Strawberries 'N Tears
Who can resist Mom's strawberry shortcake? Fresh berries from the patch sliced and sweetened, on top of a warm piece of shortcake fresh from the oven.
It is early June and the berry patches north and east of our little village are ready for picking. Today Dad or my older sister will take us to pick some.
This time of the year is one of my favorites. The garden is planted and growing. Time to pick and eat those big, red, luscious strawberries. Mr. Starner, the proprietor planted a few new patches last year, and today they directed us to one.
A new patch is a sight to behold. Lush, green foliage in straight mounded rows invites us to "come pick your own". Neighbors from far and wide are here to pick berries for shortcake, jam or just plain eating. This day is exciting. We are going to pick ten or twelve quarts to enjoy. Looking at the row, Mr. Starner placed straw in between the rows for one; to protect the crop, and two, make it easier on the knees when kneeling to pick.
Kneeling, and parting the very healthy looking plants made my eyes light up like a Christmas tree. Berries, all large, the size of a silver dollar and very ripe wait to be picked. I don't bring enough empty quart boxes. This is the most delightful part. Now on my hunkers, and using both hands, within a minute the first quart is full, and I never moved. Darn, this is going to be over much too soon. Before long all eight boxes are overflowing and I "must" leave; I have no will power. Maybe I forgot to mention this. For every five I picked, one didn't make it to the box. Sitting in the middle of this ten acre field surrounded by big red strawberries, I just didn't want to leave. Sis picked as many, and we proceeded to the check-out. Twenty-five cents per quart is paid and we head home.
Mom is happy to see all the big red berries, and before long is capping and slicing two quarts. Sugar is sprinkled over the top to draw some juice and the bowl is placed in the refrigerator.
Then Mom repeats something she does over and over again in her daily baking routine. A favorite big brown ceramic bowl with the blue, red and yellow stripes is retrieved from the cupboard. Time to make her famous "happy day" cake for supper. Butter, eggs, sugar and flour are added to the bowl. Finally, time to sit down and beat the mixture by hand, with a big wooden spoon. It makes me feel good to watch her sit and rest for a while, even though stirring the batter. Supper will consist of warm yellow cake covered with sweetened berries from the refrigerator, and all this covered with a ample supply of cold milk. We ate to our hearts content, and no one ever complained.
Within a few weeks we picked more berries, and Dad is instructed to go get supplies from the country grocery store; the one with only two isles and a wooden floor, to get wax and sure-jell. Mom is making fresh strawberry jam. A big pot is placed on the stove, and into it goes the crushed berries, lots and lots of sugar and some butter. After it cooks for a while the sure jell is added, and she frantically stirs like crazy for a short while. Then the hot jam is poured into "jelly jars" and melted paraffin is poured over the top as a seal. I certainly was not qualified to make jam, but the next step becomes equally important; eating her jam on warm buttered toast. I love to open a new jar, and pushing on one side of the paraffin it popped off. No one licked the seal, bad manners. After all these years, confession is good for the soul.
Within a few years the family grew and now we are six in number, the last sibling being a sister. Sharon became a "pistol" and we loved our little sis to pieces. She loved strawberries, especially in pie form.
At the same time I started to follow in my Mothers footsteps and learned how to bake. She became an excellent baker herself, and taught us well, especially pie baking. This became her specialty, mainly fruit pies, including fresh strawberry pie. I will perfect this one and serve it to the family on special occasions.
Here is my favorite recipe for the above pie;
1 qt. fresh ripe strawberries (washed, capped and sliced) add them to a nine inch pre-baked crust of your choice. In a sauce pan bring to a boil, 1-3 oz package of wild strawberry Jell-o, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, 2 tablespoons cornstarch. Cook until blended and smooth. Pour over the berries and refrigerate overnight. Serve with a generous helping of whipped cream of your choice,
Everyone who tried this pie immediately fell in love with it, including Sharon. With this new found skill I started to give pies to family and friends on special occasions. Sharon's birthday fell on June 2, right in the middle of strawberry season, and it just felt so good every year to surprise her with a fresh strawberry pie. It became a practice I dearly loved.
Like all young families, we don't stay young. We all worked somewhere and responsibilities consumed our time. Some siblings got married and moved from home; Sharon remained single. One thing never changed; strawberry season and where to pick them. We continued to devour Mom's jam, and I continued baking sis a birthday pie on her special day. It gave me such joy.
Then one cold and wet, snowy day in February our young sibling went to a local hospital for out-patient surgery. Suffering through pure hell with complications, she never came home. We shed many tears. Remembering her birthday now, more will pour forth.
She died ten years ago. Since then I stopped making strawberry pies.
Now every year as Memorial Day and her birthday date approaches, the berries are swelling in size, and I get this awful empty sad feeling in my heart.
I will find another deserving soul and bake them a fresh strawberry pie, for my well-being. Why have I waited so long? It is so rewarding to give rather than receive.
It is well, it is well with my soul.