In a jam

It’s summer, and Rosie McGlade goes in search of the perfect strawberry around the region’s pick-your-own farms – scenes of regular light-fingered visitors, it would appear

People may scoff, but when I was little there was a pick-your-own where they’d weigh you before you went in and then again when you came out. I’ve had to check with my sisters I didn’t dream it.

The point is, if you’ll pardon the awful pun, people tend to scoff a lot. Pauline, at Castle Eden’s pick your own, where they grow nine different varieties of strawberry, says last year they even saw people bring in squirty cream for a feast out in the fields. “We found we had to close for some days,” she says. “We just didn’t have enough ripe ones left coming through.”

The strawberry season is short, but it’s delicious. Castle Eden reckon to open mid-June to mid-July, depending on the weather (in a good year, seasons can stretch to six weeks) so there’s a tight margin for making a living. You’re not supposed to eat them all before you buy, and Pauline, whose favourite varieties are Florence and Elegance, now puts out polite signs appealing for restraint.

“People will take them home to eat for dessert, as an Eton mess or strawberry flan, or just with ice cream or cream,” she adds. “Those seem to be the favourites.”

Frank Elgey has been growing pick-your-own strawberries since 1972 at his beautiful farm near Piercebridge, up-river from Darlington, with a view right up to the dales. He reckons they lose a third of their annual crop to thieves, snackers, and tramplers. “But you either put up with it or don’t bother doing it,” he says.

“People don’t just come for the fruit, but for the day out. We might not be loads less expensive than supermarkets, but we do much nicer varieties, and we have a lot of regular customers who come back year after year.”

Symphony is Frank’s favourite variety. It’s mine, too, incredibly sweet and very, very pretty. He also likes Sweetheart, a new variety.

“Most supermarkets, nearly all, I would say, sell Elsanta exclusively. I don’t like them, personally. It’s a very hard strawberry, tasteless, with the saving grace of having a very good shelf life. Supermarkets think it’s marvellous. For our first 20 years, we grew Cambridge Vigour – there was nothing else at the time, and it was lovely. But it’s nice to experiment with new things.”

At Plawsworth Farm near Chester-le-Street in Co Durham, farmer Harry Johnson is taking the summer off after 28 years of providing locals with strawberries and raspberries. “We don’t know what to do with ourselves,” he says. “We’ve been having barbeques, unheard of! But to be honest, given our sandy soils and the fact that it’s barely rained all spring, it’s a good job we’re missing this year.”

Lanchester Fruit Company in Co Durham are preparing for the season with a wide range of crops – though believe fewer people are making jam these days – as are Brocksbushes, on the A68 / A69 roundabout near Corbridge, Northumberland, which started early with this year’s strawberry pick at the beginning of June. A range of later varieties mean they’ll keep coming all summer. Long may it last…


Castle Eden Fruit Farm, Winyard Road, Thorpe Thewles, Cleveland, TS21 3JG, tel 0780 291 0255. Strawberries only.  

Lanchester Fruit Co, Brockwell farm, Durham Road, Lanchester, Co Durham, DH7 0QT, tel 01207 521 150. Strawberries, raspberries, black currants, red currants, gooseberries, peas, broad beans, blackberries, and cabbage and broccoli. Strawberries at around £1.30 per pound.

FW Elgey, Low Fields, Piercebridge, near Darlington, tel 01325 374 341 / 0771 072 8651. Strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, gooseberries, peas, broad beans, potatoes, and then plums, apples and autumn raspberries later in the season.

Brocksbushes, near Corbridge, Northumberland, tel 01434 633 100.  Strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, gooseberries, blackberries, tayberries, plums. Strawberries at £1.74 per pound.

Oxford Farm, Ancroft, Berwick upon Tweed, Northumberland, TD15 2DA, tel 01289 387 253. Strawberries and raspberries.

Strawberry Jam – Tips from The Mad Jam Woman

Strawberry jam has to be one of the easiest recipes to remember, equal weight strawberries to sugar, yet millions of inferior jars are sold in supermarkets. Why don’t more of us make it – and how can we ensure, simple though it sounds, we get good results? We asked The Mad Jam Woman. 

Sandy Higson makes thousands of jars of preserves and chutneys a week. A WEEK. “Hence the mad bit – it’s all that sugar and vinegar,” she hoots. So she knows. And it seems that it’s all about the set.

“I do know, and it’s one of my best sellers, but I hate the stuff myself. Too sweet. I’m a tart person!”

She uses ordinary sugar, powdered rather than liquid pectin, and no lemon at all.

“Use strawberries that aren’t too old, as the older they are, the more juicy or watery they get, which again affects the set.”

Sandy Higson, the Mad Jam Woman, Coquet Valley Preserves, 07766 857 680,

Tritlington Hall, Morpeth, 01670 790 223 / 786 160

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