There are a lot of things to love about Arkansas in the spring. From a food perspective, nothing is better than fresh Arkansas strawberries. Strawberry season typically runs from the last week of April until the first week of June.
If you are somehow unfamiliar with Arkansas strawberries let me give you some perspective. Take your local super market strawberry and cut it in half. What you will typically find is a bit of red around the edges leading to a nearly solid white center. Your flavor and sweetness exist in the red part, where the lighter color is almost all water.
The main reason for this is that your average supermarket berry is shipped in from California. Strawberries, unlike some other fruits, do not continue to ripen once cut from the vine. A fully ripened strawberry will only last a couple of days after being picked, where a slightly unripe berry can hold for a week or more depending on preservation methods.
Guess which one is sitting in your supermarket year around.
There really is no comparison. After eating an Arkansas strawberry the supermarket ones will taste a bit like the Boone’s Farm of strawberries.
To check out this year’s crop of strawberries we grabbed a couple of our favorites. We picked Barnhill Orchards of Lonoke (pictured above) and Holland Bottom Farms from Cabot (pictured below) for our face off.
First off, there is not a loser between the two. You are going to be very happy with either direction you go. Your location, however, will likely be a determining factor in your berry selection.
Barnhill Orchards maintains a strong presence in the Little Rock area. You can find a booth at Hillcrest, Argenta, and Bernice Garden’s farmers markets. As a result the majority of fresh strawberries used in local restaurants and purchased by residents come from Barnhill.
Holland Bottom berries are a bit harder to come by. You can occasionally find these berries second hand at the Little Rock Farmer’s Market (not that anyone seeking local food goes there anymore), but the most direct way is the Holland Bottom produce stand on Highway 321 in Cabot. So unless you are living north east of the city, have a compelling reason to go there, or have a friend you can talk into picking some up, these strawberries are going to be out of your way.
Availability comes with a charge. If you are only picking up a few to enjoy at home, the price difference will not be a huge selling point. If you are a restaurant and need to go through a large batch then it may matter a bit.
Barnhill at last check was running at $7/quart at Hillcrest farmer’s market. I am sure you can talk them into a discount for bulk quantities, but the convenience cost of being able to pick these up in the city is certainly there.
Holland Bottom sold their berries by the bucket for $15/bucket. In total it was equal to about 4 quart containers from Barnhill. Again, likely cheaper in larger quantities.
Both strawberries are exceptional and taste will likely vary slightly between pickings. We sampled both at the peak of the season, so depending on growing methods the two may have a greater variety during different times of the year.
That said both showed strong flavor throughout. If I had to give an edge it would be with Holland Bottom. The berry has a bit more firmness while bringing a slightly sweeter overall taste.
Finally you want strawberries that maintain some consistency berry to berry, especially if you are serving in a restaurant where you will use several throughout the day and can have an impact on the flavor of a dish.
My sample size with Holland Bottom was noticeably larger and contained the greatest variety. Occasionally I would come across a strawberry that was not quite as sweet as the others. Barnhill (again smaller sample) maintained the same level of berry throughout the entire container. Slight edge goes to Barnhill, although like everything else, only slight.
There really is no loser between either strawberry farm you go with this time of year. Either will give you a better berry than anything else you will find. If you are cost conscious and need to make a trip near Cabot, I would say go with Holland Bottom. If you are just enjoying the growing season and want to pick up some outstanding berries to enjoy, stay with Barnhill.
Either way you go you will not be disappointed, and it will be hard to eat supermarket strawberries again.