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Ripe for the picking

Picking strawberries has long been a favorite pastime of mine. My love of berries began as a young child. I lived with my grandparents. They did not often pick the berries, but we often had them to eat. Grandma would cut them up and add sugar. We usually made biscuits for our shortcakes. Every once in while grandma would purchase those little spongy cakes. I liked the biscuits the best.

My aunt and uncle grew a small patch of berries. When I visited my cousins, we were the pickers. We would go out into the patch and pick a couple of quarts then clean them and sugar them to have for supper. Sometimes we would help my aunt freeze some as well.

Grandma always froze some berries to have in the winter. I got to help do that. I remember her having a cardboard thing that held the bags open so we could fill them.

In my teens I picked strawberries to earn money. My neighbors had grandparents who grew a large number of berries. He would come with his truck to pick us up each morning. We all piled in the back of the big truck. There was a bench seat for us to sit on.

The night before, I packed my lunch. I had to find something to make a sandwich. Sometimes I took peanut butter and jelly. Sometimes I made egg salad or tuna salad. I also took some fruit. If I was really lucky, I had homemade cookies to take along. Sometimes I was allowed to purchase those marshmallow- covered cakes to take along. Finding something to put my water in was a problem. We had no thermos so I just took a big glass with a lid.

I earned two cents a quart so I had to be productive. He assigned each of us a row to pick. We were allowed to leave the full quarts along the row until we were done then pick all of them up to bring in. When we finished with a flat — eight quarts we usually brought them in. If we were going to pick the next day we waited until we were finished to collect our money.

Picking strawberries is backbreaking work – even for a young person. You did a lot of getting up and down. I did not make a ton of money picking berries, but it was something to break up the summer and it was better than washing the porch for grandma. There were a bunch of kids there so it was fun. We all looked forward to lunch time. We sat in the yard under a huge maple tree to eat. While we ate, we visited. Around three o’clock Mr. Meyer took us home.

Once I married and came over here, I became part of the picking crew here. My sister-in-law and my mother-in-law and I went different places to pick. Sometimes we went just down the road. Other times we were up in New York. We always had the children along. Dorie brought toys for them to play with as well as a playpen for the youngest. We began picking early in the morning and picked until the sun was directly overhead. Then, it was home to clean the berries.

Often, we had waffles and berries for lunch. We all worked together to clean some berries and sugar them. My mother-in-law did it different than my grandmother did. She used a round sharp thing to cut up the berries. It was so much easier than cutting each of them. We began making waffles and kept them warm until the men were ready to eat. The berries tasted so good that way. I still often serve my berries on waffles for a treat.

I froze some, sugared some to eat, and made freezer jam. Freezer jam is so good. The berries taste almost fresh. We enjoyed it on toast as well as on ice cream.

Our church used to have a Strawberry Social. We served strawberry shortcakes or strawberry sundaes. Everyone in the church worked. When the children were small, I often served as the designated babysitter. I had the children come to my house so their parents could work. Then I would pile them all in the car and take them down to have their strawberries.

When they were in their teens, they picked the strawberries for the ladies. By then we had a youth group and that was one of our service projects. I know they had a good time picking the berries because they were all together.

We no longer have that social, but we do have an ice cream and hot dog and hamburger event. Kind of a picnic where all of the neighbors come to eat with us. There was no event this summer because of corona virus. In fact, our one-hundred-year anniversary events have been cancelled as well. The celebration was to take place this weekend.

One year there was a baby born on the day of the Strawberry Social. Katie Trumbull arrived just in time for her brother to announce her arrival. Mark was disappointed, he wanted a brother, but in the end, he accepted his little sister and they were great friends.

A lady I worked (Katie’s mother) with gave me a very good recipe for a fresh Strawberry Pie. It is very easy. I have also done it with fresh raspberries when we had our own. I have also used blackberries – once again when we had some of our own to pick.

Strawberry Pie

1 (9″ pie shell) baked

1 ¢ c. water

4 c. strawberries cut up

1 c. sugar

1 (3 Oz.) package strawberry Jell-O

2 T. cornstarch

In small pan combine the water, sugar, and cornstarch. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until it comes to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes. Add package of strawberry Jell-O. Pour Glaze over the berries that have been cut up and placed in the pie shall. Refrigerate until set. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa. Contact at hickoryheights1@verizon.net.

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