Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fresh Fruit

Notice the strawberries!

Colorful and fresh.

A recurring theme in my thinking and writing is the lack of good gardening conditions where I now live. Growing fruit and vegetables for fresh eating and to "put up" for winter was a major part of my life for many years. Nothing can equal a tomato picked and eaten in the garden, the sun-warmed juice dribbling down one's chin or the taste of berries just plucked and eaten from sticky fingers.

Many berries grow wild in New England, tiny sweet-tart strawberries nestled in a green meadow, blackberries the size of my thumb drooping from the bushes in late summer, blueberries gathered on a high round hillside while the white-throated sparrows sang against a blue sky. Then there were the numerous acres devoted to "pick-your-own" strawberries a short drive away. It was sensible to arrive there early on a mid-June morning, but I have often picked berries late in the afternoon when a day's sunshine had warmed them and the delicious aroma of ripe strawberries hung over the entire field. The first stop was at a shed where trays of heavy waxed cardboard were handed out. I usually went with friends or family and was always the one who wanted to linger and heap still one more tray. We made strawberry shortcake--crumbly homemade biscuits and whipped heavy cream--no substitutes for the real thing. We invited neighbors to share this nightly treat. My husband produced strawberry ice cream from a vintage hand-cranked ice cream maker. Berries went into the freezer, were made into jam in the all too brief season.

Strawberries [any fruit for that matter] are disappointing purchased here from the supermarket. No matter how red the exterior, they are usually tough and white in the interior, lacking in juiciness and flavor.

Last week, traveling to Yuma, AZ we kept watch for a roadside market we have noticed on other trips. Located between Columbus and Quartzite, it consists of a few tables sheltered by canvas. Refridgerated trucks were drawn up alongside when we stopped. Knowing we must buy only what we could consume that day, we settled for 4 bananas and a plastic box of strawberries. I set the berries between us in the car and we ate nearly all of them before we reached our motel. They were not quite the equal of the berries picked from maple-bordered fields in Vermont, but they were the best we have eaten in many years.

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