Strawberries survive freezes to produce big crop

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Zoe Zarka held up a big strawberry for her grandfather to see.

“Look at this one, Pappy,” Zoe said. “This one’s ginormous.”

It was the first time Zoe had ever walked through rows of plentiful strawberry plants at Deans Farm in Wilson.

“It’s beautiful,” Zoe said before taking a bite out of the red fruit. “They are so delicious and they’re juicy. I like the big ones because they have big dots.”

Zoe, a 3-year-old from Wilson, had been brought to the farm by her grandparents, Wilson residents David and Carol Smith.

“It’s just so neat to come out here and see the ripe fruit and know that you are going to bake something with it,” said Carol Smith. “She wants cookies, or muffins or a pie.”

Many families have been flocking to the fields at the farm that was established in Wilson in 1965 by the Deans family. Word has gotten out that this year’s crop is a good one.

The farmer, James Sharp, went through considerable effort earlier this year to protect an early crop from freezing temperatures.

“We were very fortunate,” Sharp said. “There have been some other growers in some other areas around us that weren’t able to save their berries. Fortunately, we were able to save most of ours.”

Sharp has about 20 acres of strawberries this year. Sharp said the farm still has a lot of blooms, so it looks like there will be fruit through late May.

“The fact that it may be a longer season may help us end up with a bigger crop,” said Sharp. “So far, it looks really good to be average or above average in production. The fruit quality has been very good.”

Ronald Bennett, from Kenly, his wife Bonnie, and their granddaughter Malia Hicks picked 13.58 pounds of the bright-red berries.

“This is a good crop. These strawberries are excellent size,” said Bennett. “As long as they are juicy and sweet, I don’t care how big they are.”

“The bigger the better,” said Bonnie Bennett. “Probably the biggest one I ever saw was about the size of a lemon. All shapes and all sizes, they are still just as good.”

Bennett said she will return for more.

“I am going to be back about 10 more times,” Bennett said. “I’ve got 10 more grand-babies.”

Zachary McKenzie, 8, of Wilson, has been picking strawberries since he was a toddler.

“I just like to eat strawberries and when I pick ‘em I just eat ‘em,” Zachary said. “I like ‘em extra big. You just have to wait until they are ripe and pick ‘em when they’re red.”

Zachary said he has learned how to pick them the right way.

“There might be more than one strawberry on a plant, so you don’t want to tear up the plant so all of those strawberries won’t be good,” Zachary said. “You don’t throw ‘em down, you just gently lay ‘em, so you don’t bruise ‘em. If you bruise ‘em, then they’re not good, they’re all squishy.”

But what to do with all those strawberries?

Make strawberry preserves, said Mary Sue Horne, of Fremont.

“Not many people do preserves or jellies or jams or can any more, and I do,” said Horne. “I just know from the old school. You cut them up and then you have to have Sure-Jell and sugar. You cook them down and you put them in boil jars and then seal them.”

It is something Horne learned from her mother, her aunt and a neighbor. Horne is thinking she will make about 10 pints.

“They are plump and juicy and they are not real, real ripe, but partially ripe when you do preserves. They’ve got to be firm,” Horne said. “I’m too old to pick right now, so I just buy them in the box. I used to pick them, but I don’t anymore.”

Horne will also be returning to Deans to get some more berries.

“I’ll be back to get some more because I’ve got to makes some cakes and pies,” Horne said.

Ann Schmidt, of Zebulon, said she was happy that the strawberries survived the spring with all of the freezes.

Schmidt said she has learned how to freeze the berries whole and then consume them over the course of a year.

“Put them on a cookie sheet and spread them out,” Schmidt said. “You freeze them first and then put them in a freezer bag.”

Later Schmidt will cut them up into pieces and feed them to the grandchildren.

Dennie Edmundson, of Elm City, likes them in homemade ice cream that his wife and his mother make, but that’s not the only way he eats them.

“I just like to cut ‘em up and eat ‘em with a little bit of sugar,” Edmundson said. “You know those little yellow cups you buy at the store. That with some whipped cream on ‘em.”

And there are still other ways.

“I like to put some on some vanilla ice cream,” Edmundson continued. “I get some chocolate and put it around the strawberries and give to my wife.”

And there are still other ways.

“Just eat ‘em like they are. Carry ‘em to work and eat ‘em on break,” Edmundson said.

And last, but certainly not least, his wife’s favorite strawberry shortcake.

This year’s Spring Fling festival at Deans will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 29.

“That usually kicks off our strawberry season. Other vendors will be at the farm as well as fun and games for the kids to do,” Sharp said. “We had planned it for when we typically get started with our strawberry crop, but this season the strawberries came much sooner, but we still held that date. We’ll have a large area of the field that folks can pick strawberries in, so it’s usually a very large event for us. It would be hard to move that date once we established that with our vendors who are coming, so we left it the same.”

For more information, call Deans Farm Market at 252-237-0967.

dwilson@wilsontimes.com | 265-7818