The first glimpses of red began peeking out from beneath their straw-covered shelters about a week ago. At Johnson's Strawberry Farm in Hobart, Indiana, that means it's all hands on deck.
"Three to four weeks, depending on the weather; a good season for us is about June 1 to July 4," said Rodney Johnson, one of the owners.
Unlike their cousins on the West Coast, the strawberries in our area tend to be less diverse.
"One of our biggest challenges are the varieties here in the Midwest. We're stuck to some pretty old varieties; most of these varieties have been around for 25 years," Johnson said.
Unlike other fruits, strawberries get their name from their means of protection.
"The straw insulates the ground; it keeps it from real extreme temperature changes. The strawberries go dormant right before winter, and as long as the temperature doesn't drop too drastically, they're a perennial, they'll come back next year."
At this weekend's Strawberry Madness Festival, there will be strawberries in nearly every form: pies, cheesecake and shortcake, of course -- but some chefs get even more creative.
At Jam in Logan Square, where breakfast and lunch often turn into minor works of art. Chef Jeff Mauro typically offers a few strawberry creations this time of year, like a petite "amuse" of mini buckwheat shortcakes, embedded with bits of rhubarb and lime zest. Or more substantial plates like a waffle that's surrounded by bits of strawberry, as well as puree.. Topped with a Scotch egg that's been engulfed in cotechino sausage and deep-fried.
"That waffle just sort of soaks all that up, but then there's this heavy fat content; you need a little bit of that sweet and acid to break through that, to help balance that out," said Mauro.
Strawberry Madness happens this weekend at Johnson's Farm in Hobart, Ind. Next weekend, there's the Long Grove Strawberry Festival. You'll also find them at just about any farmer's market this month, but as Rodney Johnson said, the season will wrap up around July 4.
Johnson's Strawberry Farm
8960 E. Ridge Rd., Hobart, IN
Also in Valparaiso:
718 West HWY 30, Valparaiso, IN
Jam 3057 W. Logan Blvd.
Long Grove Strawberry Fest
June 21 - 23
10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Visitor's Information Center: 847-634-0888