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Strawberry Fields

April 5, 2015

The Beatles’ song, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” was released on an old 45 rpm vinyl record back on the old days. It was on the flip side of “Penny Lane.” What is the meaning of the seemingly senseless lyrics? An answer can be found at http://www.Songfacts.com.

Strawberry Fields was a Salvation Army orphanage in Liverpool, England. Having lost his father and his mother, John Lennon felt a kinship to the homeless boys. He had fond memories of the place, especially the garden that inspired this song.

In an interview Lennon explained, “Strawberry Fields is a real place. After I stopped living at Penny Lane, I moved in with my auntie, into a nice place with a small garden. Paul, George, and Ringo lived in government-subsidized housing.

“Near our home was Strawberry Fields, a boys’ reformatory where I used to go to garden parties with my friends. I used it as an image. Strawberry Fields forever.”

John donated money to the orphanage before his death. One of its buildings is named Lennon Hall.

The title of the Beatles’ song reminds me of Strawberry Hill on Highway 11 in northern Spartanburg County. The strawberry fields near Cooley Springs are abuzz with activity this time of year.

April 15 is usually associated with the Internal Revenue Service deadline for paying income taxes. Not this year. I made a telephone call to the folks at Strawberry Hill up on Highway 11 last week. The delicious red berries should be ready to purchase and enjoy by mid-April. James Cooley reports that favorable temperatures, rainfall, and sunshine earlier this year give promise of a plentiful crop of delicious berries. Strawberry season has arrived!

For an all too brief time every year, locally grown strawberries take the produce spotlight. Imported berries from California or Florida get us through the colder months, but we look forward to the unsurpassed flavor of the Spartanburg County beauties.   From Cross Anchor to Landrum, from Cowpens to Lyman, the succulent red strawberries, grown on the rolling hills of our county, are the fruit of choice from mid-April through late June.

The best strawberries can be purchased at roadside stands across the Upstate at this time of year. On an early Saturday morning in April several years ago, 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.

My mother was a master chef. Strawberry shortcake was among the many rich dessert offerings at Mama’s table. She constructed her masterpiece with either angel food cake or old-fashioned homemade pound cake. The cake was sliced into layers. Each layer was saturated in turn with sweetened puréed strawberries and topped with a thick coating of real whipped cream.

There was nothing short about Mama’s reassembled cake! The towering structure was crowned with more whipped cream and decorated with fresh sliced strawberries. Just writing about Mama’s strawberry shortcake makes my mouth water and raises my cholesterol level.

I preached a series of sermons at a revival at a country church in the Lowcountry several years ago. On the final night, we enjoyed a church picnic. At the outdoor supper, an alarmingly large man sat beside me. His dinner-sized paper 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 plate of shortcake might have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The chair held securely. When the last morsel of the dessert was consumed and the platter was licked clean, the man turned to me and said, “Now, preacher, that’s the way we’re gonna’ eat in heaven.”

I thought to myself, “Probably sooner than later.”

In my childhood, my dad was, to me, the master strawberry grower. Dad planted his own strawberry field, a long narrow bed of Ozark Beauties next to a stand of tall yellow pine trees. The pine needles provided the mulch to protect the plants in the winter. In the early spring, the pine needles were removed to allow the plant crowns to bud. Delicate white blossoms gave a pleasing portent of the harvest to come. When the strawberries were ripe, we took turns picking. The family rule was, “Put ten in the bucket for every one you eat.”

Thank goodness! Otherwise the bucket would never have been filled.

When I was a boy, fresh berries were on our table three times a day throughout the spring. Now as then, for a few weeks each spring, strawberries are a daily treat in our home.

Strawberries brighten the flavor and the appearance of a bowl of cold cereal. The red berries sparkle in a salad of fresh fruit. Strawberries over vanilla ice cream are an outstanding finale to a summer supper.

By the way, did I mention Mama’s strawberry shortcake? That has to be the all-time favorite for our family and for many other folks as well. Come to think of it, strawberry shortcake really might be served in heaven!

When Clare and I lived in Louisville, Kentucky, I wanted to plant my own strawberry field, a small patch in our backyard. 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 more composted cow manure. My mom and dad came for a visit at exactly the time the strawberries were ripe. Though few in number, the berries were plump and delicious. I proudly put a bowl of strawberries in front of my dad, the master at growing strawberries.

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

“Composted cow manure,” I said.

He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and a playful smile on his face.

“These strawberries would be a whole lot better if you did what I do.”

“What’s that, Dad? I asked.

“I usually put cream and sugar on mine.”

To each his own, I guess.

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