We were ushered off to our strawberry jaunt by a visitor from prehistory.
A snapping turtle backed herself into a corner of the the vegetable garden when I startled her. She scowled, bit the air and elongated her snake-like neck when her ejection was proposed with a shovel. Snappers evolved over 40 million years ago, so she deserves our careful respect.
It’s strawberry season. But it’s early.
Still, we wanted to pick.
One of my mother’s fondest memories of strawberry picking as a kid is the bluebird she saw on a post, her first bluebird, as she rode into the field in the back of a pickup truck with her sister Sandra and her brother Jere.
No bluebirds for us, or birds of any kind. The berries, clustered under their tents of leaves were largely unripe.
At Grieg Farm, in Red Hook, New York, we had a summer sky, hot blue with hazy clouds. And strawberries, it turned out when we looked, plenty enough for the two of us.
I remember eating strawberries when Gil proposed to me decades upon decades ago. He went into the restaurant’s men’s room and looked into the mirror, then came back to the table and dove in.
Ryan took our six bucks and explained that while the berries weren’t the prettiest, they were just as sweet as if they were perfectly red.
Redder (and pink) were the radishes at the farm stand.
One nurseryman told me that if you harvest the baby radishes with their leaves and saute them together, it results in a dish that is delicious. I have plenty of baby radishes in my garden – until the snapping turtle comes for them – and I’m going to try it.
Red-green rhubarb, to go with my peppermint-striped strawberries.
Maybe preceded by a meal of eggs so fresh their yolks puff up like small islands of saffron?
So the strawberries weren’t red. So what? The barns were.
In the car, driving home with alacrity before my coleus plants wilted, Gil said, Do you know why so many barns are red?
I never thought about it.
Because of the chemical properties of dying stars, he said. One byproduct when stars decay is ferrous ochre. Ferrous ochre is plentiful on earth. And ferrous ochre is what makes paint red. So it’s the cheapest kind of paint.
Okay, I say.
Barns are big, he says. Farmers are cheap.
We have red barns because of the chemical properties of dying stars.
Strawberries are a different story.
Macerated Strawberries with Basil
[Macerate= to soften or decompose (food) by the action of a solvent.]
2 lb. fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and sliced 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick (about 4 cups)
1 Tbs. granulated sugar
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar (alternate: 2 tsp. vanilla)
8 to 10 medium fresh basil leaves
In a large bowl, gently toss the strawberries with the sugar and vinegar. Let sit at room temperature until the strawberries have released their juices but are not yet mushy, about 30 minutes. (Don’t let the berries sit for more than 90 minutes, or they’ll start to collapse.)
Just before serving, stack the basil leaves on a cutting board and roll them vertically into a loose cigar shape. Using a sharp knife, very thinly slice across the roll to make a fine chiffonade of basil. Scatter with the basil to garnish.