Fraised and Confused
A paean to the waning days of strawberry season
By Brian Faulkner
One of the best things about early June is that it marks the beginning of summer, no matter what the calendar says. Dreams of “School’s out!” float through the minds of children like mid-year sugarplums as we bigger ones begin pining for the beach, the lake or the mountains. One of the worst things about early June, however, is that strawberry time has pretty much spent itself. That always makes me sad, so much so that sometimes I wonder if the greeting card business may have missed a big marketing opportunity by not making note of the season’s passing. Imagine this illustration: a couple of Norman Rockwell kids gazing on a green strawberry field, fruit-stained bucket dangling empty between them. The caption, written in a child’s gentle hand, reads, “Parting is such sweet sorrow . . .”
If America ever got to vote for its favorite fruit (much more fun than voting for politicians), the strawberry should win hands down — case in point: the rate at which strawberries disappeared from a serving table one memorable evening a couple of years ago. The occasion was one of those stand-up cocktail parties, the sort of thing at which a mass of bone-tired people appear willing to exchange their last drops of energy for an hour or two of convivial chatter and some free eats after walking a trade show all day. Whoever catered the event did a fabulous job. The egg rolls were just right — not too soft, not too firm; flaky and perfect. The Asian noodle dishes were shot through with pleasing, subtle flavors. Tiny tomatoes with mozzarella balls on a skewer were surprisingly delectable. The applewood-bacon pizza slices were thin, indescribable and consumed in great quantities. But what most caught my eye were the strawberries fairly shouting from the far end of the room. They were riotous red and succulent, the kind of vision even food photographers would salivate over. There were other fruits for the taking, but they didn’t seem to vanish as fast as the strawberries.
I can’t think of strawberries without my No. 2 grandson coming to mind. His birthday lands smack in the heart of North Carolina’s strawberry season. And since he and I share the same birth date (separated by more years that he probably can count), it has become my custom to surprise him on that day by popping up at some random time and place. I’ve surprised him in a museum and a tourist trap and once just sort of appeared in front of him on a public sidewalk (with the aid of an enormous oak tree to hide behind). The most memorable birthday surprise, however, happened in a strawberry field. My son and his family had arrived early, as planned, and were busily filling their buckets. I counted on that distraction to ease my car into the parking lot (the kid could identify it at a hundred yards), don my disguise and slip into a nearby row. I got pretty close to them before he got wind that the bent over old dude with the oversized hat and umbrella was his grandpa.
This year, I had hoped that strawberry season might hold on a little longer, given the chilly, wet April that we suffered through, but Mother Nature played her cards close and I largely missed out. I considered a family trip to the North Carolina Strawberry Festival down east in Chadbourn (my wife grew up nearby, and they always had a sinful supply of berries and, thanks to a freezer the size of a Volkswagen, feasted on them long into summer). Then I thought about sticking closer to home and checking out the strawberry fields off North O.Henry Boulevard. They’ve been growing strawberries there for something like four generations. It didn’t take much imagination to envision buckets overflowing with crimson goodness as my family joined hundreds of other strawberry lovers around the patch, people who do not hesitate to lick their fingers in public as they fantasize about the sweet treats they’ll create when they get home.
Somehow busy-ness got in the way, and that didn’t happen. Even the vanilla crème strawberry birthday cake I’d envisioned was a no-show, although I did manage to suffer through its chocolate fudge cousin with cream cheese and whipped cream on top. Such are life’s little disappointments.
But take heart, there’s only 11 months to go now till strawberry season! OH
Brian Faukner will have to settle for snacking on strawberries from Florida this summer, while he dreams of next year’s Carolina crop.