THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
From My Window
Issue Date: July 8, 2020
Strawberry Fields Forever
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
I am seeing the hand-made signs "Strawberries!" along the roadsides, and enjoy seeing friends posting pictures of freshly-picked locally grown berries they picked. The berries you get from local sources are nothing like the ones in the store " maybe a little bit seedier, definitely smaller, and possibly having a little bit of sand on them. But they taste so good, so much better than store-bought ones. They are often still warm from the sun, absolutely fresh, and if you pick your own you can avoid those half-ripe or over-ripe ones that mar the commercial packages-annoyingly, most times some of each in every box!
Many of these berries are destined to grace some variety of shortcake - one of America's classic desserts and also one of my favorites. Others will go into strawberry jam, another classic. When I was little my Mom made her jam and then poured liquid paraffin on top to help seal and protect each jar, but when I got older "strawberry freezer jam" swept the nation. Mom still makes the freezer jam, and it is my husband's absolute favorite.
I really love strawberry-rhubarb pie although I know several people who think it is blasphemy to ruin any strawberry pie by adding rhubarb.
Having big warm-state commercial growers means we can get fresh strawberries at the grocery store nearly all year round, if we are willing to pay steep winter prices and accept lower quality. I have written before about the variety most commercial growers have now " huge, watery berries, so big that less than a dozen fill the see-through plastic containers they are sold in. Last time I bought these I was looking at the wasted space in the container, and, needless to say, the wasted plastic, and had an idea.
The growers should start having agricultural workers attach small, square plastic cubes to each berry stem just as the berry starts to grow. This will force the berries to grow in square shapes, which will stack neatly in the plastic sales container. Much less wasted space in the packages. (I am joking, of course, but wouldn't be utterly shocked if they did start breeding square berries. Also, the plastic manufacturers would be more than happy to make more plastic containers, resulting in us stuffing our landfills with single-use plastics.)
But the best berries, the ones I truly love, are the tiny ancestral wild strawberries. They are hiding in plain sight along the roadsides right now. The berries are about the size of a pencil eraser, with a bright, sweet/tart flavor like no other berry has. You must hunt for them, because the devious plant develops red leaflets at the same time, and you get fooled frequently.
It is hard to imagine early settlers trying to pick enough of these for winter preserves, but they apparently did, before better berry varieties were bred. I seldom find enough for even a handful but no matter, I eat them as fast as I find them. It would take me many hours and a lot of luck to pick enough for even a single pint of jam. (The luck is needed for you to find the tiny ripe berries before the feasting birds do!)
Recently I got the chance to take a walk with my delightful three year old granddaughter. We happened upon some wild strawberries and after showing her the plants, I picked a few and offered them to her. "Try them!" I said. "These are strawberries!" She gave me that look I get when she is trying to be respectful and polite but it is obvious that I am off my rocker. She knows what store-bought berries look like and she's been out picking at a farm with her Mom. These tiny things at the edge of the wood's edge couldn't possibly be strawberries.
But she eventually humored me after I ate a few. She tried one, her eyes got big, and she began hunting her own with enthusiasm.
My day with her was sweeter than any strawberry dessert could ever be.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.