It’s strawberry time again! Supermarkets are selling a bumper crop at discount prices. I too, am revelling in a bumper crop, but by no means of the same proportions.
The little tiered planter-stand my husband commissioned for me, built by my clever son-in-law, is sprouting strawberry plants. Last year the plants produced very few strawberries. But this year when the flowers began, I knew it was going to be a bumper year.
It’s all a matter of proportion though. Overall, I would be lucky to get enough to fill a 500 gram punnet. Why would I bother you might ask, when I can get two punnets for the price of one in the supermarket at the moment?
Well, for me it’s not about the size of the crop. Or even the convenience of buying them from the store. It’s the delicious anticipation of tasting the past. Each morning I check the plants. Are there more flower buds? Are the green fruit any closer to turning luscious red? Perhaps I can hide the ripening berries beneath the leaves to trick marauders?
When I was a child, like many families of the time, we grew most of the vegetables for our family’s needs. Our large backyard was orchard-like with cherry plums, apricots, peaches and a very climbable fig tree, crucial for when the figs ripened.We also had ducks and chooks for fresh eggs. I remember my mother ushering me indoors when it was time to ‘euthanize’ a rooster, or provide a chicken for the pot. Of course we didn’t use those terms then.
My dad would say, ‘it’s time to knock its head off ‘ which meant hearing him sharpen the axe on a foot-pedalled sandstone wheel in the woodshed, so the poor bird would be dealt with as humanely as possible on the wood-chopping block. As common as it was then, I rarely fail to conjure that image whenever I hear someone chopping wood. Even so, roast chicken never tasted so good.
Among the various vegetables we grew, there was also a large bed of strawberry plants. The raised rows were replenished with runners from the previous year and mulched liberally with hay or straw, which is where I had always imagined the name ‘strawberry’ originated, erroneously it seems. Strawberries are not actually berries either, but rather an aggregate accessory fruit.
Many memorable summer afternoons were spent picking the fruit for that evening’s dessert with more being dribbled down chins, devoured, or smeared on clothing, than ever went into the bowl. Served with Mum’s home-made ice cream, there was nothing quite like those strawberries.
I think of those times now when I pluck a ripe fruit and suck on it while I peruse my tiny courtyard garden. Somehow the aroma and flavour is so much better than commercially grown fruit. But even from my garden, strawberries have never tasted the way they did when I was a little girl.
One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste.