By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Food Columnist
June was an amalgamation of the things I love most about my favorite summer traditions: vacations with grandkids, solstice, backyard BBQs, the Chamber’s Summer Sampler, Saturday Farmers’ Market and walks and hikes along our many fabulous trails with like-minded spirits.
Then, just when I thought I had reached the pinnacle of my Norman Rockwell-like life, I found myself less than five miles from my front door at Hickey Farms, sitting cross-legged, straddled between views of Schweitzer Mountain and Seven Sisters, with straw-bedded rows of sun-ripened, plump and juicy, red strawberries.
That’s right, folks, Hickey Farms is now more than the local pumpkin patch we look forward to visiting every fall. They’ve expanded their farm-fresh offerings to include u-pick strawberries. It’s only their second season for berries, so they’re still trying to determine which berries are best suited for the farm. They picked some winners (and so did I)!
With more than 10,000 plants and seven varieties, there were bright red berries of all shapes and sizes. There was lots of weeding going on while I was picking—and they’ll be weeding out a few varieties of berries too—but amongst the winners and keepers:
Jewel: The picture-perfect strawberry, bright red and glossy. The berries have an excellent flavor and enticing aroma that is great for fresh eating or freezing.
AC Wendy: A June-bearing variety that produces heavy yields of large, wedge-shaped fruits early in the strawberry season. The fruits have an excellent fresh flavor for fresh eating, pies, desserts and preserves.
Seascape: A cross between two popular varieties, seascape is highly productive over a long season, yielding large, delicious berries with excellent flavor.
And then there’s the Hickey family favorite, referred to as the Daiquiri strawberry due to its taste.
(I can’t vouch for the daiquiri taste, but I’m here to sing the berry’s praise for the perfect batches of strawberry margaritas I whipped up that night).
Once the u-pick season is over, the hard-working family on this nearly 100-year old farm will pick the fields clean of the berries to produce their own label of jams and jellies ready to buy during their pumpkin patch days. Later this summer, you’ll be able to pick green beans, corn and blackberries, planted (and thriving) nearby.
These aren’t the berries, nor the berry experience, of my youth. As a kid, I remember languishing in the summer heat, picking berries for fifty cents a flat. Nor are these the berries we find stacked in grocery store produce-sections year-round. These berries, with their sweet aroma floating between rows, planted by real farmers, provide us an opportunity to connect with the Mother Earth, picking perfectly ripened red berries while teasing our lips and bellies with a stolen sample or two.
I’d only intended to pick a pint or two, but before I knew it—after bantering the time away with the baby-packing family in the next row and the Hickey farmers, affably ensconced under their white-canopied stand—I had half a flat ready to be weighed and priced. For good measure, they tossed in another pint, gratis, and reminded me to take care of my precious and perishable harvest within the next two days.
Get to Hickey Farms before the season is over to pick your own! 674 Hickey Road is located 5.7 miles down Highway 200 from Sandpoint. From Sandpoint, take Highway 200 East about 5.5 miles and take a left onto Hickey Road. If you are coming from Clark Fork or other areas from the east, the turnoff is located about a ½ mile past Colburn Culver Road.
And just a reminder, the Hickey “Daquiri strawberries” make the perfect, porch sipping, summertime, margarita. Try a batch. I think even Norman Rockwell would agree.
Happy Fourth of July. Be safe, be nice and have fun.
Fresh Strawberry Margaritas • makes 4 servings
Perfect summer libation. Use the best tequila you can afford, and don’t substitute the Cointreau!
• 1 pound fresh, ripe strawberries, rinsed and hulled
• 8 oz good quality tequila
• 4 oz Cointreau
• 4 oz fresh lime juice
• 3 oz agave
• Coarse salt for rims
Place strawberries in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour through a fine-meshed sieve, using a spoon to push all the liquid through. You want at least 1 cup of juice.
Place all ingredients in the blender and blend to mix well. (If you want frozen margaritas, add some ice).
Run a lime wedge around the glass rim and dip the rims into a plate of coarse salt. Fill glasses with ice and margarita mixture. Garnish with a wedge or wheel of lime, or a strawberry.
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