location: Sweet Berry Farm – 915 Mitchell’s Lane, Middletown
hours: Open 8:00 am to 7:00 pm daily
prices: pint, $4.75; quart, $5.75; double quart, $9.75; ten-plus-pound trays $1.89 per pound
After the first sign pointing in the general direction, the others are not needed.Â Simply inhaling that unmistakable, delicious, purely summertime smell leads the way.
And the scent, while conjuring memories of summers past, also serves as a reminder about the season: it is fleeting and sweet.Â Savor it while it is here.Â So each year, our family does just that.Â And for this particular early summertime ritual, there is nowhere we would rather pick our strawberries than at Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown.
Just turning into the driveway here triggers a relaxation response, looking over fields and acres of fruits, vegetables and flowers, seeing the beautiful post-and-beam farm market, being greeted by Bracken the farm pup, and feeling the ocean breezes close enough to take the edge off of a humid morning.
The first stop is the farm market where the friendly staff offers containers for picking. After paying for the desired size — we decide on a quart for each child — and getting directions, we opt to take the sensory-loaded walk to the field, although there is closer parking available.
The kids run through the open fields, our older reading the signs guiding pick-your-own seekers to the right place.Â Our younger: “Mommy, where are the fields? Are we almost there? I don’t see it. Where are the strawberries? Mommy, how many can I pick? Can I eat some? Where are they? I still can’t see. Where is it?” Deep, full breath and in comes strawberry perfume, wild roses, and sea air — keep asking questions little girl, all is well in the world!
Upon reaching the field, rows for picking are marked with flags. The amount of beautiful berries waiting to be picked is staggering.Â There is no need to search or crowd, each plant is more loaded with fruit than the next, and our containers are filled to toppling over in no time.Â And yes, there was some sampling. Ok, a lot of sampling.
Note to self for the future: Good shirt color choice for the boy.Â Not so much for little girl.Â Light blue and strawberry juice?Â Oh well. Â On the way back to the market, we examine our bounty while those heading out to pick offer words of admiration of our overflowing baskets.
It is our tradition at Sweet Berry, since we also pick blueberries, raspberries and apples here, to get their vanilla soft serve ice-cream or Susanna’s Ice-Cream after our hard work in the field.Â And there is so much more available. From Sweet Berry’s own kitchen, there are freshly prepared soups, sandwiches, paninis, wraps, pizzas, an array of baked goods and pastries, coffee and cold drinks.Â You could have breakfast before picking or lunch after.Â There is also a specialty food market where plenty of treats to take home can be found.
And right across the street from Sweet Berry on Third Beach Road is a great playground.Â To the kids, trips to Sweet Berry do not exist without a stop at Howland Park. Â If you are looking to further extend your day, Second and Third Beach in Middletown are just a few miles down the road.
Like the smells, season, and berries of summer, the passage of time is too fast and so very sweet.Â Somehow, seasonal traditions like berry picking help to slow our family down as we relive memories while making new ones to take with us.
Once you get those berries home, the best way I’ve found to store them, after much trial and error over the years, is to spread them in a single layer, unwashed on a towel-lined (either paper or cloth) cookie sheet. Cover lightly with paper towel and plastic wrap poked with holes (to let the air circulate around the berries), and put it in the refrigerator.Â Wash only right before eating. Â Our two quarts lasted from Sunday to Thursday beautifully. We ate every single one!
The berries are so sweet and delicious; we like to keep it simple at our house: berries and cream or berries, cream, and pound cake for dessert. Â First I macerate the berries, usually about two cups, placing them in a bowl with two teaspoons of sugar.Â Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for about 20 minutes.Â I use about a cup or so of organic heavy whipping cream and whip on low speed with a teaspoon or two of sugar and a half teaspoon of vanilla, until stiff. Slice your pound cake and add a dollop of cream and a spoonful of berries, which will now have their own syrupy goodness to coat the cream and cake.
I like to make Ina Garten’s recipe for simple pound cake. But when we are at Sweet Berry Farm for strawberries, I usually pick up a lemon pound cake from Cory’s Kitchen (Steven Cory is the head chef).Â So perfect with strawberries and cream!