Strawberry season is upon us here in Vermont and it’s one of my favorite times of the summer.
Fresh, farm-picked strawberries bring back a vivid childhood memory of my mother and me. I can see the left side of the kitchen sink in my childhood home filled with water and a bucket full of strawberries bobbin’ up and down in it. Momma and I had gotten up early that morning because the summer heat was awful. We walked down the dirt road in front of our house, past the electric fence that Daddy had designed to close off the road and allow the cows to cross. This morning, the fence was open where we could pass down through the road without switching the gate. We walked down the road, me in my red shorts trimmed with white piping and wearing the t-shirt whose wrinkles still bore an imprint in my skin from the heavy sleep the night before. I was eight and barefoot.
Momma had on her signature navy blue polyester shorts, Moonboots and a white cotton sleeveless button-up shirt with navy blue and yellow anchors decorating it. She would wear this shirt for painting the house, gardening or any other chore where she might get dirty. She was fastidiously clean. She towered over me as we walked down the road to the garden, empty five-gallon buckets in tow. The road was bordered on one side by woods and to the south of the road lay the garden. Five uneven rows of the sprawling fruit vines began at the edge of the road and filtered downhill from there. Momma and I squatted down and began the backbreaking chore.
I whined and complained first about the squatting, “My legs are killing me!” and then about the heat, “I’m burnin’ up!” Momma was relentless, “Keep pickin’,” she said and I would shut up for a minute. The chore was especially challenging because the garden was not flat, it was on a grade and we were squatting uphill. Although the task was difficult, almost miserable, the fruit of our labor was sweet.
After squattin’, pickin’ and whinin’ for two hours, our buckets overflowed with juicy, ripe strawberries.
Sometimes I got to go run and get the tractor with its trailer attached and return to the garden to haul the heavy buckets back up the dirt road to the house. After hauling them to the house, we’d set the buckets of strawberries in the cool carport and go inside for a big glass of sweet ice tea. Momma would pour it into the blue glasses we used every day and I would proceed to gulp mine down in a matter of seconds. Man, even my childhood memories bring back the sun-baked thirst!
After our break, we toted the buckets through the carport, and into the kitchen where we would empty them into the sink and let them soak. Strawberries grow on the ground so if it had rained anytime near when we picked them, they’d be muddy. Pickin’ was best after a good rain anyways because the temperature was cooler and the strawberries juicier but dirtier.
Underneath the blue BellSouth telephone in the kitchen, we had a wooden high-back chair we used for either sitting to have a chat or in my case, to stand on to reach the wall-mounted phone. I scooted the chair from the wall over to the sink. I’d stand up in the chair, hovering over the sink and swirl the strawberries in the water and pull the caps off with my fingers. Then I’d drop the hatless berries into the adjacent brown ceramic sink where they’d soak in clean water while Momma checked them and cut out any bruises off the fruit. We’d then bag half the massive bunch of strawberries into plastic Ziploc bags for freezin’. Once we finished that chore Momma would cook the other half of the strawberries down in a big old pot on the stove. She’d add sugar and a bit of gelatin and then we’d can the rest of the strawberries for freezer preserves to enjoy all year round – yuuummm-eee! My favorite!
I find myself quietly picking while my children hop around, eating strawberries. Like my mother, I make sure they respect the delicate vines and ask them not to step on the plants. Unlike my mother, I just let them pick and play while I fill the baskets. Our strawberry season is a little less arduous. By the time we are finished pickin’, their bellies are full of fresh, ripe strawberries, their hands and clothes are spotted with pink strawberry juice, and I am filled with a powerful gift – the ability to share such a treasured memory from my childhood and to pass it along to my children.
Here are a few of my favorite places to pick during strawberry season in Vermont.
Adams Berry Farm
Sam Mazza’s Farm Market, Bakery and Greenhouse
Charlotte Berry Farm
And a comprehensive list