Perfect strawberries are not that easy to grow. I have tried over the past year at the Pine Street Community Garden, but have produced only a few small, imperfect versions.
But the Williamson family, of Williamson Farms in Oceanside, grows the perfect berry! I recently had the pleasure to visit with Becky Williamson Hall at the Williamson Farm Stand on Ivy Road in Oceanside.
The tiny stand is just off the Jefferson Street Exit on Route 78 and is worth the trip from whichever direction you are traveling. The berries are so perfect and exceptionally clean, that they almost do not look real!
The fruit is priced reasonably at three pints for $16 and customers line up as soon as they open at 9 a.m. to snatch up the first batch. Berries are picked each morning, so they are exceptionally fresh.
The favorite with many customers is the largest berry with the stem left on the fruit, and people call ahead to reserve this special fruit with which chocolate-covered strawberry desserts are made. For special orders, call (760) 439-1476; the stand is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Becky Williamson Hall is just one of the family members involved in the farm stand. Brother Fred Williamson Jr. works closely with the farm manager to oversee daily operations.
SAN DIEGO HAS 5,000 SMALL FARMS
According to the San Diego Small Farm’s website:
“San Diego County has over 5,000 farms, more than any other county in the United States. 69% of those are between 1-9 acres and though the median size farm is just 4 acres, our county’s farmers rank number one in both California and the nation in the production value of nursery, floriculture and avocados.”
The site adds: “The high cost of water and land make farming here expensive and San Diego farms have specialized in integrating agricultural activity and urban living, growing crops that optimize limited acres.”
WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THOSE STRAWBERRIES
I have mentioned before that my grandmother Edna VanDenBerg was the family cook I most admired.
She became a widow during the 1950s and lived in a tiny bungalow apartment in Milwaukee. Although she earned a small salary as a cook at the local VFW Club, she always treated us to her specialties when we visited on Sundays.
Strawberries were always available in May, and she had a number of plants in her small vegetable plot in the backyard.
My grandmother’s tiny kitchen was filled with pots and pans, so many that she stored some in her oven. Her expertise was in baking, and as a child, I sat in her kitchen to watch her make this memorable dessert. This recipe for the Strawberry-Rhubarb Shortcake I grew up with!
— 12 ounces rhubarb (6 to 8 stalks)
— 6 tablespoons sugar
— 1 ½ cups strawberries, hulled and halved
— ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
— Bisquick Biscuit Mix (follow directions for rolled biscuits)
— One-pint heavy whipping cream, vanilla and sugar to taste
Bring rhubarb, sugar and ¼ cup water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Cook until liquid is reduced by half, about eight minutes. Stir in strawberries and vanilla, about three minutes more, until strawberries are softened. Serve the sauce warm or at room temperature.
While rhubarb is cooking make the biscuits. Follow directions on the package, making enough for your guests. When biscuits are done, slice open and add the strawberry mixture to each. Whip up some “real whipped cream” with heavy whipping cream and sugar, and serve to your guests! Leftover compote will store for weeks in the refrigerator.
Send us your favorite springtime desserts as well as recommendations for farm stands to visit in North County.
Jano Nightingale is a Master Gardener and horticulturist and teaches gardening at the Carlsbad Senior Center on Pine Street. Contact her at [email protected]