For Czechs, strawberry picking is to summer what mushrooming is to autumn. What we call “u-pick” in American English is samosběr in Czech, and if you’ve never gotten juice on your hands in the name of a good shortcake there’s no better time to pack up the family and go. The season typically begins in late May and lasts until the end of June or mid July. Like it’s done in America, all you need are buckets or bags which will be weighed upon entry—and sufficient stamina for all that bending and stretching beneath the heat of the summer sun.
Strawberries don’t sleep-in which means most strawberry fields open around 7am come rain or shine and close by 5 or 6pm. You’ll generally pay 30-40 CZK for 1 kg (2 lb) of fruit, though the farther outside of Prague you go, prices tend to come down a bit. (Some u-pick fields actually request a deposit to ensure against theft and/or rowdy behavior!) If you’re injured, indisposed, or just plain lazy you can pick up a kilo of freshly picked strawberries for about 60 CZK.
There are a number of strawberry patches within Prague and in the neighboring countryside. Jahodárna Vraňany in Mělník gets a lot of Prague business, city folk lining up for strawberries to preserve or put in dumplings. The Web site promises an ecologically farmed strawberry that’s just the opposite of the bland cover versions sold in stores. Self-pick strawberries are 35 CZK per kilo and you can buy a basket for use on the spot. According to owner Milan Hanc, most families take home around 9 kilos (20 lb).
Head toward Beroun to the village of Svinaře, where you’ll find the Nosek Strawberry Farm and Ranch. Located in the Berounka River valley, the self-pick strawberry field is part of an historic chateau-farmhouse complex, that’s not far from Svatý Jan pod Skalou, Karlštejn Castle, and other Central Bohemian landmarks. The Nosek’s farmland dates back to the Thirty Years War; the family is currently restoring the property, but the strawberry patch is still open for business starting in June.
Here in Prague, Kunratice is synonymous with strawberries, thanks to the Jakoubek family. We spoke to Jiří Jakoubek, third in a long line of strawberry growers, and owner of Kunratické Jahody. “Our history goes way back,” says Jakoubek. “In 1964 my father Václav won a gold medal for his Senga Sengana strawberry, and a silver for his Senga Gigana at the World Gardening Exhibition in Vienna.” He adds, “We started our self-pick business in 1993 after the collapse of the agricultural cooperatives. Today we farm about 26 hectares (64 acres).”
Kunractické Jahody gets about 1,300 self-pick visitors a year. Prices vary but typically come in under 40 CZK per kilo. What makes these strawberries so special? “Our fields are in the rocky soil of the Průhonické Basin which is heated and permeable,” says Jakoubek. This fertile soil cultivates several varieties of strawberries. “Mainly Korona [known for their robust flavor, aroma, and large red fruits] but we also have a variety of Elsanta [what you see in the grocery store], and a small amount of Honeoye [particularly crimson and good for jams]. Right now we’re experimenting with new varieties such as a the late-season strawberry, Florence [well-suited for growing in space-saving containers].”
Jakoubek recommends preserving—or eating—your self-harvested crop without delay. “Our strawberries are not grown for durability, but for taste. What you pick is fully mature and intended for immediate consumption or processing. ” Should you store them overnight in the refrigerator, he strongly recommends eating the strawberries the very next day. Jakoubek shares his family’s special recipe: “Layer some piškoty [those little coin-sized Czech biscuits that come in a bag] in a glass dish. Slice the strawberries in half and mix with sour cream and a sprinkle of vanilla sugar. Pour this mixture over the biscuits and repeat the layers. Chill overnight.”
Jakoubek also suggests cleaning, hulling, and mashing your strawberries and serving them in a parfait glass over ice cream or fresh whipped cream, or making a smoothie of mashed strawberries, sugar, buttermilk, or kefir. “It’s a wonderfully thick and delicious drink—obviously the more strawberries you put in the better.”
Kunractické Jahody is usually open for self-pick business Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, but check their website for extended hours and special events. To get there take the 114 bus from metro line C Kačerov, or the 165 bus from metro line C Opatov to the stop “Šeberák.” From the bus stop you’ll see signs marked “samosběr”.