When I lived on Long Island, strawberry season was always between Memorial Day and Father’s Day. In that short stretch, when we lived on Long Island, Juana would get me out to the Eastern End farms to pick strawberries for eating and jelly. It was one of her favorite activities now reminding her how she, her sisters and mother would do the same when she was younger and how our daughters Kathryn and Sarah would join them when she was older. We don’t have that opportunity now, but we do have strawberry patches, which expended from one to four over the last year.
I’m not sure how it happened, but the quadrupling of garden area dedicated to strawberries combined with a great growing season is giving us record amounts of this yummy red fruit. Right before I got back from my bike trip, Juana and Charlotte would get the newspaper and a small basket of ripening strawberries in the morning before breakfast. When Charlotte, who is as tenacious as the chipmunks we have gotten under control, helps it is difficult to come back with a full load. But with years and maturity, she has been able to control her herbaceous appetite. In fact, she has become the perfect helper as from her vantage, which is low to the ground, she has a unique perspective on where the most ripe strawberries rest in the garden.
Today was my first day back in the garden and it was amazing to see how much the patch had matured. Juana got me to net all the strawberries before I left to discourage birds and other predators from eating all the fruit. Running my fingers through the tall leaves I could feel and see the many bunches of berries that had formed in my absence. Many were tiny and lightly colored, just emerging from the flowers that had been pollinated. Because I had left an inch or so of straw on the ground this spring, the slugs had mostly kept to themselves and I didn’t find any berries that had a sluggy passenger.
So pulling up the netting I carefully looked about for this morning’s fruit. Being color blind, I often pick berries that are not yet ripe, but I am learning not to choose any berry that has a light tip, though I am far from perfect in these selections. It is more difficult for Juana and Charlotte to get berries that are in the backs of the beds as their arms are not long enough. Even I am challenged in this regard, but I have figured out different positions so that I can reach any berry in the garden.
Like Charlotte, I cannot resist taking a bite of a freshly harvested berry. This year they are perfect: no slug marks, nice and firm, good shape. As we apply no chemicals to them, they don’t need to be washed before eating. I take my first bite and the inherent sweetness and flavor takes me back to Long Island and Lewin Farm where I first picked strawberries with Juana and her family. These berries taste nothing like the ones that are store bought. I keep filling the colander until it is full and put back the netting. I spot another perfect strawberry that I had missed. Thinking like Charlotte I pop it into my mouth and savor the moment.