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The berries are here, finally

Strawberries hit fruit stands in East County weeks later than usual
by: Jim Clark Katrina Ramsey helps a customer with her strawberry purchase at the Troutdale Fruit Stop on Friday,  June 17.

Jenna Oakley has waited long enough.

'They're like three weeks late,' she says, loading a flat of bright red, fragrant hood strawberries into her car at the Troutdale Fruit Stop. 'I was getting impatient. Really impatient.'

It's a common refrain at fruit stands across East Multnomah County.

Blame the wetter- and colder-than-usual spring: A spring so nasty it's been dubbed the state's second-wettest spring in 117 years of record keeping by the National Climactic Data Center.

But now, with Tuesday, June 21, marking the first official day of summer, locals are clamoring for their strawberries, especially the hood variety.

'They're super good,' says Oakley of Troutdale, as her son, Elliott DeMain, 8, and daughter, Astrid DeMain, 6, nod in agreement. 'We love 'em. They're delicious.'

The family pops them in their mouths like candy. When the berries get mushy, they use them in smoothies. Oakley also stocks her freezer with frozen strawberries so the family can enjoy them year-round.

This year, Oakley plans to puree softer berries, pour the mixture into ice cube trays and drop the cubes into lemonade.

Katrina Ramsey, who works the counter at the Troutdale Fruit Stop, says the first hoods came in two weeks ago and created quite a clamor.

'Those first few flats went incredibly quickly, within an hour or so,' she says. One woman slammed on her brakes upon seeing the berries in stock.

'She came bounding out of her car and threw up her hands and said, 'They're finally here!' ' Ramsey recalls. 'That's the general sentiment of everybody.'

Gresham resident Shirley Hormann says her daughter, Brenda Sherman, of Troutdale, spotted the berries at the Troutdale Fruit Stop on Thursday, June 16. They returned Friday to buy some, with Hormann's daughter, Ellen Blackwell of Austin, Texas, in tow. She was in town for her parent's 60th wedding anniversary.

'We can't get anything like this down there,' Blackwell says of the berries.

'They're always so good,' her mom says. 'I get them here every year.'

Over on Cherry Park Road at 242nd Avenue, the Fujii Farms stand is doing a brisk berry business.

'Oh, they're thrilled,' says staffer Linda Mishima. 'The first thing they say is, 'It smells good and it's about time.' They've always been anxious, but we are really late this year.'

Chuck Garner of Gresham took a wrong turn going to Home Depot and happily landed at the berry stand, where he bought a flat of hoods.

He plans to use them in strawberry shortcake and freeze the rest to eat with ice cream.

'They're the first of the season,' he says, admitting that during the lull in the local berry supply he had to get by with California strawberries. 'There's definitely a difference,' he says between the flavor of local hood strawberries and those from the Sunshine State.

'There ain't no doubt, there's a difference,' Garner says. 'And I don't like to get strawberries without much flavor. It's kind of a waste.'

Aimee Simmons and Hayven Zielinski, both of Troutdale, stop by for strawberries to add to a fruit salad.

'I'm glad to see the berries out,' Simmons says. 'If I had room I would grow them myself. But the weather's been crazy. I'm worried about my tomatoes.'

'I'm surprised anything's growing,' quips Eric Bergstrom while toting a half crate of hoods to his car. It's an impulse buy: 'I saw the sign for hood strawberries, pulled over and bought some thinking, 'There's a treat that can't be beat.' '

Bergstrom, who grew up in Portland and now lives in Tacoma, called the hood a completely unique berry.

'The funny thing is people outside of Portland don't know about them,' he says of the hood variety. 'You say hood strawberries and they don't know what you're talking about.'

Considering the high local demand for the berries, we might want to keep it that way.

When will other berries hit fruit stands?

Raspberries - Tuesday, June 28

Blueberries - Saturday, July 2

Blackberries - Sunday, July 10

Source: Fujii Farms