Strawberries

While out on a lockdown walk this spring, I passed by our local schoolhouse and discovered a patch of strawberries. Jutting up from a slew of green leaves, tiny fruits white and plump hung heavily on delicate stems. Several days in a row, I eyed the white fruits, waiting for them to blush and redden. They didn’t. Instead, the fattest simply disappeared. I puzzled several days over the repeated disappearance of the fattest berries before wading into the patch to investigate. Those fat white fruits had shriveled or dropped without ever reddening. Could there be ripe strawberries that stayed white? I picked the plumpest hanging nearby and popped them into my mouth. Yes, yes, yes. Delicious

White strawberries growing wild.

Back home, I opened a search. My laptop screen filled with the images of white strawberries—field- and wild-sized. I grabbed a measuring cup and marched back to the patch.

Every few days, I’d collect whatever had ripened, popping them into the freezer. Frequently, as I picked, an elderly gent, heading to his kitchen garden, passed by. One time, he asked what in the world I was up to.

“Strawberries.” I showed him a handful of my treasures. “Zufällig weisse”; they happened to be white.

“Oh, no,” he said. “Those are green strawberries.”

I smiled and countered, “They’re ripe all right—they just happen to be a white variety.”

He looked at me sadly and shook his head. “Those are green.” From that point on, every time he passed me, he’d give me a curt wave and sad smile.

My nifty find is everbearing, luckily. Owing to our desperately mild fall, they produced berries up through mid-November. As the season deepened, though, I lost an increasing number of berries to juvenile slugs, tiny black commas boring into the fruits’ sweet cores. I didn’t like the competition. Had they been able to realize my presence, I’m sure they would have liked me worse.

Someone with a large dog allowed the animal to do its business in the patch. Once, as I swept my hand over the leaves to expose any hidden berries, I found the body of a common blackbird (Turdus merula). Most likely, it’d flown into one of the school’s large windows, breaking its neck. I watched its decomposition. Once it was down to feathers and bone, something carried it away—maybe that pooping dog, surprising its delinquent owner. A marten was probably the true culprit.

A good week rewarded over a hundred grams of berries, and the season, eking into mid-November as it did, finally yielded my goal: a kilo of frozen fruit, enough for jam-making. Last week, I baked scones, and Markus and I opened a small jar. The flavor is magnificently intense. There’s no mistaking the taste of strawberries, even if the golden-brown color is off-putting. If I were more proud than greedy, I’d take a jar to the elderly gardener who pitied the strange lady picking “green” berries. But I can imagine his reaction without making a sacrifice.

It’d be a shame if someone were to destroy the patch. And not unlikely. So, I brought home runners to transplant in our yard and successfully grew several handfuls of plants from seed. I anticipate spring already, when I can catch next season’s crop from the start.

Considering these strange times, it’s a comfort to be close to something that is simply carrying on in life, its narrative unchanged and unchecked.