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Dad’s Strawberries

May 21, 2012

My dad was a master strawberry grower.  Using his Ford tractor, Dad created a long berm next to a stand of tall yellow pine trees.  He planted a narrow bed of Ozark beauties the length of the mound. The pine needles protected the plants in the winter.  In the early spring, the matted mulch was removed to allow the strawberry crowns to bud.  Delicate white blossoms gave a tantalizing portent of the harvest to come.  When the strawberries were ripe, family members took turns picking.  Our rule was to add ten to the pail for each one we popped in our mouths.  Otherwise, the bucket would never have been filled. 

From early May until late June, fresh berries appeared on Mama’s table three meals a day.  Strawberries brightened the flavor and appearance of a bowl of cornflakes.  The red berries sparkled in a salad of fresh fruit.  Strawberries over vanilla ice cream were an outstanding finale to a summer supper.  Of course, our all-time favorite dessert was strawberry shortcake.

For an all too brief season every year, locally grown strawberries take the produce spotlight.  The unsurpassed flavor of local strawberries is a favorite springtime treat in the Upstate.  Strawberry farms, tucked into the rolling hills across the Piedmont, yield the fruit of choice in the cooler days of early spring.

The best strawberries can be purchased at roadside stands at this time of year. On an early Saturday morning in April, I brought home a gallon bucket of Spartanburg County’s finest.  When I walked in the front door of our home, Clare exclaimed, “Oh boy! Strawberries!”

Three of our children and their families had come for Saturday morning brunch. Those strawberries never made it past the kitchen sink. Clare rinsed them and the family ate their fill. The berries evaporated. Later that day Clare sent me out to fetch another bucket of the tasty treat.

I preached a revival at a country church in the lower part of the county several years ago.  On the final night of services, we enjoyed a church picnic. An alarmingly large man, carrying a dinner-size paper plate, sat beside me.  His plate sagged under a heaping portion of strawberry shortcake. I thought for a moment that the folding chair beneath him would buckle under his weight.  The shortcake might have become the proverbial last straw.

When the last morsel of the dessert disappeared, the man turned to me and said, “Now, preacher, that’s the way we’re gonna’ eat in heaven.”

I thought, probably sooner than later.

When Clare and I lived in Louisville, Kentucky, I developed a small strawberry patch.  In the fall, I tilled several bags of composted cow manure into the garden plot to enrich the clay soil. In the early spring I set out twenty-five strawberry plants and side-dressed them with additional cow manure.

Dad and Mama came for a visit at exactly the time the strawberries were coming in. Though few in number, the ripe berries were plump and delicious.  I proudly placed a bowl of strawberries in front of my dad, the master at growing strawberries.

He admired the bowl of fresh, red berries and asked, “Tell me what you put on your strawberries.”

“Composted cow manure,” I answered.

With a twinkle in his eye and a wry smile on his face, he teased, “I recommend you try cream and sugar.”

Dad always knew what made for the best strawberries.

 

Kirk H. Neely
 © May 2012

 

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