Wednesday, 25 June 2008

This is the time to buy strawberries

This is the strawberry season! I haven't got any cultivated strawberries it's true but there are wild ones aplenty spreading all over the place, particularly on my patio. In fact it's difficult to see the concrete slabs of the patio now because of the amount of vegetation that has sprung up in the joints between the slabs. So in addition to the strawberry runners there is marjoram, golden rod, evening primrose and nipplewort at least. The last named I know is a weed but this is a Cornish cottage garden when all is said and done and a little untidiness and tolerance of flowers not being in quite the right place is OK by me. I try to maintain a semblance of control but having a garden good for wildlife is important to me, for instance although the golden rod spreads too much and does have to be thinned out a bit occasionally it is brilliant for hoverflies in the late summer.

Back to strawberries. I am hearing that although the fruit is cropping well the 'pick your own' people aren't getting the footfall in their fields that they used to enjoy. This is a great shame but could partly be due to the busy lives many people have, or perhaps different priorities now. Of course it's possible and indeed easy to pick up punnets of strawberries in your supermarket when doing the weekly shop but this just illustrates a major downside to this sort of retailing: there is a massive massive disconnect between the origin of our food and the purchase of the same in a supermarket. It's true I know that many will have a wet fish counter, that's fine but as to most other food one just doesn't get any sort of connection with its origins. Fortunately alternative methods of selling exist - farmers markets, farm shops, traditional butchers and greengrocers and specialist cheese shops are examples. So all is not lost! Regarding strawberries in supermarkets, they are vastly inferior to the fresh ones one can get at roadside stalls in the Tamar Valley for instance. If ever there was a fruit that should be eaten fresh and at the right time of year it is undoubtedly the strawberry yet people's taste buds are now accustomed to eating them any time and after they have been jetted hundreds of miles, all thanks to the supermarkets. Sadly there are huge numbers of consumers who are unaware of the taste of 'real' food, yes if you are happy with a bland product with a good shelf life then supermarkets are fine. I have to put my hand up and admit to using them for certain things - baked beans and washing up liquid no problem and I'm not totally against convenience meals from their cabinets (when convenient!). And shame on me there have been a few times when I have got fruit and veg there, so maybe I'm being a little hypocritical. Of course if you are shopping in these establishments then getting everything one can from the one place obviously makes sense from a logistical point of view.

Whereas it's possible and sensible to preserve fruit for out of season use (I am of a generation that can remember my mother and her mother enveloped in preserving pans and kilner jars) in the case of strawberries it just doesn't feel right to be buying them when it's not the summer! This goes back to the disconnect I mentioned earlier, why don't we relate more of our eating choices to that time of year when a particular food is in natural and local abundance.

I often hear people say that the seasons in this country seem less distinct now. They may well have a point. But let's not heighten that impression by eating nondescript strawberries from Spain in February. And as for having some tasteless iceberg lettuce with a hot meal in a pub in the depths of winter what is all that about? I may have said this before on this blog but perhaps I should audition for that 'grumpy old men' programme on TV!

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