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Strawberry magic

(post, Ellen Kanner)

Strawberry season came late to south Florida this year, but with magical abundance.  

I took a visiting friend berry-picking on a perfect day — temps in the 70s, humidity miraculously low, the sky cloudless and Atlantic blue, the sun spilling a beneficent golden light over all. Our growing season is when the rest of the world still shivers, and the U-pick fields were alive with proof.

I crouched in the damp, mineral-fragrant earth with my baskets and pails, foraging for strawberries, full and red and glistening like jewels hiding beneath their canopy of broad green leaves. These small, low-to-the-earth plants are called plugs. Not a glamorous name. The glamor goes to the strawberries themselves.

A fresh, ripe strawberry is succulent. It is red, robust, and juicy — a very sexy thing. It tastes nothing like the sugary, fakey, strawberry-flavored stuff. There’s a hint of grass and flowers — what the wine snobs call terroir — plus your big berry sweetness that avoids being cloying because those teensy seeds stippling the outside of your berry lend just the right astringency. 

I’m not convinced about intelligent design when it comes to humankind, but you can make a pretty strong case for it when it comes to plant life.

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Red ripe strawberries with ricotta topping."]

I was in U-pick rapture, in the berry harvest zone. My friend was not. She just stood there, the heels of her cage sandals sinking into the dirt, eyes fixed on the middle distance, as though waiting for the metro. She’d strolled past the plants the way I stride past the clothing racks in the pricey boutiques she so loves — like they aren’t there.

OK, I cut her some slack, because this girl is citified. She's gorgeous, with long wheat-colored hair and a sort of luminous LCD pallor. She’s a software designer, specializing in something having to do with science — alas, my eyes glaze over when she explains just what. She’s brilliant, she writes code for a living, and she never goes outside. Ever. I love my friend, but she was starting to piss me off.

“You have to touch a strawberry,” I said.  

“Why?”

“Because you live in the world,” I yelped, startling a flock of ibis out trolling for bugs. “You can’t come all the way out here without seeing a fresh strawberry, without seeing how it grows, without seeing what one looks like when it’s not the garnish on a slice of chocolate cake.”

I do not usually command authority, but something I said must have convinced her. She did not put up a fight. She squatted down, gave a berry a reluctant pat, was all set to stand up again when she blinked. “It’s warm.”

“Now eat it.” 

She looked aghast. “But that’s stealing.”

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“It won’t go on your permanent record.”  

She appeared unsure. 

I promised to confess our transgression when I paid up at the farm stand. “You eat one and I’ll eat one.”

We did, and it was a communion with the earth and with each other. I didn’t have to say anything. The a-ha look was all over her face.

Why does seasonal, locally grown food taste so amazing? Freshness. Life force. All that. There’s science to it, too, of course. I’ll leave the science to my friend. I’ll just eat more strawberries and call it magic.


reference-image, l