Two Cents A Quart

A friend posted a picture of some strawberries she picked that evoked many memories for me. She said she paid $3.72 to pick them.

Someone commented, “Well, they ought to look good for that price!”

On the contrary, I thought of the “good old days” when picking berries was the only job I was eligible for.

They issued special working papers for those who worked on farms. We were allowed to work — I believe at 14, even if we were not part of the family.

Mr. Meyer came into town in his big old truck. His grandson and granddaughters lived on my street. It was one of the twin girls who posted the picture by the way.

He picked up a bunch of us to pick his strawberries. I remember he lived at the end of a road, but I am not sure which one. I know we passed his son’s house to get there.

When we arrived at the farm we got out of the back of the truck with our lunches. We all packed our lunches at home. I remember going to the store the night before so I had goodies for dessert.

My favorite treat was those big snowballs – chocolate cake inside covered with marshmallow and coconut. Some were pink and some were white but they tasted the same. I did not have those every day, but when I did, I could hardly wait for lunch time to come.

I always took a sandwich and a piece of fruit – usually an apple. Of course, I had something cold to drink as well. Since I did not own a thermos, I had trouble keeping things cold — at least it was wet.

Mr. Meyer assigned us each a row to pick. There were quart baskets and a flat ready for us to begin picking.

When we filled our flat, ten quarts I think, we turned them in. We were credited by the quart.

The going rate for pickers was two cents a quart. Although that did not add up fast, I was a fast picker so I ended up with a total that was not bad at the end of the day. Since I was returning the next day, they just kept my total on their books.

It was fun picking. Of course, the ride to the farm was a bonus. The pickers worked just rows apart so we talked as we picked. I think we probably ate berries as well.

When that horn blew to say it was time for lunch, we were all happy. Picking was back-breaking work in the heat of the sun.

Here, let me point out that picking in the morning hours was preferable to picking when the sun was overhead.

We were all thankful for the respite of lunch in the shade of the big tree in the yard.

I think we had a half hour to eat, then it was back to work. That was plenty of time to down our lunches and visit. There were boys and girls picking so that made it a social event. I had a crush on my neighbor so that made it all the more fun. He was a year ahead of me in school so he was one of the “older” boys.

Truthfully, I do not think what I made picking berries was substantial. It gave me some spending money.

The important thing was that it gave me something fun to do with my summer vacation.

I stayed on through raspberry/blackberry season. Picking them was not the back-breaking job that the strawberries were. I carefully avoided the thorns but at least I could stand up to pick them.

When I first married my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law and I picked berries. My sister-in-law had to take her children along. They would not let them into the field so she took along a blanket and some toys for them to play. Her youngest was in a playpen with his toys. We took turns watching them so that we all get to pick undisturbed.

Lunch on the day we picked strawberries was either waffles with berries or strawberry shortcakes. We always picked a lot of berries.

The family particularly liked strawberry freezer jam. That was easy to make.

If you made the cooked type of jam it took more time since all of the jars had to be sanitized and they had to seal. With the freezer jam it just had to set for a while before it went into the freezer.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

Prepare fruit. Stem one quart of strawberries. Crush. Measure two cups crushed berries and add 4 cups sugar. Set aside.

Prepare Sure-Jell. Mix 2/3 cup of water and 1 box of Sure-Jell. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Continue boiling and stirring for 1 minute. Stir the Sure-Jell mixture into the fruit and stir for three minutes.

Fill clean plastic containers wiping off the lips of them. Let stand for twenty-fur hours before placing them into the freezer.

To serve. Thaw the jam. Place any that is left into the refrigerator. Can be kept about three weeks in the refrigerator.

This really tastes like fresh berries and stays a beautiful red color. Enjoy.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa. Contact at hickoryheights1@verizon.net.

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