FOODIE FILES

The sweet science of the Maine strawberry

Posted June 14, 2013, at 10:38 a.m.
Last modified June 25, 2013, at 2:57 p.m.

Maine strawberries are a temperamental thing. Too much rain and cool weather, and they’ll be soggy and tasteless. Too many days of dry, hot sun, and they’ll shrivel up before they can be picked.

Albert Tate of Tate’s Strawberry Farm in Corinth has spent most of his life in the company of strawberries — as a child, when Grampy Harvard Tate ran the farm, as a young adult under his father Kenneth, and since 2003, as the sole proprietor of the farm. At this point, he can tell by the rainfall, the night time temperatures and the size of the green berries when it’s the right time to start picking.

“We’ve kept records since 1980, and it’s been different every year,” said Tate. “We’re always learning something new every year. Doesn’t matter how many times you do it, something different is gonna happen.”

Tate estimates that June 22 will be the first day he’ll open up his farm to the public for picking; a day or two before there might be quarts available at his roadside stands on Stillwater Avenue in Bangor and Wilson Street in Brewer. Whether they arrive early in June or later in the month, strawberry season in Maine always heralds the true beginning of summer.

“We got all that hot weather the other week, and I thought they were going to be ready on the 15th, but it’s been raining all this week so we’re gonna have to push it another week,” said Tate. “They like it cool and wet, so I’d be fine if it keeps on raining, right up until picking starts. Then you want it dry.”

From May to November, Tate is out in the fields, barreling around on his red ATV, dubbed “Tate’s Toy.” He plants next year’s crop in May and spends the next seven months babying the little green seedlings, preparing them to bear fruit the following spring. He already has church and community groups clamoring to buy them by the pound for shortcake, pies and jam at strawberry festivals regionally. The Old Town Museum will hold its event from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 22, and the Dirigo #98 Grange in Freedom will have a strawberry shortcake and turkey pie dinner, with seatings at 4 and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, June 29.

All the while, Tate’s waiting to see how well this year’s plants are coming. Last year’s strawberry season was a letdown, but he’s optimistic for this year. There’s nothing like a Maine strawberry — they’re packed with more flavor, more delicately textured, and more fragrant than the giant West Coast berries you’ll find at the grocery store.

“It’s only about three weeks a year, but everybody seems to look forward to it,” said Tate. “For this year? So far, so good.”

Tate’s Strawberry Farm is located at 136 Puddledock Road in Corinth. Check their Facebook page for updates about the official opening day for self-pick. Prices for this year are set at $3 a quart for self-pick, and pre-picked quarts at the stands are $5. There is a senior discount at $2.50 a quart on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for self pick.

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