Strawberry Fields Forever

Not quite Beatlesque, but a recent update from one of the musicians I follow, Jake Armerding, professed his love of all things strawberries, including their fields…

I wish I was this passionate about something, maybe not strawberries, but something.  And then I wish I could something like strawberries and tell a story about they are the quintessential fruit…

Wonder if I could find a way to make Clemson the basis for all things?  Maybe I’ll try…

Anyway – enjoy the update from Jake, and check him out if you get a chance:

It’s been said that beer is God’s way of telling us he loves us and wants us to be happy.  I agree with this, depending on the beer, of course.  I would like to suggest an addendum, however — that God’s other way of telling us this is strawberries.

Happy June, better known as Happy Strawberry Season.  Last gorgeous Saturday found me picking them at a farm in Western Massachusetts, and it occurred to me, while brushing leaves aside in search for these clusters of joy, that, really, there is no more perfect fruit.  Let me prove it to you.

First, who doesn’t like strawberries?  (Silence.)  I thought so.  Almost a cliché in the fruit universe, you can’t argue with what works.

It’s a beautiful fruit, undeniably sensual, shaped differently depending on the varietal.  The color ranges from bloodred to a shade I can only call strawberry blonde.  Rather than a big, tooth-chipping stone in the center, seeds pepper the outside of the fruit, a fashionable clothing pattern.  And more than any other fruit except the banana, the strawberry seems almost designed to be eaten:  bite-sized, it comes with a finger handle of leaves at the top for convenient edibility.  (Contrast this with the pineapple.)

The flavors are more varied and complex than other fruit.  You know what I mean — we’ve all bitten into a “bright” strawberry, a “deep” strawberry, a “smooth” one, a “mellow” one.  They are tart, earthy, ambrosial, flowery, savory.  They can take on the flavors of other plants — I ate one in the field that tasted distinctly of peppermint, another of watermelon.  We should have strawberry sommeliers.

The strawberry is uncompromising — something either is a strawberry, or it isn’t.  It’s the only fruit that can’t be faked.  Every so often some overconfident junk food company releases a strawberry-flavored soda, or cereal with small, red strawberry pebbles, or something of the like.  It never works — it always tastes awful.  Why?  Because one cannot simulate its true flavor.  They can fake citrus pretty well, and faux banana, apple, tomato and peach are coming right along.  But strawberries are just too elusive and complex to re-create in a lab.

Perhaps the strawberry’s most effective defense against copyright infringement is its fleeting nature.  It is coy, or maybe elusive is a better word.  It never tastes better than the moment you pick it.  Any plant will eventually rot, but real strawberries have a much shorter lifespan than, say, Granny Smith apples, which can fly in from Australia, lie forgotten in the bottom of the refrigerator for many weeks and still retain a decent crunch.  The fruit is delicate, easily bruised.  It stores poorly — a few days at most, unless frozen, and when thawed, its cell structure collapses, leaving strawberry blob.  So the strawberry retains an air of mystery, a here-today-gone-tomorrow quality … which I’ve never found to be an obstacle.  I just eat more right away.

Picking strawberries is the perfect activity, innocent yet competitive.  It offers the bloodthirsty thrill of the hunt, but disguises it with bucolic surroundings; it lets everyone’s greedy inner child come out in a responsible, adult way.  For several years, my poor, naïve parents sought to entertain their kids with a chocolate egg hunt on Easter morning.  Having twenty inches and forty pounds on my brothers, I must have tallied forty or fifty of those things before one of them even got their hands on one.  I haven’t really come a long way since then, but strawberry-picking gives me a civilized way to appease the cutthroat inside.  Anyone who meanders too close to my chosen patch might notice my body language subtly shift into protective mode, digging my feet in as though preparing for trench warfare.  It’s really immature.

My better half and I picked eight quarts — the amount our CSA share entitles us to — then rose and tried to leave the field.  It was hard.  Luscious red berries kept peeking out at us from under their canopies of leaves, and how could we walk by?  We had to stop and harvest this fruit so patently dying to be picked and eaten.

We tried again to leave.  “Just don’t look down,” we encouraged each other.  “Then you won’t see any more.”  We looked down.  We saw.  We stopped, and picked, and ate.

Finally, somehow, we left.  We drove off into the June afternoon, our car reeking of strawberries.

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