-Your-Own Strawberries – My First Canadian Food Memory


07 Jun Pick-Your-Own Strawberries – My First Canadian Food Memory

Ontario strawberries just arrived. Summer's Here!  - TheMessyBaker.com.

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At the Food Bloggers of Canada conference in February 2013, Dana McCauley issued a call to action. In a follow-up post, she wrote, “If you celebrate what you find in front of you on the kitchen counter, you’ll be helping to define Canadian cuisine by teaching the rest of the world about our wonderfully eclectic and regional food scene.” In response, Valerie Lugonja of A Canadian Foodie launched The Canadian Food Experience Project. Today’s post is the first of what will be monthly themed posts from 53 (and counting) bloggers across the country By sharing our personal stories and regional food experiences, we hope to answer the question, “Just what exactly is Canadian Cuisine?”

Read us. Talk to us. Join us. Then eat.


The Strawberries of My Youth

Ignore the calendar and temperature. Summer arrives with strawberries. At least it used to. Long before giant, white-on-the-inside California strawberries made themselves at home in Canadian grocery stores, strawberries were an annual, limited-time event. According to my mother, they always arrived between June 20 and 25th, like clockwork. You had two, maybe three berry-stained weeks to pick, preserve and enjoy. Then they were gone, replaced by the next seasonal fruit.

We rarely ate strawberries from the grocery store. Instead, we drove to the pick-your-own farm. It seemed a world away, but was no more than 15 minutes outside of town. We’d go early in the morning before the sun was too hot. Never an early riser, I hauled myself out of bed almost willingly, knowing there would be berries after breakfast.

Before we left, Mom carefully calculated how many berries she’d need. She applied a complex algorithm involving freezer space, cash on hand, upcoming events and estimated physical stamina. “Thirty-six quarts!” she’d say. Or some other number that sounded impossibly big, yet was never big enough. She’d then head to the basement and count out the required number of baskets from the stack that lived beneath the fuse box. Some of the baskets were older than me. They were used again and again until their bottoms dissolved with berry juice or their handles snapped.

At the strawberry farm, stained baskets in hand, Mom delivered the “Don’t Eat the Berries” schpeel as the farmer’s helpers escorted us to our rows.

Why not?

Because it’s stealing.

The statute of limitations is long passed. I admit I stole a berry. Okay, just a few. Several. Too many to count.

Ontario Strawberries. Summer is officially here.- TheMessyBaker.com

When our baskets couldn’t hold another berry, we helped Mom load the trunk, sneaking one or two when we thought she wasn’t looking. The car was now so hot, the vinyl seats burned our bare legs. Rocking from side to side until the vinyl no longer hurt, we rolled down the windows and stuck our faces into the wind as Mom drove the long, country roads home. While the wind whipped our hair, the vinyl seats and our legs quietly became one. Once home, I slowly pried my thighs free, stoically accepting the sting as punishment for my theft.

Rubbing the back of my legs, I waddled to the kitchen where Mom had already begun sorting berries. Before dinner she would sort, hull and process hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of berries. The beautiful ones we ate. The small ones she froze. The damaged ones were sliced for shortcake or made into jam. She sorted and hulled and swatted my hands away. I wanted to stop but couldn’t. Not until the dreaded Strawberry Stomach Ache set in.

That’ll teach you.

It didn’t.

Today, I am attempting to grow my own strawberries. I bought an ever-bearing seedling, so I can have berries from June to September. I hope they will be as sweet, and red and flavourful as the berries from my childhood.  In all likelihood I will never know. Squirrels or birds will get to them first in karmic retribution for the strawberry sins of my youth. If they do, no matter. I’ll go picking.

Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream  made with fresh Ontario strawberries - TheMessyBaker.com

Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep / inactive time: 
Total time: 
Serves: Makes about 1 litre
Strawberry and sour cream ice cream makes the most of a classic pairing. Smooth with a bit of tang, this is perfect eaten alone or on top of strawberry shortcake.
  • 2 generous cups sliced, hulled strawberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup whipping cream (heavy cream - 35%)
  • 1 cup sour cream (or Greek yogurt)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • pinch fine sea salt
  1. In a blender or food processor, purée the strawberries and sugar until smooth. Press the strawberry mixture through a fine mesh sieve placed over a large bowl. Discard the strained seeds.
  2. Whisk in the cream, sour cream, lemon juice, vanilla and salt. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or until well chilled. If desired, transfer to the freezer 15 minutes before you are ready to churn.
  3. Churn in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. If the ice cream is still too soft, freeze for 2 hours until firm.
Eat this ice cream the day it's made. That shouldn't be too hard since you can enjoy it as is, scoop it on shortcakes, top with with more berries or drizzle it with a good quality balsamic vinegar.

This recipe is adapted from Lucious Berry Desserts by Lori Longbotham.


Related Post

  • Helene
    Posted at 14:06h, 07 June Reply

    Reading this brought back memories that every summer I would pick strawberries to get a bit of money for my own expenses. I would pick and eat all day long. Those strawberries were the best. I really enjoyed reading your first post for The Canadian Food Experience Project. I have to write mine today :)

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 14:11h, 07 June Reply

      You picked berries as a job? I’d have burst.

      I look forward to reading your Canadian Food Experience Project story and to seeing what other amazing stories the project brings.

  • Valerie
    Posted at 17:35h, 07 June Reply

    As a child of the late 80’s & early 90’s, I remember (all too well!) those sticky, hot, vinyl car seats – and the lack of AC (as well as my older sister always trying to steal away the Speak & Spell). 😀

    I’m sorry your berry hopes were dashed by woodland creatures, but at least you have this luscious ice cream as a source of comfort. Gorgeous photos! xo

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:21h, 10 June Reply

      Speak & Spell? Man, your parents were advanced. We played Eye Spy.

