The first time I went strawberry picking I went nuts!
Having grown up in Hong Kong, the cosmopolitan jungle of bright lights and big city fanfare of traffic, noise and orderly chaos I only ever saw strawberries arranged in 500gms plastic cut-out boxes with aeration on all sides for the fruit to breathe. So the thought of picking the perfect strawberry from a farm had always been a dream.
When we parked, rows and rows of spinach-stalk-like-heads sprouting in regimental order caught my attention. All I saw was green. Green, green and more green. And I didn’t know which way to turn. The field on the left or right? I couldn’t wait, I couldn’t tell if this was a strawberry farm, and I grabbed a gallon-size bucket and ventured out in the field with my family on the hunt for the perfect strawberry.
I walked down one aisle of strawberries – separated from another by about one foot of walking space – and looked, but greens clearly dominated. Strawberries, strawberries everywhere, but clearly not a single one in sight. It was obvious we were either on the wrong farm or looking for the wrong fruit. Perhaps we’d accidentally landed on a spinach farm or some exotic lettuce layover?
Then I squatted on my haunches and noticed thin, green tendrils spiraling out a plant with a knob of red on the end. I held the red between my thumb and index finger and lo and behold! It was a strawberry!! A real, farm-fresh strawberry!
Needless to say I noticed more strawberries dangling from leaves now that I knew where to look. But the summer heat and heavy rains of Georgia, USA, had decomposed the majority so that the fruit turned to red slime in your hands. Disappointed, I got back on my feet and signaled my family—who had scattered all over the farm by now—that perhaps this wasn’t the right farm.
‘Look under the leaves.” My husband texted from 5 aisles away. ‘The best ones are hidden.’
I got down on all fours, scoured, searched under umbrellas of green foliage, expecting to find nothing, and couldn’t believe it. Strawberry after unscathed strawberry, like miniature light bulbs. And you know what? None of them were perfect in shape, size or color. But each one was unique with its own imprint like each book on a shelf.
Remember the thrill of finding a good book, a really good book that you never expected to love and couldn’t put down? A time before on-line reviews, instant downloads, and on-line order… when a book’s jacket, blurb and word of mouth (literally speaking) made you hunt for the read at a book store or library so that it felt like a prize—a hard-earned prize—when you finally had it in your hands?
Well, needless to say we took 3 gallons of the berry home and I searched recipes on the drive back. Strawberry soufflé. Strawberry jam. Strawberry scones. Pancakes. Smoothies… the car and my head swirled with strawberries!
I finally nailed down a strawberry jam recipe from my all favorite Food Network host, Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. I also threw the following in a blender for a strawberry smoothie: blueberries, vanilla yoghurt, honey, ice cubes and strawberries (duh!). And voila! Not only did we have a drink to toast the day’s success, we had strawberry jam to keep the memory of our experience alive for weeks to come… like the after-effects that linger long after a can’t-put-down book!
So what if you never find a perfect strawberry or book? Life isn’t about perfection. It’s about unearthing what’s on the surface to find the perfect hidden treasure. The surprise… the WOW! factor. Because the end will always be sweet! Real sweet!
When was the last time you went beyond the packaging to hunt for the real prize? And how did it change you?