The epitome of an English summer: the sound of leather on willow at Lords or perhaps the sproing of ball against racket at Wimbledon? There are many traditional and valued customs of our most talked about season, probably symbolising our determination to hold fast these harbingers of warm sunny days never allowing our optimism to be thwarted by the vagaries of our weather!
But whilst these oh so English sporting events do indeed coincide with our longed for days of sunshine and warmth, it’s the prospect of turning ‘hunter gatherer’ that flags up my seasonal antennae.
I don’t know what it is about consuming food within minutes of picking it; whether it’s the act itself of being able to choose the ripest most perfect piece rather than relying on Father Tesco or Mother Sainsbury to do it for you (and let’s face it, they’re not terribly concerned by bruises or mouldy bits!), or if it’s our primeval ‘survival of the fittest’ instinct making sure we grab the best before anyone else (I have also seen this ancient ritual manifest itself in seasonal shop sales).
Which leads me nicely on to the reason for this post: I’ve just been strawberry picking at the Forde Abbey Fruit Farm which is happily just a short distance away.
Now I should add at this juncture that I am by no means a ‘forager’ I baulk at the thought of rummaging around the forest floor rooting out edible fungi, I am certain I would end up in A&E with some dreadful food poisoning; and I am no longer so keen on picking blackberries from our amazing hedgerows as the rich dark berries are likely covered in exhaust fumes from the millions of vehicles that now fill every stretch of tarmac or the toxic chemicals that are sprayed by farmers at every opportunity. No, in truth I’m not even a ‘hunter’ in fact the best description for me would be a fair weather gatherer.
However, I digress. In my undaunted desire to seek out the best of the luscious fruits, all of which are conveniently grown on high level shelves, so I don’t even have to bend over, I wait impatiently for the ‘Open’ sign to appear on the gate and I’m pleased to say that whilst we are now well into the Wimbledon season and the British no. 1 Andy Murray is well on the way to making tennis history (hope I haven’t just put the kibosh on that!), the outrageously red fruits are also record breaking size.
Now for the seasoned picker, there is the right and the wrong place to go and no, I am not going to reveal my secrets. But as I wandered down the hallowed aisles bordered by rain forest sized green leaves, I couldn’t help but recall what it looked like this time last year with most of the crop turned to a puce mouldy mush!
I think this year’s soggy spring followed by the late summer has created ideal growing conditions for strawberries and whilst there are still some of those very delicate and pretty fruit flowers left, there is plenty of very plump fruit alongside.
In fact I would say if this sunshine continues, the masses of green berries that dangle like bunches of grapes, will see us through to at least late August.
But back to my wanderings and wonderings; as I rummaged effortlessly taking the pick of the crop, I smiled at the familiar comments that were sailing across from the other aisles. Familiar because I can remember my mother saying it to me and I now say it to my children,
“Only pick the red ones, not any with green on, they must be red all around.”
“Right, don’t pick anymore. No, no more. The punnet is full now. No, that’s enough……”
Then there are the children’s exclamations,
“Look at this one, wow! look at this” and “look at the size of this one” over and over. Or “Look how many I have in my punnet/I have hardly any in my punnet….”
Then there are the ‘sneaky eaters’, the ones who have a little try, the ones who simply cannot resist a temptation greater than Eve’s fruity offer to Adam in the Garden of Eden.
The ones who have a nibble on the sly and then discreetly throw the core in the direction of the next family so they get the blame.
Of course the “only pick the red ones ” brigade aka the green berry pickers are every parent’s nightmare because even though you may not eat them when you take them home, you still have to pay for them, so after their enthusiastic pickers have half filled a punnet with inedible green strawberries, as they walk back to the kiosk, the parent discreetly extracts the unwanted green additions.
Sadly there are also a few casualties and it is worth checking footwear before you put yourself back in the car
lest you should find strawberry squelches on your upholstery – it’s the very devil to get out!
But when all is said and done and you have a punnet or basket filled to the brim with plump succulent red strawberries and your hands smell of candy floss (have you never noticed that?) and you return home triumphantly with your prize cache, there really is nothing so rewarding as tucking into a bowl of fresh English strawberries picked by your own fair hands swimming in a bowl of single, double or whipped fresh cream and watching Andy Murray smite the opposition.
Just maybe the late growing season has given us all the extra boost we need and we can expect weeks of rewarding harvests before winter comes knocking.