Humidity has set in to northern Indiana. I run at the park, through steamy woods and full grown prairie, and sweat rolls off my brow. Though a light breeze blows, it still feels a little bit like I am swimming through water.
No need to announce the arrival of summer. My surroundings display it well enough. And the full strawberry moon and arrival of the first fireflies bring it to the forefront.
In these first weeks of June, I always look forward to the first taste of a real strawberry. It puts the flavor of the rain and the sun right on your tongue. Growing up, we had a patch in our backyard. I remember picking the first bowlful and carrying it right in to eat with our supper. No need to add anything to the berries. They stood on their own.
Later, once I moved to Goshen, strawberry season meant early mornings at the you-pick farms. Bent backs, sun hats, baskets and stained fingers were all part of the picture. After picking what we could, we would carry the berries home, eating some on the way, freezing others whole and turning the rest into jam. The kitchen smelled so good as they cooked.
But probably my favorite strawberry memory comes from Norway. Three summers in a row, my parents, my sister and I spent three weeks driving to Norway from our small town in Belgium. After the obligatory ferry ride from Hirtshals, Denmark, to Arendal, Norway, we took three different routes to see as much as we could see of one the most beautiful countries I have ever been to.
We never quite got our fill of the region – from the western fjords to steamed shrimp from Bergen’s fish market; from the wooden stave churches in the back country to amazing mountain roads shared with sheep; from the invitations to folk dance at the outdoor museum in Oslo to the sight of ancient Viking boats.
We found a cabin to rent in the middle of nowhere, surrounded only by mountains, prairies and woods. My father took out his canvases, oil paints and paintbrush and installed himself at his easel, painting en plein air. All day under the northern sun, he worked on his version of the mountains before us. And he gave me a small canvas to paint my memory of that vacation. In the late afternoon, we all went on a walk and gathered wild flowers in our arms and along the way, a small bowlful of wild strawberries hiding in the woods.
When we returned to our cabin, my father counted 32 different flowers in our bouquet. And my mother served up those wild strawberries as tiny jewels full of flavor.
That night, as we sought protection from the mosquitos in our cozy cabin, the sun still lingered on our skin and on our tongues.
Here is a strawberry recipe passed down to me from my mother that I use a lot at this time of year.
- 1 1/2 quart of strawberries
- 3/4 c. sugar
- 3 T. cornstarch
- 1/2 c. water
- 1 T. lemon juice
- 1 t. butter
- Line a baked pie crust with whole or halved large berries.
- Crush remaining berries and add to sugar, cornstarch and water.
- Cook, stirring constantly until mixture is clear and thick.
- Remove from heat. Add lemon juice and butter. Allow to cool before putting in baked crust.
- Top with real whipped cream or serve with ice cream.