Posted by: 1of10boyz | April 11, 2012

Berries and Jam


We had a special holiday here in China, International Women’s Day. It is a half-day holiday for the women. One of the companies that has people out here on the site took their women to a u-pick strawberry farm by Yantai. When they returned to work the next day they had some of biggest beautiful strawberries I have seen. I got one of them to write down the address and phone number so that I could take LaDawna there for the weekend.

One of the things that has been hard on us here in China is the inability to go and do some of the things we take for granted in the US. We have always enjoyed making some of the food products we enjoy and I enjoy being involved in that process. I think that it reminds me of the times that I would help my Mother in those activities when I was young. I am certain that I wasn’t much help and that I didn’t help often but I remember the experiences none the less.

We have not really done much “exploring” in China like we have in other places we have lived. It just isn’t the same when you have to have a driver to do that. It isn’t like you can just get in the car and go for a drive. I played a game with the kids when they were younger. I called it Right/Left. Basically, we got to an intersection and gave the kids the choice to chose right or left or straight. Whichever direction was chosen that is where we went; one of those kinds of things where if you don’t care where you are going it doesn’t really matter which direction you go. We had many fun trips doing that and saw places that we might not have seen otherwise. I don’t know how I could even explain the concept to our driver.

We gave the address to Hyrum and we were off on our way as he loads the coordinates into the GPS. We have been to Yantai on several occasions but we soon deviate from the path that we normally take and find ourselves travelling through fruit country. There are many orchards and little rural villages. We can see that today is also laundry day for the peasants. We see many ladies down at the edge of the streams with their laundry baskets washing their clothes. Nothing like washing clothes in a stream of water in March with the temperatures only in the low 40F’s to make you appreciate living in America or having a washing machine in your apartment.

We begin to see signs that this is cherry country. We got to China last year right after cherry season. We are excited about cherry season. Cherries are one of my most favorite fruits. I am also looking forward to driving through this region when the fruit trees are in blossom. I imagine that it will be a completely different experience then. We are finally in the general area for the strawberry fields. One of the challenges with China and directions is it is still very much a rural and unorganized country. Even with the GPS it is difficult to find the locations we want to go to. We follow the GPS as it tells us that we are going to find the location on the right. What we realize is that no one knows where the location is. We call the location and they provide us with directions and after several phone conversations and man-on-the-street discussions we are able to find the owner.

We follow him from his little home in the village out and into the fields, he is driving is little scooter we are driving in our car. We arrive at several long rows of greenhouses. We exit the car and get our buckets out, finally understand that we just go inside the green houses and start picking. The trip here, including the time we are lost and unable to find the place is about 1.5 hours.

We enter the greenhouse through the little hut built on the end. The growing section of the greenhouse is about 100 meters long, it is covered in plastic and the ribs and supports are quite permanent unlike the ones that we see around the Expert Village that are using bamboo ribs. These ribs are bamboo but the supports are metal and concrete similar in size and shape to a 2×4. The center of the arc of the green house is about 7 feet, the edges are closer to 4 feet. I find it difficult to work the edges but that is where the best strawberries are, apparently even the much shorter Chinese find the edges difficult to work in also.

The rows of strawberries are planted two plants wide on a raised berm that is about 1 foot wide and about 16 inches deep. We are able to straddle the berm and walk with our feet inside the trenches. The berm is covered with plastic and the strawberry plants are growing through holes cut in the plastic. The aroma of fresh strawberries fills the air. It is time to pick. The fun is about to begin.

We pick for about 30 minutes and find some of the most fabulous berries I have seen. I know that these berries are fresh and ripe. We only pick the ripe ones since we are not going to have to keep them around long, they will either be cut and prepared for the freezer to make smoothies or they will be turned into jam. There is no reason to pick ones that aren’t ready for immediate consumption.

It is hard to stop picking, there are so many berries that we see. We finally drag ourselves with the two full containers of berries and an additional half flat box we got there out of the greenhouse. We go to an adjacent hut and put our berries on the scale. We have picked about 11 kilos of strawberries, nearly 25 pounds, roughly about a pound a minute. The cost for our little adventure in the greenhouse; $30 RMB each for picking and $24 RMB per Kilo, a grand total of $330 RMB; that comes to a grand total of just over $50 USD.

I spend the rest of Saturday preparing strawberries. Washing, cleaning, sorting, and cutting strawberries until we are ready to proceed to the next step. We freeze those that are going to be smoothies and I start the first batch of strawberry jam. We have to borrow some jars from the neighbors upstairs but finally have enough jars to do the jam. We end up with just a little over 35 pints of jam. We trade the empty jars for a couple of filled ones and put the rest on the shelf. We end up with several that don’t look like they are going to set so we might have some strawberry syrup for packages but that isn’t such a bad thing either.

It does create a dilemma for us now, all of our jars are full and we don’t have any more. We need to see if we can find canning jars in this country. We have been told by others that they have seen them in one of the stores while shopping but they don’t remember where. It is going to be a challenge to find jars I am afraid.

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