In June, Connie made jam out of the strawberries she grows at the front of the house. The strawberries themselves have an intense flavor and sweetness – quite unlike the bland half-fist-sized white-in-the-middle mutants they sell in stores under the label “strawberries”.
Connie’s strawberries grow into a variety of shapes. Some of them have little green nodes at the bottom, even when fully ripe. Sometimes the seeds have a green hue, as if mold has attached, but I think that’s just the color of those seeds.
If one happens to look like a smaller version of a store-bought strawberry, if it is a bright red heart an inch and a half tall, usually I find a little gray slug has found it first, carving the sweet flesh inside out, embedding itself in a cocoon of delicious food – how could I be upset with it?
Some of the strawberries take a blood-like color, scarlet. These are the ripest, and these must be plucked the gentlest – they might burst seemingly under the force of joy.
To pick a strawberry, I tug on the fruit, and either the stem comes with it or not – either the berry’s headdress of little green leaves stays attached or falls off. It takes a small amount of force, and the squeezing should be slight. Finally, there’s a little snap, and a rustling of plant leaves as everything moves back into place.
I find the pale white ghost strawberries have growing to do. But eventually they get an an orangish rust color. If this covers them fully, they will be ready to pick in about a day. The berries as a group do not ripen all at once, but over a few weeks.
On my toast, Connie’s jam is a shimmering orange-red like a stop sign in late afternoon sun. It retains all the strawberriness of the fresh fruit, but now we can have it for months not weeks. And now when I eat toast, I think of mixed oil paints cadmium red and cadmium yellow, small beating hearts hot in the afternoon, and Connie feeding the slugs berry trimmings.