I love strawberry picking.
It's one of those quintessential childhood memories – piling into the car with family and friends, tumbling out in a screeching gaggle, excited to see row after row after row of beautiful strawberry plants, scalloped green leaves revealing lush, red berries… spreading out across a few rows, mums together, kids finding their own corner… everyone laughing, chatting, giggling and picking fruit… competing over who's picking the biggest berries or who is the fastest to fill their punnet… and later, smeared in sticky juices, making our tired but happy way back home again clutching our precious baskets of fruit.
And then, over the next day or two, helping my mum make the most delicious strawberry jam from the fruits of our fun. (I couldn't bring myself to call it a labour!)
At university too, there was a pick-your-own farm just down the road from the campus. Better still, they had an honesty system – when you took your strawberries to the till to be weighed and paid for, a small note asked you to make a guestimate and contribute towards the berries you'd eaten whilst you picked. I loved that, as it meant I didn't feel guilty about popping berries as I picked … I'd even be willing to bet that most pickers over- rather than under-estimated their consumption.
I have picked strawberries now and again, in the intervening years, but must confess that back, hip and knee problems make crouching and crab-walking along the ground difficult to manage for more than a few minutes at a time.
Last year, just too late for the strawberry season, I came across a recommendation for Parkside Farm in Enfield. Mention of their table-top strawberry system appealed hugely and I bookmarked the site, checking on it regularly these last few weeks, waiting impatiently for the strawberry season to arrive.
Finally, on the last Saturday in June, off we went… me bubbling with excitement, just as I had when I was a child. The farm was busy; families with kids of all ages playing hide and seek between the rows, an elderly couple taking their time to select only the most perfect fruits, four middle aged friends striding purposefully from the entrance, people of all ages, speaking many different languages but sharing the delight of picking one's own…
So, what about the table-top system? What can I tell you? I'm an absolute convert! Strolling comfortably along the rows of waist-height troughs of healthy plants, their ruby red fruit hanging so easily in reach, takes away the pain but without losing any of the pleasure I remember so fondly.
(Pete, being 6 foot 6 inches tall, still has to slouch just a little, but for the rest of us, the strawberries are at just the right height).
What did I do with our 4 kilo harvest? Strawberry jam, strawberry ice-cream, strawberry vodka and, of course, fresh strawberries and cream!
The quote in the title, by the way, is by William Allen Butler, a 19th Century American lawyer, poetical satirist and travel writer.