It's such a fleeting thing, the truly ripe, local strawberry. I remember picking strawberries as a little kid, sitting in the rows between plants, probably getting more in my tummy and on my shirt than in the basket. We used to go often, as a child, but most of these memories have been stored on the same shelf and come out just like that.
I remember picking strawberries as an adult in the hot, searing sun. The kind of sun where you can actually feel your skin burning after just a few minutes. I was surprised how much it hurt my back to bend over, my hamstrings burning from the stretching, my face hot from the sun and the labor of it. It seemed like sticky work, on the wrong end of the cost/benefit analysis. Plus, I saw a great big creepy spider. Yeilch.
I remember picking strawberries two years ago, with my rather pregnant friend, and finding the fun in it again. It was quiet work, she being the type you can comfortably be silent around, but we chatted in that way women do when they're engaged in common task. My fingers were stained red but my basket was bulging with fruit--some big and blobby, some small and pert, some dusty and some slick with red juice. None of them looked picture perfect, but each of them was sweet, with just a tiny touch of tart, topped with a crunch. Biting into a sun-hot strawberry is one of life's sweetest little moments.
Last year I was too pregnant to even consider picking my own strawberries. This year, Baby Girl is just a few weeks shy of her 1 year mark, which magically makes it less dangerous for her to eat strawberries and (heaven forbid!) develop an allergy. I'd like to take her picking, but I think she'll get more out of it next year.
I like to eat strawberries unadorned and uncut, freshly washed. The moisture sticking in little drops to the bits around the seeds, adds to the flavor. My sister has been known to make bisquick shortcakes and have cut up strawberries, lightly dusted in sugar and left to create their own syrup, for dinner. I like them this way, too, but prefer my shortcakes unsoggy. Oooh, and who can forget dunked in molten chocolate? Romolo's does it best (but of course, they have the best chocolate in town) but I usually do mine at home with the chocolate melting wafers.
Some add strawberries to salads, some make salsa, some make pie, some make milkshakes and still others jam. My grandmother-in-law makes the most amazing strawberry rhubarb jam I've ever had.
Hmmm, then there could be cocktails, too. Strawberry daiquiri, of course, but what about strawberry mojito? What a season... too bad it's so short!
If you've never gone picking, I recommend you try. But if time and other constraints are too much, be sure to stop by a roadside stand or local farmer and pick up a quart. Soon enough they'll be gone, and we'll be left with styrofoam impostors in the grocery store.