Sunday, 13 June 2010

Soft. Tender. Ripe. Yielding. Fruity.

And before you deliberately pick me up wrongly, let me hasten to tell you that we're talking strawberries. And not any old strawberries. These are special. They're fraises des bois, wild strawberries. And they're quite rare. So rare that in our Puritan-deferment-of-gratification natures we don't eat them, unless there's an enormous glut. We freeze them, and in the depths of winter J. puts them in the liquidizer and makes a delicious coulis, redolent of glowing summer suns and all the subtle, heady sun-drenched perfumes of midsummer.

We're especially lucky to have them within reach. Well, almost. Behind our house the hillside rises steeply. When I first knew this land a dozen years ago the owners were investing heavily in developing the virgin slopes, hiring diggers to sculpt out terraces in the bowl of the hillside, planting them with cherry, olive and apple trees, putting in expensive espaliering and layering frames.

Then three or four years later, just as this orchard and olive grove was beginning to mature, they lost interest. Nobody came to prune, nor to spray, nor even to harvest the cherries, which just blackened and shrivelled on the branches. The apple trees died. As the years passed, nature gradually took over and this land became a jungle. This reminded me of the story of the priest (not Dave, who is much too much of a gardener to entertain such a notion) who, passing one of his parishioners tending a neat and trim garden, remarked what wonderful things God could do with a garden. 'Ah, but you should have seen it when he had it to himself, vicar,' came the reply.

This jungle is now home to countless self-seeded firs from an adjoining plantation, false acacias, dense thickets of juvenile ash and brambles, stands of wild cherry, enormous heathers and junipers. All manner of crickets chirrup from dawn till dusk. You can smell the scent of badgers, acrid and musky, and follow the tracks of wild boar. Here and there desolate olive trees, scarcely bigger than when they were planted, struggle to survive.

We have wild strawberries on our land, fruiting modestly in odd corners, but this year they have been very disappointing. Yesterday our cat Tonip went missing, driven out of house and home by the vacuum cleaner indoors and the strimmer outside, and then chased by a dog. I went looking for him in the jungle, calling the while. No cat, but what did I find? Wild strawberries. Soft. Tender. Ripe. Yielding. Fruity. Dear reader, what would you have done?

Well, so did I. Here they are. This represents about an hour's worth of picking, so you see how we're reluctant to squander them.

And of course Tonip turned up to see what I was photographing.


Dave said...

My strawberry plants are turning ou excellent fruit at the moment (enough for the team's tea yesterday) - the French plants that you kindly supplied are noticeably sweeter than the English plants.

Of course they're not wild. In fact they're in neat rows - the only part of my garden (which aims for a shaggy cottage garden look) which is.

moreidlethoughts said...

Oh! The sweet, sharp taste of the wild.And you bring memories of summer-warmed stones, nectarines and icy wine. And les cigales!And, of course,frasers, as I've heard them called.

Vicus Scurra said...

A little harsh to kill the cat just for running away.

Christopher said...

Dave: Yes, it's a great year for cultivated strawberries here too. Are you noticing any difference between Charlotte and Belrubi, which - as far as I remember - are the two varieties I sent you? The only difference I find is their shape.

MIT: Frasers! - and just now, mid-June, we have a universal scent, a creamy, sweet scent with a slightly nervous edge to it, one that gets right into one's nostrils and almost into the sinuses (some people don't like it) of combined elderflower, sweet chestnut flower, hawthorn, acacia and occasionally privet.

Vicus: So some might say. But certain household disciplines have to be maintained, don't you feel? (Charlene: Please don't take anything you are kind enough to read here too seriously. Tonip has lives and to spare and is perfectly well and contented, as I hope you are too.)

Charlene said...

You fellas think I am gullible? I can see the small smile of your sweet fury friend!

My father made an orchard near the house full of pear and cherry and apple trees. He sprayed and trimmed and wrapped the trunks of those trees and died the year the first apple came. My mom had them all cut down and dug up.

Wild berries are wonderful. Your description reminds me of the wild blackberries on the place I grew up. Sweaty arms, chiggers and scratches from briars were our payment for a bucket of blackberries. In the woods we found thornless black raspberries.

Rog said...

Tonip is Pinot backwards isn't it.

You must be almost self-sufficient in your idyllic little corner of France Christopher.

I, Like The View said...

ah! I have happy memories of picking wild berries. . .

. . .thanks for the reminders

Christopher said...

No, Charlene, not gullible, but as an honoured (note quaint old UK spelling) newcomer to this place I wouldn't want you to be caught unwittingly in the crossfire before you'd even taken your long white evening gloves off.

Rog: You've rumbled him! He's going to have to think (no easy task) of a new anagrammatic pseudonym. Odds on favourite 'Tnipo'.

Jax: ...and that blackberry juice would only come off with pumice stone, remember?

I, Like The View said...

(or worn, with pride, as a badge of honour)(or dishonour)

Christopher said...

We used to feel something the same about appendicitis scars.