      My hopes aren’t dashed yet. The strawberries are still in blossom stage, but based on the history of the nearby mulberry bush, there won’t be anything left due to the early birds.

  • Nicole @ Culinary Cool
    Posted at 20:39h, 07 June Reply

    Despite the fact that we have an abundance of You-Pick berry farms in Saskatchewan, I’m ashamed to say I have never actually gone to one! My goal in July is to go pick my own Saskatoons!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:22h, 10 June Reply

      I’ve never had Saskatoon berries, so we’re even. Happy picking! I hope you write about it when the times comes.

  • Sarah Galvin (All Our Fingers in the Pie)
    Posted at 22:55h, 07 June Reply

    I can tell this project is going to make me teary eyed and grateful for all the wonderful food that I did not realize I ate as I grew up in this great country. I love strawberries! And I love making strawberry jelly now. Great story.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:23h, 10 June Reply

      Thanks, Sarah. Teary-eyed and grateful? My work here is done.

      I’ve never made strawberry jelly — just some jam. Enjoy the canning. I love opening jars of summer berries in the dead of winter. It gives me hope.

  • Heather Lang
    Posted at 01:05h, 08 June Reply

    I think my mom still has the old stained berry basket from when I was a kid. What a great memory. I still love going to the berry patches and picking my own.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:24h, 10 June Reply

      Your mom still has a basket? That’s amazing! Those berry baskets are hard to find now, but they may be making a comeback — at least I hope they do.

  • Dana
    Posted at 02:51h, 08 June Reply

    A thief…I always suspected!

    Great post. Funny how berry picking turned up in both our posts – can you say “jinx” about blogs?

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:28h, 10 June Reply

      Say my name! Say my name!

      Great minds think alike, Dana. It just proves that berries and the act of gaterhing them was an important event in the lives of Canadians.

  • Redawna
    Posted at 03:34h, 08 June Reply

    I too have felt the sting of the hot vinyl seats of summer.

    What a fantastic recount of your summer berry picking adventures.
    Seems that many of us were involved food theft and berry picking of one kind of another. lol

    Your recipe sounds fabulous! Makes me wish I had an ice cream churn.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:30h, 10 June Reply

      The sting of hot vinyl isn’t something you soon forget :-) Thanks for your kind words.

      I think you can make the ice cream without a churn, but you would have to stir it every half hour or so until it set, which might be a bit too much work.

  • bellini
    Posted at 01:39h, 08 June Reply

    Sadly there are few places to go strawberry picking these days, but I can still find them at the farmers market by the case load. It’s possible one of my first food memories was at the Strawberry Social every year in June in elementary school.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:26h, 10 June Reply

      Oh, the Strawberry Social. Summer was indeed in full swing when the Strawberry Social arrived.

      Pick-your-own patches disappered here for a while, but they seem to be making a comeback. I’d love to have them become part of the summer again. I haven’t picked in a long time. I hope there’s time to do so again this year.

  • A Canadian Foodie
    Posted at 19:22h, 08 June Reply

    You could have been my next door neighbour, Charmian. You have truly captured so much of what I lived… but there were no strawberry picking farms in my youth. Alberta Farmers just didn’t have them, then… though they do now. It was always wild berry picking: mainly Saskatoon berries. And we still couldn’t eat them. Nothing to do with stealing… everything to do with the bounty at the end of the day! And that hot old green chevy with the vinyl seats. Oh, my… I had forgotten how my legs would stick and burn exactly as you have described. No strawberry picking in my childhood repertoire, but definitely the seasonal feasting when they appeared in the markets. Cherries and strawberries landed for about 2 weeks at a time in the city, and I could never get my fill of either. What a celebration of seasonal eating and an appreciation for the delicate wonders of Nature.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:32h, 10 June Reply

      You didn’t sneak a berry? I admire your willpower. I was completely incapable of delaying gratification in my youth (and not so great at it even at this stage in life).

      Seasonal eating brings an appreciation I think we’ve lost with year-round availability. Here’s to local fruit and vegetables!

  • Marlene
    Posted at 16:45h, 09 June Reply

    The ice cream looks luscious, but it’s the memories you brought back that really caught my eye. Strawberries, warm from the sun, made into jam, sliced over vanilla ice cream, my mother having such a surfeit of berries that she put a sign at the end of the laneway to give them away for free. My kids grew up on berries from my parents’ garden., enjoyed from the freezer all winter long. Thank you for this Canadian good memory.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:35h, 10 June Reply

      Your mom gave them away? Wow. That must have been quite a crop she grew — especially since she also made preserves. I’m sure the neighbours loved the free berries! That was very generous of her.

      Strawberries warm from the sun are one of my favourite tastes. They do taste different than cold berries — which are enchanting in another way.

  • Marie Porter
    Posted at 13:07h, 18 June Reply

    You know, I’d never really considered the U-Pick strawberries to be particularly Canadian…

    … but now, living in Minnesota? There are a few farms, but the whole “going to pick strawberries” thing isn’t so much a THING with people. Huh.

    Great post!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 13:57h, 18 June Reply

      Interesting observation, Marie. I’m not sure if berry picking is a “thing” anymore. It was big during my childhood and we got really excited about it. A couple of other bloggers mentioned berry picking with their first Canadian memory. They’re close to my age, so maybe it’s generational as well as regional? Huh, indeed!

      Regardless, the ice cream works with store bought, Farmers’ Market and hand-picked berries :-)

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