One of the most fun -- and delicious -- springtime activities in eastern North Carolina is picking strawberries at a local farm.
It's easy (even the kids can do it), great exercise (all that squatting and bending!), gets you outdoors (and away from Netflix) and supports the wonderful farmers in the community.
Best of all, you wind up with buckets of healthy and delicious red berries!
On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, 6-year-old Davis Sikes and his friend Mason James Brown, age "five and a half," were running up and down the rows of ripening berries at Strawberries on 903 in the historic Renston area of Pitt County.
Every now and then they each stopped to pick a berry, comparing the size and redness before placing them in a cardboard box.
Davis's parents, Mary Ruth and Brad Sikes, were doing the bulk of the berry picking.
How does Davis like his strawberries? "With "whupped' cream."
If you've never picked strawberries before, here's how to do it:
The farm will provide you with a box, bucket or basket, you don't have to bring your own.
You may be directed to a section of the field, or even a specific row, for picking -- or you may be turned loose to select the area where you would like to pick.
Pick the berries that are bright red. "Don't pick them green," said "Mr. Don" Lewis of Carolina Country Fresh in Bethel and Robersonville. "They don't ripen once they are picked." What you pick is what you get.
When you see a bright red berry you'd like to pick, gently grasp the stem just above the berry with your forefinger and thumbnail, according to instructions from Steve McLawhorn and Mike Skinner from Strawberries on 903 in Winterville. Pull with a slight twisting motion. Your goal is too break the steam abut one-half inch from the berry.
Allow the berry to roll into the palm of your hand. Don't squeeze, just cup it gently.
Carefully place berries into the container. Don't toss or throw them or they will bruise. Don't overfill containers or pack the berries down.
When you have picked as many as you desire (and maybe even eaten a berry or two along the way!), return to the farm stand with your containers. They will be weighed and boxed for you to take home.
Strawberry season runs through the month of May, so you've got plenty of time toget out there and pick some local berries at one of these farms:
Southside Farms, 320 Harding Lane, Chocowinity, 252-946-2487.
Hours are 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays.
Garner Farms, 173 Sam Garner Road, Newport, 252-223-5283.
Hours are 8 a.m.-6 p.m.Mondays-Fridays; 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays; and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays.
White's Farm, 5200 U.S. 17, Vanceboro, 252-244-2106.
Hours are 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays.
Dail's Strawberries Farm, 1118 Burnette Farm Road, Conetoe,
Hours are 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 1-6 p.m. Sundays.
Creekside Fresh Pickings, 1112 Kingold Blvd., Snow Hill, 252-917-2561.
Hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m.Mondays-Fridays; and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays.
Jones Fruit Farm, 7094 Beaman Old Creek Road, Walstonburg, 252-747-3989. Open for you-pick strawberries Mondays only from 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
Bailey's Berry Farm, 5645 Strickland Road, Bailey, 252-235-4131.
Hours are 10 a.m-9 p.m. daily.
The Strawberry Patch, 11735 Watson Seed Farm Road, Whitakers, 252-442-6235. Hours are 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; and 1-5 p.m. Sundays.
Brock's Berries and Produce Farm, 978 Laurie Ellis Road, Winterville, 252-321-2197.
Hours are 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays; and 1-5 p.m. Sundays.
Carolina Country Fresh, 280 House Road, Bethel, and 707 N. Main St., Robersonville, 252-825-2926.
Call to find out if strawberry fields are open.
Strawberries on 903, 4064 N.C. 903 South, Winterville, 252-321-3204. Hours are 8 a.m.-6.m. Mondays-Fridays; 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays; and 1-5 p.m. Sundays.
Luton's Strawberries, 1460 Backwoods Road, Roper, NC, Call for hours, 252-809-2750, www.facebook.com/lutonsstrawberries
Dean's Farm Market/Fresh Pik Produce, 4231 NC 42 West, Wilson, 252-237-0967. Hours are 8 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays; and noon-5 p.m. Sundays.
Note: Pitt County's Briley's Farm, 5290 Old Pactolus Road, is not opening its strawberry patch for picking this spring. According to the farm's Facebook page, "The patch of land had been growing strawberries for 15 years so we have moved our berries to allow the ground to rest for a year." However Briley's will be selling strawberries at the Pitt County Farmer's Market, its produce stand on 10th Street in Greenville and at the Washington, N.C., Waterfront Market.
Jane and Bill's favorite way to eat strawberries? In warm, gooey Strawberry Cobbler. This recipe was passed down to Jane from her mother and her mother's mother.
1 pint strawberries
1 stick (1/4 cup) butter
1 cup sugar, plus approximately 1/4 cup sugar to sweeten fruit
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup milk
Wash, hull and cut up fruit. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar (to taste), stir and set aside.
Melt butter in 9x13-inch glass Pyrex dish in 350 degree oven. Mix flour, 1 cup sugar and milk. Pour batter over the melted butter. Spoon fruit and its juice on top of batter. Do not stir. Bake 20-30 minutes until golden brown.