‘They Just Have To Come Home With Us’
“OK. We’re done,” Jennifer Scoggin said in a satisfied voice to her eight-year old son Charlie.
They picked up their basket of freshly picked berries and started walking out of the strawberry patch at Bishop’s Orchards on a recent weekday morning. Then she stooped down to pick just one more perfect strawberry.
And, maybe just two more. And, oh, then, another.
“Mom!” said Charlie.
“OK, I have to pick just a few more,” she said to him as she stooped over to pluck just one more. “I can’t leave these. They just have to come home with us to our kitchen.”
When it comes to picking your own, both Scoggins are long-time aficionados. Charlie, in fact, visited Bishop’s pick-your-own blueberry patch the day before he was born. “I’m not sure why I thought this was the most important thing on that day, but I did,” Jennifer Scoggin said. “They day before Charlie was born I was over here picking obsessively.”
I have to say, I get it. There is a rhythm to picking your own fruit that requires patience and persistence, both suffused with joy.
Here is how it might go. Filled with enthusiasm, you buy a big bucket to fill. You stoop to pick your first berry, thinking ‘why did I buy such a big bucket? This will take forever.’ Then you pick one after another, listening to the chatter around you and the little kids trying to pronounce the words ‘blueberry’ and ‘strawberry.’ You strategize about how to how to find the best berries. You trade tips about that with your fellow berry pickers nearby. Then the bucket is a quarter full, then a half full. If you have kids, this is about the time they will start with the “are-we-done-yet” comments. But, if you’re lucky, the sun is shining and the morning sun is just warm enough to help the seductive smell of the sun-warmed fruit lead your family on until the bucket is full.
You’re done. And, as you walk through the fields back towards your car, maybe you realize that you have just spotted the most perfect sun-ripened berry you have ever seen, that you might need just one more perfect peach, and, come fall, why not just one more tantalizing apple? And then maybe one more and one more. Jennifer’s right. They just have to come home with you to your kitchen.
The next question is: then what?
Shortcake, Of Course
For me, the first answer to that question is always shortcake, especially if it’s strawberry season. I prefer the petite, freshly picked berries from Bishop’s. Still, I can make do with store bought. And, if I can’t find good store-bought berries, I’m fine with mixing in raspberries, blueberries, and peaches, and those will be available to pick soon.
One of the easiest options is to also buy store-bought shortcakes and several people I spoke with that day said they favor Bishop’s store-made biscuits for their strawberry shortcake.
Nina McClure of North Branford, who works at Bishop’s, was crowd wrangling and otherwise helping strawberry pickers the day I visited. She likes the Bishop’s biscuits. And she also loves to make her own. Her favorite shortcake recipe is from Little Sweet Baker , which is a one-bowl recipe for drop biscuits, so there is no rolling and cutting required. Madison’s Alex Province this year favors a drop biscuit shortcake recipe from The Pioneer Woman, one that adds in some orange zest.
I checked with my friend Priscilla Martel of Chester, a chef, recipe developer, and food consultant, who is the author of two culinary cookbooks, On Baking and On Cooking. Of recipes available online, she recommends Stephanie Jaworski’s Joy of Baking recipe . She says it’s a reliable recipe that makes a “super rich biscuit.” Also, it comes with a video, which I found useful and so I used this recipe and loved it.
Tips and Tricks
Martel also provided me with some other tips that helped.
She says the secret to fluffy biscuits is using the right amount of leavening and the right amount of butter, cold and cut in small pieces. She recommends using milk and mixing only enough to bring the dough together. If you mix it any longer, the biscuits will toughen. Baking at a high temperature is key, too. “A gentle touch is important, pat the dough out to an even thickness. Cut straight down without twisting your knife or round cutter. Twisting seals the edges and you won’t get a good rise,” she says.
I asked about the difference between using milk and heavy cream, and Martel says cream will make a more tender biscuit. And it will make it a little bit rich. She prefers buttermilk, because the acid helps the rise. If you’re recipe calls for an egg, she says, “you’re getting into scone territory.” We both prefer only a little bit of sugar to aid with the browning.
