Strawberry Fields Forever
They got it right, those musicians. Sure, they may have been tripping on acid at the time, but that's no reason not to get out of the city and take advantage of Quebec's Pick-Your-Own fruit farms. So that's what I did last Saturday, minus the acid, plus a few friends and their kids. I know, I live life on the edge.
There are only two farms near Montreal with a web presence that offer to let you come and pay and pick strawberries. Only one has a website. It also has a facebook page. That's Quinn Farms on Ile-Perrot, about 30 minutes in low traffic from Montreal. And that's why when we got there around 1pm last Saturday afternoon they were packed and almost out of berries. In fact, we weren't even allowed onto the fields. Fortunately a hop, skip, and a jump down the road was Farm L'Anse au Sable, which you may remember from such posts as "Farmers Market Etiquette, Lesson 3: Don't Have A Baby, Have A Market" - a statement I stand by to this day, even (and especially) after strawberry picking with some of the more adorable youngsters out there.
And because relatively no one seems to know about the strawberry farm down the road from the sold out one, at L'Anse au Sable the strawberries were plentiful. There was no rustic farmhouse full of local packaged goods including strawberry pie, sparkling apple cider, and frozen sausages, but there were rows and rows of plump, juicy, pesticide-free strawberries (exponentially more important when you're picking your own anything than when you're just buying at the grocery store).
$10 gets you a basket to fill. That may not seem like much, especially when you can buy a basket of already-picked strawberries for the same amount, but you need to consider two factors:
1. You will stuff your basket more full than the pre-filled baskets
2. You will eat at least $10 worth of strawberries while picking, so you're really paying $5 per basket of berries. One just happens to end up in your stomach, not your basket.
It's a little crazy how many strawberries you can eat without thinking about it. "One for me, one for my basket" quickly turns into "2 for me, none for my basket" and suddenly you've eaten about 8 cups of strawberries, all in an effort to scientifically deduce which are the juiciest, sweetest berries. My love of organic food tells me that small berries are sometimes better than unnaturally large berries, but when they're all the same kind of berry, you want to go for the largest, heaviest (the more water and sugar in them, the better), darkest berries. And if you're like me you'll see the ones that are getting a little over-ripe and feel bad for them and want to eat them too before they're too far past their prime and nobody can eat them.
But no! Stick to the absolutely perfect ones. You didn't buy the bad ones at the grocery store and need to eat them before they go bad, saving the others for later. There is no later. There is only now, so choose only perfect berries.
There is a time in life for fruit selflessness. This is not it.
It takes no time at all to fill a basket, so I actually would recommend picking three baskets instead of picking one and buying two down at the farm stand. Yours will be fresher and they'll all be perfect - no overripe ones or sour, under-ripe ones. Then leave L'Anse au Sable and go back to Quinn Farms where there are picnic tables and have a picnic. Being out in the direct sunlight picking berries probably tuckered you out (I said "tuckered" before I spent last Saturday with parents). The kids, if there are any (though this is apparently very much a kids activity. Quinn Farms even has a kids play area upstairs and you can go into the barn to look at the heritage breed hogs, chickens, and sheep), will either be exhausted or cranky or high on natural sugar, so a pic-a-nic table will be most welcome.
There should be a few more weeks of strawberries at L'Anse au Sable, but call ahead to double-check after the Canada Day weekend. Then you get into raspberry season...mmm...
Quinn Farms is done with strawberries for the year, but here's that handy website again to check out where to pick your own other fruit this summer near Montreal.
BYO-floppy hat to keep the sun off your face.