Creek Valley Farm

I think strawberries are natures way of apologizing for the heat that’s about to come in the following months. Each year our family looks forward to stuffing our faces with gobs of the sweet red berries any way we can get them: strawberry pie, shortcake, jam…and it’s so sad when they are gone. Growing our own strawberries also falls in the “eventually” category around here (along with asparagus) – If I would have just planted them when I moved here years ago I could be feasting on my very own heaping pile of strawberries as we speak. I keep putting it off because as soon as I make the investment I know we would find our forever home and I would have to leave it all behind.

The other thing is: Why bother planting strawberries and waiting years for them to produce a large crop when just a few miles away, nestled on gentle hills off a country road lies an amazing family owned strawberry farm? I have been going to Creek Valley Farm to pick and buy berries ever since I can remember and I recently got to chat with Aaron Smith about his families unique crop.

Strawberries in the Field
Fresh Picked Raspberries

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nearly 40 years ago Stanley and Carol Smith planted their first small strawberry patch in Waldron Michigan after they were first married. They and their children Aaron & Stephanie still work the farm today. These days the Smith family’s strawberry patch sprawls over ten acres and they didn’t stop at strawberries. About an acre is dedicated to blackberries and raspberries too! They grow around 8 different varieties of strawberries, some “early” bearing and some “late” bearing, with a customer favorite being Jewel, a large juicy variety. Keeping a mix of plants helps to keep their crop a constant throughout the month of June, when there is a lull in activity after planting their fields of corn, beans, & wheat.

Stephanie, packing harvested berries into quart boxes.

The strawberry business isn’t as simple as “plant it and they will come”. I talked with Stephanie and Carol about the challenges they face with weather. Remember those late frosts we got this year? For the Smith family it meant sleepless nights checking temperatures and spraying the strawberry blossoms with water to form ice on the blooms to protect them from the damaging frost, because no viable blossoms means no berries. Thankfully their efforts were successful and they were able to save their crop, but other Michigan strawberry farmers weren’t so lucky. The hard frosts coupled with the heavy rain we got in the following weeks took it’s toll on many strawberry crops across the state.

Selling a fresh perishable product that isn’t preserved in any way is its own challenge. The berries are meant to be consumed or cooked with immediately for optimum flavor and freshness. I learned that a lot of their sales aren’t from people stopping at their big red barn to purchase fruit like I thought but rather wholesale, to places like St. Johns Produce, Glei’s Orchards & Greenhouse, and several other local businesses that sell fresh fruit. You will also see them set up at local farmers markets.

Already picked berries waiting to go home with you.

Under the lean to of their pole barn you will find a table filled with flats of berries already picked and waiting to go home with you. To be honest, this is the route I take, maybe when my boys are a bit older that will change. OR you could choose the U-Pick option. If you take this route you will be directed towards the U-Pick Specialist, Sarah. She’s been working at Creek Valley Farm during strawberry season for 9 years.

Sarah, The U-Pick Specialist, will help you when you come to pick fresh strawberries.

Sarah will show you the places to pick, and tell you how to pick, which is helpful not only to them but to those of us who haven’t picked a strawberry in years or maybe even never at all. You must pick all the red berries whether they be large or small, then place a flag at the point where you stopped. This way the folks that come after you get to pick in an unpicked over spot. I had a great time chatting with Sarah about her job. We talked about how grocery store berries can’t beat the flavor of the strawberries here at Creek Valley Farm and she says it largely has to do with the fact that the California grown strawberries that are found in grocery stores across the country are picked before they are ripe otherwise they would spoil before they made it to their destination. This results in firm red berries sure, but they have zero flavor. Buying your strawberries locally from Creek Valley Farm and farms like it ensure that you are getting produce at it’s sweetest and juiciest peak. In my book these tasty little berries are worth every last penny!

One of the things I love about coming to Creek Valley Farm to purchase strawberries every year is the family atmosphere. They remember their customers and greet each one while happily answering any questions you may have. Walking around their beautiful farm to the U-Pick section was really peaceful, it was a beautiful day with a slight breeze and I could hear the creek babbling nearby. The hills, the quiet, delicious berries, and the great people who run this farm are the stuff memories are made of. Taking your family here to pick berries will last with you your whole life, like it has for me. Your kids wont remember it was hot or that it was hard work picking, but they will remember the feeling of accomplishment when they fill their berry box and they will remember the giant strawberry pie heaped with whipped cream you made for desert that night.

If you’d like to visit Creek Valley Farm to get the whole strawberry experience you can stop by during business hours at: 6600 East Camden Road, Waldron, MI 49288 or Click here to like them on Facebook and keep updated on all the goings on of the farm. I hope you stop to get berries here this season, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Already stopped out to Creek Valley Farm to get berries and you want to try something new? Try my recipe for FRESH STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE ICE CREAM!

Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream

Love Strawberry Shortcake? Love Ice Cream? Then my Fresh Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream recipe is for you. Strawberry shortcake is one of my all time favorite summer treats along with Ice Cream. Putting them both together just saves time! All you need is a blender and an Ice Cream Maker to be in dessert heaven.

A heaping bowl of Homemade Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream

Ingredients:

Yield: About 1 quart of ice cream.
Prep Time: 10 min

Total Time: 4 or more hours

Tip: Keep all ingredients as cold as possible to speed up the freezing process.

