They reconfigured the fields this year. Instead of turning down the first path to park, finding a wagon, and picking the fruit ourselves, they directed us to the main drive. After waiting what seemed like an interminable time for a truck-and-trailer affair to find a parking space, we found a spot of our own. Girl-child and I emerged from the car with cash in hand. We walked where everyone was walking…to the counter, to the thin wood baskets and cardboard flats full of bounty, to the clerks beaming and sweaty and shouting, “Twenty-one dollars! Bargain price today! Twenty-one!”
It’s strawberry season.
Every year I almost forget and then remember by a lucky stroke. This year I was reading an article in a magazine, and someone mentioned picking strawberries. The lights and bells went off in my head and I called My Usual Place to make sure they were open. I made quick stock of what I needed…pectin, jars, lids, sugar. Girl-child and I set out with visions of sweet red globes in our heads.
I always make jam. Something about the smell, the stickiness that pervades the kitchen, the clinking of the small Ball jars, that reminds me of growing up in the country, and the endless pickingpickingpicking we did all summer. And the eating we did all winter.
Eight quarts of strawberries is a lot. Eight quarts of strawberries start to turn bad Quickly. I had to use them up that day or lose them forever.
I picked out the finest-looking dozen for dipping in chocolate.
I cut up a big bowlful for strawberry shortcake that night.
I cut up more for a strawberry-rhubarb pie I’d make the next day…Fathers Day…it was Sergei’s favourite.
I cut up even more for freezing…for future shortcakes and pies.
With the rest, I made jam. Loads of jam, jelling in a beautiful red colour that belies the unnaturalness of factory-made jam.
Boy-child, sorry he’d missed the trip to the strawberry farm, helped me make the jam. He helped stir, he helped scoop the goodness into jars, he helped load the water bath. While we were waiting for them to process, I let him in on the Cook’s Secret…the foam. When the jam cooks, then starts to cool, a foam is created on the top which you can skim away. Like my mom told me when I was a kid, the foam is the reward…spooned greedily on hunks of bread, scarfed in a quiet moment of feet-resting, running over fingers, the first taste of the goodness we made. We sat on the couch with our treats, and dinged them together like wine glasses, and let the soft sugary treat melt on our tongues.
When the water bath had processed the jars, I squared them away on a kitchen towel to cool, and within a minute they’d all popped sealed...ding…ding…ding…metal taps that meant we’d have our summer remembrance when the snow returned, and when our hearts needed a little sunshine.