Strawberry season is finally here, and my taste buds are rejoicing. For months I’ve been fighting the urge to buy a plastic case of giant imported strawberries at the supermarket, even though they have minimal flavour and feel more like cardboard in my mouth than luscious fruit. But I’m determined to eat as seasonally and locally as possible, and that means waiting.
My patience paid off this week, when I heard that strawberries were ready for picking at a local fruit farm. I packed several large bowls and my two-year-old son into the car, and off we went to satisfy my year-long craving for sweet, juicy strawberries at their season’s peak.
I wasn’t disappointed. For the next two hours, I squatted on straw between rows of rambling green plants, running my hands over the leaves to search out the reddest, ripest berries for my bowl. It’s a satisfying treasure hunt, and there’s always a reward after just a few seconds of searching. My bowls filled quickly, as the fruit is large this year, although not quite as sweet as I hoped. Perhaps that’s because it is the beginning of the season here in Ontario, and the berries haven’t had the chance to reach that sugary, almost-gone-bad level of ripeness.
My son was an enthusiastic helper. He cheerfully hunted for berries, taking a nibble out of each point before dropping it in the bowl; clearly he didn’t want to deal with the green stems. Fortunately he worked slowly, studying each berry and asking many questions, so not too many berries got mangled in this way. The other pickers, the swooping birds, the roaring tractor and plow nearby, the big dirt pile – all of these things entertained him well as I continued to pick as fast as I could.
When we got home, it was jam-making time. Using my grandmother’s classic recipe, I rapidly boiled chunky mashed strawberries with white sugar just until slightly cooked and thickened, then ladled the mixture into sterilized jars. I made 15 half-pint jars, which sealed and cooled on the counter overnight before getting transferred to the dark basement. It gives me such satisfaction to see a row of filled jars on the shelf – the official start of 2014’s canning season for me – and I have plans to do a lot more this summer and fall.
My berry-starved family will eat the rest. I am content to let my little boys gorge themselves because now is the season to do it. I want them to associate strawberries with early summer, to realize that this wonderful fruit belongs to a certain time of the year and isn’t the same as those dry lookalikes available in the middle of January. As for me, I’m already dreaming about sweet and sour cherries.