Picking wild strawberries is an exercise in patience. At the very best
of times, when the berries are large and thick in the grass, picking them
is slow, tedious, back-straining work. At other times, it can be downright
It all begins each summer on a bright, warm day in early July. Carla
will come into the house and announce that she has just found a "few ripe
strawberries" and, "Wouldn't it be nice to have some for dessert for
supper?" That is a not-very-subtle hint that it is time for me to get
myself out there to see what I can find.
Early in their season, searching for them can be downright frustrating.
Wild strawberries are never abundant in the same sense that wild
raspberries can be, nor do they hang obligingly at eye level from branches
ready for the picking. No, strawberries earn their name; they lurk in the
tall, dead straw of the previous summer's grasses, usually under the
blades of new grass and their own leaves. The plants themselves are
relatively inconspicuous and many of them will have no berries at all in
any given year. There are no shortcuts to finding and picking them; one
has to prowl along, slowly and carefully probing through the vegetation,
searching for that elusive glimmer of red that just might be a berry.
Now, some people can bend over and pick, but if I were to do that for
very long, I would end up walking very strangely for some time to come
afterwards. Instead, I drop to my knees, carefully place my container to
one side, and try to grasp the berry without squashing it and without
entangling it in all of the grasses and other herbage around it. If I am
very successful, the berry will detach itself from its hull and I can drop
it into the container. If I am moderately successful, I will have to
detach the hull, which means bringing it up into the light so that I can
see what I am doing, and pinching off the hull. Often, of course, I drop
the berry somewhere along the way, so I have to pick it again. And, truth
be told, there are those occasional efforts that turn into instant jam -
lost causes before they ever make it into the container. In short, I never
find myself thinking, "Oh, I have half an hour before lunch; I think I
will go and pick some wild strawberries for dessert." Each foray amounts
to a campaign to which I will have to devote a couple of hours if I am to
have any reasonable chance at success.
Once I make up my mind to get on with the task, though, the rewards are
most satisfying. I get to spend a morning or afternoon in the sun, usually
with a nice breeze to keep the flies down to a tolerable level. I listen
to the birds, I watch butterflies, and move out of the way of the
bumblebees who happen to be sharing a particular patch with me. Time
stands still, at least until my back and knees remind me that it is
necessary to change position once again. And then I realize that my
container has a satisfying heft to it and that I have a good supply for
our next meal and, if the going has been particularly good, perhaps for a
bottle of jam for the winter.
The final satisfaction from the effort comes a little while later. I can think of few finer treats than a cup full of sun warmed wild strawberries over a dollop of vanilla ice-cream, and drizzled generously with home-made maple syrup. At such times, I have to wonder what the poor
people are having for lunch, while we are dining so lavishly.