Nothing says May quite like fresh strawberries.
And no, I’m not talking about packages of berries in the produce section. I mean the ones you pick yourself.
Last Thursday I took my young granddaughter to a pick-your-own field south of Newton and spent a short while stepping among the neat rows. White plastic surrounding the soil around each plant, unlike days past when strawberries were mulched in straw.
If memory serves me right, a well-rounded box of berries cost $8 to pick in the early ‘80s. The other day, I paid $6 a quart.
Before you tell me that price was highway robbery, let me say that it was the experience I was after. Compared to driving several miles for that experience, this U-pick option made sense.
If you’ve lived here a while, you may remember the Ira Cline strawberry farm north of Conover. Talk about strawberry fields forever!
My first trip to Cline’s was about 1981. A co-worker at Centel informed me that Cline’s was the place to go. Local radio and newspaper ads confirmed it.
Up until that time, I’d been picking only once or twice, but never with my mother. She’d had her fill of the labor side of things, picking in her own mother’s patch years before. “Anything but bending over, picking strawberries,” Mom groused. People who liked doing that must be out of their minds.
A neighbor went with me on that first venture to Cline’s and we picked probably a gallon a piece, or whatever measure those large oblong berry boxes held. I remember that Mrs. Cline took our money at the berry shack when we were finished. She wore a wide brimmed hat, as I remember and people scrambling for a good parking place, it was that popular.
Pickers were assigned rows and little flags to mark where you stopped picking so the next customer wouldn’t waste time trying to find berries on a freshly cleaned row.
When our son was about two, we took him and a friend to Cline’s. The preschoolers ate some berries, threw some and had fun. Berry picking is something every kid ought to do at least once. They need to learn that fruit comes from someplace other than the grocery store.
Yes, you can buy Florida strawberries in late winter and you can fill in with New Jersey and Delaware berries later, but there’s nothing like a sun-kissed strawberry, straight off the plant.
Recently I saw a You Tube video explaining that strawberries were originally called “strew berries” or from the Old English “streawberige,” because the plant sends out runners which appear to be strewn about.
There’s also the theory that the name stemmed from the practice of mulching strawberries with straw or finding them growing wild among matted hay.
I’m still learning about strawberries. Actually, they aren’t fruit at all, but pseudocarp, or “false fruit” according to botanists.
Both male and female plants must be present to reproduce, which explains why the lone strawberry plant I’ve kept in a pot produces only green leaves and white blooms. It needs a companion.
All said, my granddaughter wasn’t thrilled with our strawberry venture. She’s more of a raspberry girl. A couple of years ago, she spotted some on the canes that grow at the edge of my woods.
She’s asked repeatedly when it will be time to pick raspberries again, and I’m guessing early June from the looks of things. We’ll have to be quick to beat the wild birds and careful to avoid the stickers. Compared to thorny raspberries, strawberries are much easier to harvest, in spite of what Mom believed.
Someday my granddaughter may take her own grandchild strawberry picking. She’ll remember the time I paid only $6 for a quart of berries—the price of one berry in that future time? Maybe that grandchild will wonder how things were so cheap back in 2022 and, he or she may wonder how picking could ever be fun, which will go to show how the berry doesn’t fall far from the plant.
---Tammy Wilson is a writer who lives near Newton. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org A collection of articles from this column has been released by Red Hawk Publications. Going Plaid in a Solid Gray World can be ordered from the publisher or from her website. Part of proceeds benefit The Corner Table soup kitchen.