Strawberry Fields Forever
It’s one of the highlights of a Great British summer, and the perfect treat to enjoy in the garden. This month we’ve a few suggestions as to where to pick the best local berries, and a few recipes for how to use them to create some stunning looking people-pleasing puddings…
It’s a bright, fresh morning. Late spring, with summer just around the corner. There’s a bit of mist, but it’ll burn off with the sun. Susannah Ivens is inspecting (well, admiring) the strawberry crop, just before enthusiastic locals descend to pick a berry or two (or more) to smother in cream, turn into jam or enjoy with a simple sprinkle of sugar.
“We look forward to it every year,” says Susannah. “It’s hard work, but really enjoyable. How could you not enjoy being on a strawberry farm, surrounded by excited children in the middle of an English summer?”
Susannah and husband Paddy took over the site from Paddy’s father and mother John and Jill Ivens. The farm spans more than 250 acres, with much of the land given over to field beans and wheat. However, there is also 40km worth of rows dedicated to strawberries, of which 30km are pickable from this month. The remaining 10km are newly planted (maidens) and will not be pickable until 2022.
“Strawberry plants have a three-year lifespan,” says Susannah. ‘’So, every year we remove a patch as well as planting a patch. Our strawberries cover about four hectares, with a further 2.5 hectares for raspberries.”
“We grow about eight different varieties of strawberries – such as Christine, Florence and Malwina – which are an example of our early, mid and late season varieties, extending the eight-week season as long as possible without sacrificing quality.”
“We don’t grow in polytunnels, preferring to get the flavour and goodness from our soil. Unfortunately, we’re on a slope and have horrible heavy clay soil in places, so the conditions don’t make it easy for us, but the strawberries taste awesome!”
Hill Farm’s farm shop provides ready-picked strawberries which is certainly the fastest way to enjoy fresh British berries, but where’s the fun in that? Better for children to see where their food comes from and pick their own.
“Things will be a little different this year,” says Susannah. “To be Covid-safe and in order to lessen the number of people queuing at the shop, we’re providing different sized empty containers on entry for our customers to then fill up at a set cost.”
“Payment will be taken before entering the fields, so there will be no need to return to the counter after picking.”
“It’s a strange thing to have to think about, not something we’re used to. But happily, as families come together again after restrictions are lifted, strawberry picking is one of those activities which is outdoors in the fresh air and it can remain Covid-safe and socially-distanced.”
“The farm’s opening times for our pick-your-own strawberries is governed by nature, but ‘ready picked’ produce will be available from Saturday 29th May. Though strawberries are our pick-your-own mainstay, people also enjoy our raspberries, blackberries, tayberries and our redcurrants and blackcurrants.”
“We also plant a few rows of sunflowers which look magnificent in summer and we have a few plum trees sheltered behind the wood which begin to yield fruit in August. There’s something traditional and fun about picking your own fruit. It’s somehow reassuring that in an era of video games, children still love getting out into the fields and searching for strawberries.”
“They’re so versatile too, and though the supermarkets can provide imported strawberries all year round, there’s something magical and special about waiting for them to come into season. The anticipation – and the Great British sunshine – makes them all the sweeter!”
The best strawberry fields in our area…
Pick one of these great places to pick your own, then enjoy a summer treat!
Hill Farm Pick Your Own, Oundle Road, Peterborough, PE7 3UA, 01733 233270:
Hill Farm is a family run business open from June-October offering ‘pick-your-own’ (PYO) and ‘ready picked’ soft fruit and vegetables – ideal for freezing, jam and wine making, or just eating fresh. Set in attractive rural surroundings, on a hill overlooking Peterborough.
Rutland Water Fruit Farm, Edith Weston, Oakham LE15 8HB, 07875 479533:
A local soft fruit farm selling premium strawberries and raspberries grown on the farm. Warm welcome, friendly service, a great little farm shop plus views over Rutland Water!
Seldom Seen Farm, Green Lane, Billesdon, Leicestershire LE7 9FA, 0116 259 6742:
Robert and Claire Symington have been farming Seldom Seen Farm in the beautiful Leicestershire countryside for over 40 years, poultry is their main product, but their strawberries are stunning too!