The Co-habitator urges the Urban Farmer to come, look, see the raccoons waddling out from the corkscrew willow’s shade and crossing the street into the neighbor’s wild greenery.
Later comes the watering of the garden beds, the raspberry canes, the spuds and blueberry bushes, including Migrant Blue, housed since last November in Green Gage’s old spot. Migrant is still an anemic affair and not out of the woods yet, but one limb bears leaves and even a berry or two.
Now, though, the Urban Farmer is in awe of the strawberries. Each one is fit eating for a princess. She does not know to what gardening god she owes the honor of their lusciousness. Last summer, disappointment and a desire to punish the squash, who were big on leaves and blossoms, but meager on vegetable, drove her to dig the strawberries from their huddling place under Cherry and Green Gage’s shade to the high rent district of “The Beds.” She decided to let the zucchini and delicata molder in someone else’s yard.
The transplants have thrived since the move. They are no longer subjected to the tyranny of the Green Gage’s and cherry’s shade.
The Urban Farmer’s veneration of the strawberry is a recent phenomenon. Each June of her childhood, she and her sisters drove out with Mom to the strawberry fields a few miles from home. They squatted between the rows for hours—it felt like four, but was more likely only two.
The Urban Farmer gave no thought to which berry she picked. One was as good as another. She picked quantity, not quality. They were all destined for the jam pot anyway. The sooner the necessary flats were picked, the sooner she could get out from the mid-morning heat and resume watching Bewitched and The Price is Right in the basement’s cool.
If only. Duh. Operation Jam commenced soon after arriving home.
One sister sorted and hulled. Another measured and mashed. Another gathered lids and screw tops and washed jars. Another dumped in pectin and stirred the berry mass at the hot stove.
Berries and slugs floated in the sink; hulls spilled over the top of the trash can. Every surface was covered in berries, jars, sugar. By the time a full rolling boil was reached, their faces would be slick with sweat. Then came the dumping of sugar, and stirring until a full rolling boil was reached again, then stirring exactly one minute more, then the ladling into jars, the capping, and inverting. Mom supervised that end of things.
Mom and the Urban Farmer’s sisters popped the berries like Jujubes. The Urban Farmer followed their lead. Disappointment inevitably followed. Rare was the berry that stood on its own merits.
If she could smell the berry’s fragrance, she thought she might be getting somewhere. Their scent allured and tempted—she thought, this time, I’ll eat the perfect one. Roof of mouth and tongue would clamp down. She would hold still—all her lingual berry sensors dialed to high—hoping for the longed-for berry zip and zing. The berry innards would ooze out. The flavor would be muted and dull; marginal; worthy only of a head shake. They needed doctoring with sugar and cream.
The California berries were larger and more photogenic; their season started earlier and ended later, but they were even less likely to please. At least with the Washingtonians, you had a flavor shimmer. The Californians required a dip in chocolate; swaddling in whip cream. They were fine as a garnish, but to eat? No.
Decades of consumption of less than perfect strawberries have allowed the Urban Farmer to assemble a composite of the ideal strawberry. Let us just say that the strawberries of “The Beds” exceed “ideal.”
Some of the Urban Farmer’s strawberries are eye-poppingly red. Others sport a skirt of greenish-white above and red below. They pull easily from the stem. They are firm and sweet. They yield just a little when the green fringe encircling their tops is plucked. Finger and thumb tip stain red. Smell their delicate, sweet, sun-kissed, ephemeral perfume!
The Urban Farmer eats one, two, three, four straight out of the garden. Each berry is packed with sunshine, rain, and warmth. Eating them is like swallowing summer.
She must remember to pick some for the Co-hab’s oatmeal.