At the CAFE we are taking lots of breaks this summer to pick berries for your scrumptious deserts. As I reach into the bushes I think fondly of childhood experiences in England picking berries. Today I remember wild strawberries: (All due credits at end of post)
On Sundays we filled my dad’s ancient, wood sided ‘shooting brake’ with baskets and headed up into the Mendip hills of Somerset hunting for the sweetest fruit I’ve ever tasted, the heavenly wild strawberry. Bent double and prickly with heat and gorse thorns we scanned the limestone outcrops of rocks and grasslands for this delicacy. The folklore said that if we ate the first wild strawberries that we found we would soon after find the Big Patch – this usually (and magically to me as a child) proved to be true.
The berries were so small and delicate one needed to pick them with gentle sensitivity, like sewing, while constantly on the lookout for the feared Adder, Britain’s only poisonous snake. Oh, those berries were so delicious that not many made it into the basket. If we picked enough for afternoon tea with Devonshire cream the outing was considered a success.
The hot high sky, the intense sweet fragrance of the berries, the smell of sun- dried grasses, the cries of the Peregrine Falcon through the clear air and the taste of wild strawberries on my stained lips have remained with me ‘til this day. In 1600 William Butler wrote, “Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God ever did.”
The berries work well in cooking, although it can be difficult to gather enough of these diminutive berries to use for most recipes. If you do manage to fill your basket, take care with your wild strawberries, as they bruise easily and must be cooked quickly, before they turn to mush.
The wild strawberry has many uses, some of which date back hundreds of years. The leaves and roots have medicinal properties, and have long been used as an astringent. Strawberry juice is a folk remedy for blotchy skin, and strawberry leaf tea is a good source of vitamin C. The ancient Romans were staunch believers in the curative powers of the strawberry. They believed it relieved melancholy and masked bad breath. According to the ancients, strawberries could cure inflammations, fevers, throat infections, kidney stones, gout, fainting spells, and diseases of the blood, liver, and spleen.
During medieval times, strawberries symbolized righteousness and perfection. Stonemasons applied their carved strawberry signs onto altars and at the tops of pillars in churches and cathedrals.
Strawberries just happen to be in season during the world-famous Wimbledon Tennis Matches, a time when tennis fanciers nibble on the berries as a snack while viewing the games. If you were British, you might easily think of the event as Wimbledon Strawberry season.
In Eastern Europe, strawberries are paired with sour cream, while in France and Italy, strawberries are topped with wine and sugar.
Ever consider bathing in the juice of fresh strawberries? Twenty-two pounds of crushed strawberries made up the bathwater that went into the tub when Madame Talien, one of the court figures of Emperor Napoleon, took her bath.
Our wild strawberries were so special just as they were that we ate them raw, usually with cream but never cooked. Other raw eating ideas are: Coarsely mash them into a sauce, maintaining lots of their texture, and pour the sauce over a fruit salad. Sweeten if desired / Slice them into a tossed green salad for a touch of spring colour / Serve them as dessert in combination with blackberries. Create a sauce by mashing a few of the strawberries to pour over the top / Combine them with soaked grains and nuts for a hearty breakfast / Create a unique salad dressing with strawberries. Whirl them in the blender with oil, balsamic vinegar, and seasonings to taste / Make a strawberry smoothie with strawberries, bananas, a splash of lime juice, and a little sweetening / Make a savory strawberry sauce by adding crushed garlic and minced jalapeno to mashed strawberries.
“Are wild strawberries really wild? Will they scratch an adult, will they snap at a child? Should you pet them, or let them run free where they roam? Could they ever relax in a steam-heated home? Can they be trained to not growl at the guests? Will a litterbox work or would they make a mess? Can we make them a Cowberry, herding the cows, or maybe a Muleberry pulling the plows, or maybe a Huntberry chasing the grouse, or maybe a Watchberry guarding the house, and though they may curl up at your feet oh so sweetly can you ever feel that you trust them completely? Or should we make a pet out of something less scary, like the Domestic Prune or the Imported Cherry, Anyhow, you’ve been warned and I will not be blamed if your Wild Strawberries cannot be tamed.”― Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends
CREDITS: I am very grateful to vegparadise.com for much of the above post and thank you to Shel Silverstein for use of his poem.
IMAGE CREDITS: Photos of Mendip hills, wild strawberries in grass and strawberries and cream from Google Images. / Oil Painting of girl eating wild strawberries by Marta Lipowska, 2011. / Wild Strawberry print – Google Images. / Strawberry postage stamp from vegparadise.com / wild strawberries and cream from NAMINAMI. / hand and strawberry photo, “Time for Wild Strawberries” by webdefender.
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