THE MERRY MONTH OF STRAWBERRY
A few weeks ago in a west coast kitchen, my friend Bud unpacked a brown paper bag. Setting two containers of California strawberries on the counter, I hardly recognized them. Beautifully crimson and freckled, they actually smelled like strawberries. A far cry from what we’ve been baking with on the east coast.
Our strawberries have been rather lackluster, garishly red but without flavor, tasting a bit like cucumbers. Until today. Just in time for Memorial Day, sweet, local berries are breezing through town, strutting their berry stuff. Unlike their year-round Driscoll counterparts, the early and all-too fleeting locally grown crops are the real strawberry deal. Still-life beautiful, hypnotically fragrant and perfectly sweet. It’s a double-edged temptation; spontaneous strawberry consumption or berry pie-ing. Fields of pick-your-own wave to me announcing greener, warmer days ahead. They are at their best when just gathered from the field, misty with morning rain and warm from the sun. Dangling from their leggy runners, it is nearly impossible to resist the urge to eat them right on the spot. Each berry dots the corners of my mouth scarlet. I use one hand to dab at runaway juices and the other to dismiss the occasional honeybee circling overhead. Strawberry season is a short but sweet reward for having scraped too many icy windshields and shoveled record shattering snowfalls.
The sweetest baking seasons are finite, taunting those of us in the kitchen to exhaust the limited supply. Over-filling recyclable totes with green corrugated quart containers, berries jostle around in the back of the car. Sunshine pours through open windows and the steering wheel is hot under sticky fingers. The radio is kicking off Memorial Day weekend playing the soundtrack of summer. I turn up the volume and steady the basil plant riding in the passenger seat.
Gather your strawberries while you May.
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