Pick-your-own strawberry season was short and sweet this year. It’s over, but we are still in blueberry season. Peaches and raspberries are coming soon.
Bishop’s, in Guilford, manages its fields to avoid overpicking, so it’s important to call first at 203-458-PICK to make sure the fields are open. Blueberry season usually runs through late August. Peaches generally are available from mid-August to mid-September. Raspberries run from late August to late October, in a good year. If you’re picking at Lyman Orchards in Middlefield, call their 24-hour PYO hotline at 860-349-6015. If you prefer Scott’s CT Valley Orchards in Deep River, the phone number is 860-526-9633.
If you’re not into shortcake (what? What’s wrong with you?) or you’re tired of it (I can’t imagine, but I suppose it could happen), peach season in particular offers a variety of other fun options, some savory and some sweet.
Kourtney Davis, who was picking both strawberries and blueberries at Bishop’s with her three sons Wally, Ollie, and Anders, when I was there, was going to use the berries to celebrate her mother’s birthday with angel food cake topped with blueberries and strawberries, fresh whipped cream, and a basil simple syrup. Here is a recipe for basil simple syrup from Gastrom.
Kim Butler Yahara of Summer Hill Catering in Madison recommends the Bourbon Peach Cobbler from Tyler Florence. “I can’t wait to start buying peaches from Woodland Farm at the Madison Farmers’ Market,” she says. For those who don’t want to make the cobbler or peach pies themselves, she offers them freshly baked every Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Madison Farmers Market.
Denise Tragianese Harvey of Madison, who runs the Madison Coffee House in Madison and Old Saybrook, likes to slice peaches up and put them in red or white wine. “The tradition is red but it’s also really good in white or rose too,” she says. After you put the slices in the wine, she says to let it sit in the fridge for a few hours. “It’s is so good,” she says. “It is a tradition in my big Italian family. My grandparents had peach trees in their yard and I learned it from them.” My sister Kathy Darlington adds that they go great in champagne as well.
Leslie Singer recommends grilled peaches with a drizzle of balsamic glaze and whipped Chantilly cream, which is like whipped cream but twice as sweet and sometimes with vanilla extract as well. Liz Egan of Clinton gets her peaches at Scott’s and she likes to turn it into peach salsa, peach tarts and cobblers, and sometimes just cut up with fresh blueberries and a little milk or cream. Edwin Williams Bartlett of Westbrook likes his grilled with a bourbon and brown sugar reduction, topped with ice cream.
Susan Kohm recommends her friend Carolyn’s peach chutney recipe, which we provide here. These jars should be refrigerated immediately, unless you’re going to do real-deal canning. If you’ve never done that, or have not done that in a while, here is some information from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Carolyn Stanek Lucy’s Spicy Peach Chutney
Yield: approx. 11 Half Pints
This chutney closely resembles imported Indian chutneys and is good with all curry dishes. It is also great with cream cheese and crackers.”
4 pounds sliced peeled peaches
1 cup raisins
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup chopped onion
5 ounces chopped preserved ginger
1-½ tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon curry powder
4 cups (2 pounds) packed brown sugar
4 cups apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup pickling spice
1. In a large heavy pot, stir together the peaches, raisins, garlic, onion, preserved ginger, chili powder, mustard seed, curry powder, brown sugar and cider vinegar. Wrap the pickling spice in a cheesecloth bag, and place in the pot.
2. Bring to a boil, and cook over medium heat uncovered until the mixture reaches your desired consistency. It will take about 1 1/2 hours to get a good thick sauce. Stir frequently to prevent scorching on the bottom.
3. Remove the spice bag, and ladle into hot sterilized jars. Wipe the rims with a clean moist cloth. Seal with lids and rings, and process in a barely simmering water bath for 10 minutes, or the time recommended by your local extension for your area. The water should cover the jars completely.