  • 14oz Sweetened Condensed Milk (you can make your own! find the recipe here)
  • 2 cups Heavy Cream
  • 1 Pint of Fresh Strawberries
  • 1 Small Jar of Your Favorite Strawberry Jam (I use my homemade jam)
  • 2 buttermilk biscuits crumbled
  • A container large enough to hold approximately 1 quart of ice cream (I use a loaf pan)

What To Do:

  1. Prepare your ice cream maker, and place the metal mixing tub in the freezer for at least one hour or overnight.
  2. In a blender combine the sweetened condensed milk and pint of fresh strawberries. Blend for about 20 seconds.
  3. Stir in 2 cups heavy cream then allow mixture to chill in the fridge for an hour.
  4. Pour the strawberry mixture into your ice cream makers mixing tub and assemble the unit. Add ice and salt according to the manufacturers instructions. It should take about 40 minutes for the ice cream to do its thing, during this time bake your biscuits (I make biscuits ahead of time and freeze them for occasions such as this) and crumble them up.
  5. When the ice cream maker stops spread 1/3rd of the ice cream into the bottom of your ice cream container. Sprinkle biscuit crumbs and dollop jam around it to your taste. Repeat the layers leaving a little jam and biscuit crumbs for the top.
  6. Now comes the hardest part: Place the ice cream into the freezer and let it chill at least 4 hours or overnight before digging in.

This ice cream is rich, with the perfect mixture of tart and sweet. It’s great after a hot summer day working outside. Strawberry season comes but once a year, ENJOY it!

Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Is A Hit!

Five Tips For Simpler Holidays

It is the season of excess, but it doesn’t have to mean excess stress! Here are 5 things I have started doing to make my life (and the lives of those who live with me) easier around the holidays. Plus our recipe for crock pot hot chocolate, which is sure to become a holiday favorite with your family, too!

apple pie_1
Apple pie

1. Make pie dough ahead of time, when you actually have time to do it. I like to make four batches of pie dough, shape them into balls, wrap them in plastic wrap, and freeze them in a freezer bag until I need them. Just get them out to thaw in the fridge the night before you need to bake a pie. They are ready to be rolled, filled, and baked, and you don’t have to worry about cleaning up extra dishes.  Another thing you can do to eliminate pie pressure during the holidays is to can your own pie filling during the season; then all you have to do is dump it in and bake it according to your recipes directions.

pie filling dough
Pie filling and frozen pie dough

2. Homemade gifts. You, sir or ma’am, have worked your tail off this year preserving the finest fruit, vegetables, meats, and herbs from your homestead. Why not share the bounty? In the process, you will showcase all of your hard work. I personally love a homemade gift, especially if I can eat it. Think about it — not everyone gets to have homemade apple sauce, preserves, peaches, spaghetti sauce, or canned green beans just like Granny used to make. I also like to attach recipes to my jars; for instance, if I send someone a can of beef, I like to share my recipe for crock-pot vegetable beef soup. If I give a jar of apple pie filling, it’s nice to give them the recipe for crumble topping for an easy apple crisp. Maple syrup, honey, and even eggs make lovely gifts, too. Your life is already abundant — share it!

cookie dough_1
Frozen cookie dough

3. Make double batches of cookies. You’re already making a mess; why not go the extra mile? If you make cookies occasionally throughout the year, you may want to consider doubling the batch. I like to make double batches when I make any kind of drop cookie or cookie you roll into a ball. I bake one batch, and the second batch I scoop with a medium sized melon baller onto a lined baking sheet and pop into the freezer. Peanut butter or molasses cookies can be rolled into balls and rolled in sugar before placing on the sheet to be frozen. I then put the frozen cookie dough into freezer bags with the type of cookie, bake temp, and time written on it. If you have an unexpected party (or one you forgot), you can bake up a batch of homemade cookies quicker than quick, and you wont have any mess to contend with other than the cookie sheet! They also make great gifts around the holidays when people get lots of goodies. Frozen cookie dough allows folks to enjoy your treats well after the sugar surge of the holidays is over.

4. Chop peel and prepare … check! One thing I have found that eliminates stress at crunch time is to have all of the little things taken care of. The night before, I chop and peel my veggies. While that seems pretty straightforward, it is a time saver. As I go along, I check things off of the list I have created to make sure I don’t forget anything. I also like to measure all my spices and other dry ingredients for each dish and combine in small glass bowls. All I have to do is grab a bowl and dump it in as I go.

5. Simplify. Do we really need to have three meats? Six different kinds of pie? Maybe settle on brunch this year! And don’t let your guests slack off, either; have them bring one of their favorite dishes. Since we will be running around trying to hit every Christmas party like crazy people in the time leading up to Christmas, our plan for Christmas Day consists of waking up, watching our boys open their gifts, sipping some coffee, and enjoying a potluck brunch with our family (and maybe some mimosas!), all from the comfort of our cozy flannel jammies! This means that there will be a crock pot full of our most favorite winter time treat … crock pot hot chocolate!!

Here is the recipe. I hope your family enjoys it as much as we do.

Crock Pot Hot Chocolate

Cook time: 2 hours

Ingredients:

• 1-1/2 quarts whole milk (if you have your own it’s even better!)
• 12 oz. whipping cream
• 14 oz. sweetened condensed milk (see recipe below, or use canned)
• Vanilla to taste (I never ever measure vanilla)
• 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
• 1 cup milk chocolate chips
• Cinnamon to taste (optional)

Instructions:

1. Turn crock pot on low and combine whipping cream and sweetened condensed milk. Add vanilla and chocolate chips, stir in whole milk.

2. Place the lid on and let cook for 2 hours, stir with whisk occasionally, until all chocolate is melted.

3. Ladle into mugs and enjoy with a marshmallow or a shot of whipped cream! This stuff is dessert in and of itself!

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk:

Yield: 2 cups

• 1 cup whole milk
• 2/3 cup sugar
• 3 tablespoons butter, melted
• 1/3 cup boiling water
• pinch of salt

1. Mix all ingredients in a medium pan. Heat until sugar is dissolved. Stir constantly with whisk.

Jake with a mug