Saturday, June 26, 2010

Strawberry fields (forever).

My alarm went off at 6am. Somehow I stumbled out of bed and into the shower and got dressed, eyes still closed, and drove up to J.'s house. We got in her car and headed north, up to the Skagit Valley, stopping for coffee and donuts along the way (salted caramel for me, apple fritter for her). We got lost, thanks to my inability to follow directions. We made wrong turns and were sniffed at by suspicious dogs and finally I saw the unmistakable silver-thatched head of our leader across the road, near a beautiful farmhouse set amongst rolling fields. Strawberry fields.

There were maybe 60 of us, men and women and children and babies. We listened to our hosts talk about strawberry varieties and what it takes to run a family farm, generations in the making. Then we gathered our empty half-flats and trooped across the road to an untouched strawberry field. These are Shuksans, deep red to the core and pure in flavor; they are everything a strawberry should be. I am kneeling in the dirt, lifting up the dusty leaves in search of ripe berries hiding beneath. The ripest berries fall into my hand, gently. Every few minutes I eat another one. Quality control. I look over at my friends with their baby, I., who is enthusiastically diving into his first strawberry, his lips and even his nose stained bright red.

Little kids are running around, leaping over the strawberry plants, helping their parents fill their flats, popping the occasional ripe berry into their eager mouths. I hear the occasional shout of "Mommy! I gotta go potty!" and laugh to myself. I remember being a kid and coming up here to go strawberry or raspberry picking. I remember the heat, the sun beating down, and am grateful that today is cool and gray. We take our heaping half-flats back across the road, and gather to eat strawberry shortcake. The kids are all eagerly waiting for their share, a giant biscuit piled high with fresh strawberries (simply macerated with a little sugar, I think) and whipped cream. Jon solemnly asks each child if they are sure they can handle all that shortcake; each child eagerly nods yes.

Finally, I get my own serving of strawberry shortcake. I feel like a little kid again, tasting some forbidden fruit. That combination of strawberries and whipped cream, it always feels special, and every time I have it again I feel that same shock of excitement all over again.

Full and happy, we drive home, stopping at the Rexville Grocery for an egg scramble to counteract all the sugar bouncing around in our systems. It was a good day.

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