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June 19. 2012 7:29PM

Enjoying the sweet start of summer with strawberries


Shortcake is the reason for the season — and all the festivals — for most strawberry fans. (KATHY REMILLARD)


Christie McQuesten of McQuesten Farm in Litchfield rings up a customer at the farm’s pick-your-own strawberry stand. (KATHY REMILLARD)

Few things signify the beginning of summer in New Hampshire like strawberry season.

Local farms have been welcoming strawberry pickers for weeks now to get their share of the red, juicy delights that make just the briefest of appearances before July's blueberries.

“They call strawberries June bearers,” said Dan Hicks of Sunnycrest Farms in Londonderry. “So they start and end in June.”

Though a small number of varieties grow a bit into July, Hicks said, it's best to get the pick of the crop this month.

“When a strawberry is ready, it's ready,” he said.

Hicks said the crop came in heavily, thanks to a mild winter.“Because of the warm weather we had in early spring, it accelerated things,” Hicks said.

But growers don't get lulled into laziness by a little mild weather. They'll do just about anything to protect the delicate strawberry plants, said Matt McQuesten, owner of Litchfield's McQuesten Farms.

“We've gone out in the middle of the night to cover them if there's danger of a frost,” McQuesten said.

Once the bounty is ready, groups and organizations around the state begin the annual tradition of the Strawberry Festival.

After a rainy spell, the sun shone on the Litchfield Community Church's event last Saturday.

“We promised God some extra whipped cream for his shortcake today” in exchange for some good weather, joked Pastor Steve Quinlan.

Quinlan got the idea for a celebration of all things strawberry about five years ago, as a way to connect with others.

“We were just looking for something to do to be supportive of the community,” he said. “It's been great fun every year.”

“I think it's the community spirit we're trying to convey,” said church volunteer Cheryl Wolczok.

Sandy Vance, coordinator of this year's festival, said it's truly a local event, with Boy Scout troops helping out and the strawberries donated by McQuesten's, which is just up the road from the church.

“They donated about 160 pounds of strawberries,” Vance said.

Pickers went to the farm and got busy during the day, and volunteers spent three hours hulling, slicing and preparing the berries for strawberry shortcake, which featured with homemade biscuits, as well as an additional homemade treat.

“Last year we started the Belgian waffles and they were a huge hit,” Vance said.

The day also included face painting and games for kids, including an egg roll, hoola hoop races and seed spitting, giving the day an old-fashioned New England feel.

The Litchfield Historical Society opened its building for tours as well, offering visitors a glimpse into Litchfield's past.

“It's a nice time to get out and see everyone,” said Steven Calawa, president of the historical society.

Among the places strawberry lovers will find festivals around the state this weekend are the Bow Mills United Methodist Church on Saturday and Monument Square in Hollis on Sunday.

While strawberry festivals offer an opportunity for communities to come together on warm June afternoon, Don Burrill of Bedford made an observation about why they may be hard to resist.

“I don't know anybody who doesn't like strawberry shortcake,” he said.

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Kathy Remillard may be reached at kremillard@newstote.com.


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