Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Seven Lessons From Strawberries

I learned a lot of lessons from strawberries.
Timing is critical. We can eat strawberries any time of the year here in the US. I guess they grow them all the time in California and ship them everywhere. However, there's something about fresh-picked, vine-ripened-in-the-spring-sunshine strawberries that stands apart. The sharp tang when you bite into one that isn't quite ripe. The sugary sweetness biting into one that is just past its prime, but not by much. Then there is the perfect blend of tart and sweet when you bite into a strawberry that is at its peak, picked at the pinnacle of perfection for that berry, for that vine, for that spring.
The best are hidden. Though it is not always true, some of the best strawberries are hidden under the leaves of the plant, usually plump and supported by the runners the plants send out. You have to move the leaves to spot them, but when you see them, you know it. The bright red surface of the berries gleam in the revealing light, and they have a glow that draws your eye to them.
How they smell tells you if they are good. Not all strawberries are tasty. Some look good, but are bland. That's the case with most hot-house strawberries, which is why I don't often eat store-bought ones. Some might look good on one side but are rotten on the other. The bland ones have almost no smell. The rotten ones give a slight sickly-sweet stench that tells you to avoid them. A really good strawberry smells fantastic, tickling your nose and making you move toward it, not away.
Loose sandy soil, not thick rich soil, produces the best ones. I don't know why, but when strawberry plants are put into ground that is too rich, they just don't develop good-tasting berries. The too-rich soil spoils the berry plant, and it often withers after producing fruit that might look good, but has little taste. A good soil, slightly sandy, produces the best berries. There is enough drainage that the water flows past the plant, watering the berries, and moves on. The strawberries take only the water they need, and don't hoard it, but let the water move on to other plants.
Even good ones get attacked. There is no experience quite like it, and you'll never forget when it happens. You bend over the strawberry plant. You spot the perfect berry. It looks amazing. You can smell it, and your mouth waters. You pick the berry and pop it in your mouth. One bite and the sweet juice flows in your mouth, followed quickly by the crackle and pungent taste of a stink-bug hidden on the side of the berry you didn't see. The lesson here is to be careful, and help get rid of the pests.
They have their time, they have their purpose. There is a thing about berries, especially strawberries. In this case it doesn't matter if they are store-bought or not. Bring them home and let them sit, save them for some unforeseen future date and they grow this strange white and blue-green mold. Maybe the mold is good for you, too, but the berries are lost. Eat them when they are ready. Enjoy them when you can. Look forward to when you can get more. Don't tuck them away and forget them.
Treat them harshly, and they are ruined. When you pick them, you have to pick the stem of the berry, not the berry itself. It is very easy to destroy the precious strawberry when you pick it without care.

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