The first strawberry patch that I remember on the home farm was to the west of the red pine windbreak, and before you arrived at the night pasture. It was about a half-acre and fenced so the cows couldn’t trample the berries.
Ma was in charge of the strawberry patch, and she took the responsibility very seriously. During the strawberry season, which meant from early spring when the plants needed hoeing through the picking season which ended in mid-July or so, depending on the weather, we were in Ma’s employ. Even Pa had to put off other pressing farm duties when the strawberries were ripe — all hands on deck during that time. Or more accurately, all hands in the strawberry patch.
She grew two varieties, Sparkle, which was a June berry taking up the majority of the patch, and a few rows of everbearing strawberries that ripen in June and offer a lesser crop in fall as well.
Strawberries along with the chicken flock contributed to Ma’s special income, money that she used for groceries, Christmas and birthday presents, and sometimes clothes and shoes for my brothers and me.
Ma’s strawberry patch was a “pick your own” project, meaning folks from Wild Rose, Wautoma and some of the other nearby villages would come out to the farm and pick strawberries, under Ma’s watchful eye. She organized the picking to a “T.” She constructed markers for each row, and when a person arrived to pick (no children were allowed in the patch) she assigned them a row. And they must stay on their row until it was picked clean, no matter if the row next to it appeared to have better, more luscious berries.
She sold the berries by the quart — most people picked in wooden quart berry boxes that Ma supplied if pickers did not have their own.
Ma was considerably peeved when someone heaped up their quart boxes so that they had at least a quart and a half. She reminded these pickers that a quart meant a quart, and that meant level full or perhaps with a tiny bit of heap. Those who did not abide by her rules — staying on their row, or heaping their boxes, were not invited back.
My brothers, Pa and I picked many quarts of strawberries as well, for our own use and for trading at the Mercantile in Wild Rose. Ma traded crates of strawberries (16 quarts) for groceries. During strawberry season, we’d bring several crates of strawberries to the Mercantile at least twice a week, on free show night, which was Tuesday, and on our regular Saturday evening trip to town.
During strawberry season, one of my favorite treats was a fresh strawberry sandwich. It was easy to make, and nothing tasted better, especially after a couple hours of back-breaking strawberry picking.
To make a strawberry sandwich, I started with two slices of Ma’s fresh homemade bread — at least an inch thick. On each slice of bread I spread an ample amount of butter. Then I selected a half dozen of the biggest, reddest, ripest strawberries I could find. I plucked off the hulls and arranged the berries neatly on one slice of the buttered homemade bread. Then with a kitchen fork, I gently pushed down on each strawberry, until it was mostly flat with the juice oozing out in every direction. When I finished crushing each strawberry, I sprinkled a little sugar over them, put the second piece of bread in place and took a big bite. Oh, what a wonderful taste. It was the taste of summer, and who cared if strawberry juice ran down my chin. Even Ma didn’t comment — she was usually the one to remind me when my face was dirty. I’m sure she was remembering strawberry sandwiches from when she was a little girl.
Recipes from “Old Farm Country Cookbook.” For more information, see www.jerryapps.com.