Strawberry season!

Love, love, love this time of year when strawberries are in season! Strawberries, like most berries, are versatile for use all year round. My mouth waters thinking about jams, baked goods, fresh berries on cereal, frozen berries in smoothies, and it goes on and on. If you're thinking about taking the one-year local food challenge that Andreae proposed in her recent post, then berries are where it's at. Stock your freezer and your canning shelf with lots of berry-filled goodies and eating locally in mid-winter won't be a chore.

At the grocery store you will sometimes come across Atlantic strawberries this time of year, mainly from Nova Scotia or New Brunswick. Once I got Newfoundland strawberries from Sobey's and it made my day. If you know of local retailers that stock NL berries then let us know. Usually your best bets for local strawberries are farmers' markets, road-side stands and u-picks. Go where the farmers are to get the best quality and quantity of local strawberries. Farmers' markets and road stands are great places to start. Get to them early before the other berry lovers have had their morning coffee if you want to snag a good supply. To get the biggest supply of strawberries visit u-picks; with a bit of work they're berry buffets just waiting for you!

Follow a few of these tips for visiting a local u-pick and you'll be well on your way to berry feasting:

1. Call ahead- Although u-picks usually have regular hours, depending on the amount of people that are going through there may be good days and bad to go picking. Sometimes the fields need breaks to ripen more fruit before they can handle a crowd again. With the wet weather we've had this year some of the u-picks are behind schedule or producing less, and it's good to know for sure that they're ready for your awesome picking skills before you arrive. Be a bit adventurous and go picking even if the weather is overcast, because it won't be as crowded in the field.

2. Use the right containers- Think about the kinds of containers that strawberries come in at the grocery store, usually little perforated baskets made of plastic or wood. That's because strawberries spoil easily and really don't respond well to being squished or without air flow (I can relate).  Use a container that's got ventilation and be careful not to layer the berries too densely on top of one another. Make sure your container is well cleaned and food safe.

3. Go prepared- You probably want to pick as many berries as you can eat, can, and freeze, right? So go into your day of picking like a boy scout, well prepared. Wear old clothes and shoes that can get mucky and berry-stained. Wear a hat and sunscreen and bring lots of healthy snacks and water so that you don't have any reason to stop early. Kids are huge fans of berry picking and they'll really enjoy a u-pick adventure. When they go with you, bring along a picnic and blanket, and consider some extra activities (songs about berries, a frisbee to take to a nearby empty field, etc.). If your goals are both to have family fun and stockpile a lot of berries, then try to go with at least two adults so that one adult can focus on child care while the other focuses on picking berries.

4. Strawberries can spoil quickly. Transfer the berries you want to eat fresh into whatever containers you plan to store them in and put them in the fridge right away. Wait to wash them until right before you eat them because they'll last longer. The ones you aren't going to eat fresh, prep and freeze as soon as possible. If you plan to make preserves or baked goods but don't have time right away, you can freeze those berries too and then thaw them later.

5. Check out the RCR recipes sections for great ideas on how to use strawberries for breakfasts, preserves, beverages, salads, desserts, and more!

6. Frozen berries are the new ice cube! Toss frozen berries into lemonade, sparkling water, cocktails, or any summer drink. They keep drinks cold like ice cubes without watering drinks down and then you get extra juicy berries to eat at the bottom of the glass.

Check out some of these u-picks across the province! As well as strawberries they may have raspberries, gooseberries and other fruits available, so that's another good reason to call ahead and check. Please comment below or email if you know of others to add to this list or if any of these contacts are incorrect.

Grand River Farm, 5 Mud Lake Rd. in Happy Valley- Goose Bay, 896-1502

Lomond Farms, 9 Forest Rd. in Steady Brook, 634-6456

Campbellton U-Pick, Campbellton, 261-2739,

Central U-Pick, New Bay Rd. in Grand Falls, 258-5480

Lester's Farm Market, 173 Brookfield Rd. in St. John's, 747-3276,

Robertson's Farm Market, Lethbridge, 467-5261

Johnson's U-Pick Strawberry Farm, Deep Bight, 546-2132