Wild Strawberries

Was I complaining recently in this space about the difficulty of getting everything done while retired? I was, and here’s why: I spent an hour and a half this afternoon picking wild strawberries.

Yes, I had other things to do but two days ago I had set out to mow a field on the far side of the pond and I noticed some small red spots in the grass and realized that I was mowing down wild strawberries.

Now, if you were lucky enough to grow up in a small town in the Depression and World War II era, you might have had the experience of picking wild strawberries. I remember a farmer stopping by to say that there were strawberries in one of his fields if we wanted to get them. I remember going with my mother, sister, and brother. I remember wandering around looking for strawberries, occasionally finding them, and coming home with enough to make strawberry shortcake and even strawberry jam. I think my mother must have done a lot of picking.

But that memory stopped me short. You can’t just run a tractor back and forth where there are strawberries. I picked a cupful or so and had most of them on my cereal the next day. I couldn’t get back to it the next day – I’m retired after all. But I got back there today and really got into it. It was midsummer eve; what better time to be picking wild strawberries?

Strawberries may be bright red, but they don’t make themselves easily visible or available. You get down on all fours and brush the grass one way and another looking for them. A big one may be a half inch long; a small one half that size. They hide under the leaves and the tall grass. Think of it as searching for a lost contact lens. Sometimes there are two or three on a stem, but the next cluster may be three or four feet away and you will have to work your way there slowly, searching through the grass as you go. It’s all too easy to put your hand or foot or knee on one before you see it.

Do you know what wild strawberries look like? If you put them under a magnifying glass set to, say, 50X, you would see something very much like what they sell as strawberries in your local store. The problem is that while they pump them up to the size of a golf ball, they do it with water. The flavor is not pumped up. One commercial strawberry has about the same amount of flavor as one wild strawberry – maybe less. If I had fifty strawberries on my cereal, they would fill two tea spoons. If you ate fifty commercial berries, you might get the same flavor – but there would be no room in the bowl for the cereal and you would get tired of eating them long before you got enough flavor to make it worthwhile.

Today’s harvest weighed about three ounces. An hour and a half for picking, well over half an hour for hulling. Connecticut’s minimum wage is $7.65 an hour. That’s $5.30 an ounce. $83 a pound. That’s why you don’t find wild strawberries in your supermarket!

I will have wild strawberries on my cereal again tomorrow – but I have saved a few ounces in the freezer for the next overnight guests who think to ask for them. Half the joy of picking is being able to share an experience available nowhere else. Get your reservation in early; the supply is limited!

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