Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Maple Syrup and Morels are a Memory, and the Strawberry Moon Wanes. Wilbo Remembers the Strawberries of Another Century and Anticipates the Grapes of Michigan's Fall.

Paracelsus is a Swiss physician who wrote, "Anyone who imagines that all fruits ripen at the same time as the strawberries knows nothing about grapes." He also has written, "All things are poison and nothing is without poison; only the dose makes a thing not a poison." So I say with my tongue in my cheek, I have tried to kill myself with an overdose of strawberries the last two weeks. The Stawberry Moon is the first moon of summer and this year's bumper crop of strawberries is here, "For a good time, not a long time". So I am trying to make the most of the bounty.

On the day of the solstice, I enjoyed a beer, just one, at the outdoor bar of the Lake House, one of the loveliest decks on Lake Muskegon. Dockers and The Deck are beautiful too, but the Lake House awaits closest to where I sleep. The moon was full, the Strawberry Moon, and the bartender a friend who also has had success acting in local theater. I asked with urgency, "It's the Strawberry Moon! Have you had your strawberries yet"? Kind bartender, she laughs at all my jokes even when she's not bartending.

Mom put in a patch of strawberries the first few years we lived on the farm near Euler Lake. She covered the soil in the frost days with black plastic sheet and punched holes in the sheet for the berries. Then she mulched around the berries with straw. For all this work, the berries never came in strong enough for canning. She had better luck with tomatoes, rhubarb and melons. Neighbors had plenty to sell, and she came home with quarts upon quarts in trays.

She put them up in Mason jars, enough to last until the next crop. She put them up in the basement pantry, beside the shelves of pickles, tomatoes, green beans and beets. The pantry room stood next to the furnace with a wood burning chamber, and I spent nights splitting wood in that Michigan basement with fieldstone walls. Matt stoked the fires in the morning. My cousin owns the house now; should ask him if I could see the pantry; a few mason jars might have survived, sealed, still preserving the strawberries of the seventies.

Lucky for me, now I can see it was luck. She had me hull, cutting off the green calyxes on top. We had plenty of hands at the berry table, mom cutting the fruit into slices, the sisters washing berries in the deep sinks.

Why do people assume my momma didn't teach me to cook? I can even make chicken soup, starting with a live, feathered chicken. Momma even signed off as counselor on my Cooking merit badge. Mom taught me how to paint too as she painted thousands of wood miniatures on the same table where she canned fruits and vegetables. Among bears and cats, she also painted little strawberries, pears, peaches, melons and even sweet corn. Collectors bought them up at craft shows around Christmas, picked them up for prices far too low.

The first quote reminds us that when the strawberries and asparagus crop diminishes, apples and grapes and peaches await us. I like the quote metaphorically. The love of youth is precious; yet, the love found in older age is fine too, like grapes in the fields of Leelanau County. I'm wondering, metaphorically, what follows grapes. When it comes to love, am I peaches? Am I grapes? Maybe I'm pumpkins and squash.

Three times a week, I've gone to the farmer's market since the summer schedule has begun. Since the strawberry season has arrived, I've left the market with a quart and enjoyed them washed and hulled. I carefully review the boxes of berries, and I bought organic berries of gargantuan size Saturday, the berries looking like two or three berries merged together. Tuesday, I bought smaller, intense berries from a farmer in Ravenna, selecting these from the fellow who sells me Honeycrisp in season. Bob of Bob's Produce sources his offerings from pesticide free fields near Ravenna. He'll stop customers to make sure they know, "Those are the most expensive strawberries at the market". He sells a pint for four dollars when that's the going price for a quart. "That's okay. I like supporting you", said one woman as she tendered four dollars. I think I have to put Bob's berries on my list for Thursday, just to see if the taste is worth it.

Maybe I'll go to extremes. Decades ago, my church gathered up its confirmation young every summer, put us on a bus and delivered us to the Lutheran Camp on Stony Lake. We sang songs, swam in Stony Lake and canoed to Lake Michigan. It was still legal to sleep on the beach then. Now property owners post signs warning of penalties for trespassing.

Wandering through the sandy forests and fields of Oceana County, I would stumble upon wild strawberry plants growing in the sand, tiny berries red and inviting. More tart than sweet, nothing in the supermarket has that taste. There's enough berries to gather for a batch of wild jam. In the fall, I could go to hedgerows and look for the vines of the fox grape, and squeeze them for their purple juice and make a batch of wild jelly. But then, this is a wish to return to my grandparent's table, who always had wild blueberry and thimbleberry jams on their back porch table.

No comments: