Delicious strawberries now just a sweet memory

ROSEMARY MCLEOD
Last updated 08:28 11/10/2012

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Rosemary McLeod

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OPINION: Let me just mention strawberries - so exciting each year when they first appear.

There was a plant in the garden of my last house that produced them in ones and threes, never more, in spring and into summer.

You were lucky if the birds didn't get them first, so you ate them slowly, first inhaling their smell with gratitude.

You may remember such a thing.

The plant grew where nothing with half a brain would dream of it, in rocky soil, on a hillside. It was neglected, seldom watered and often forgotten, until the first flush of pink on the first berry.

Those berries had a perfume, actually, not a smell, quite unlike the artificial strawberry stuff they put in icecream and milkshakes, whipped up in laboratories.

Scientists never get the point about sensual things - think white-coated Masters and Johnson on the mechanics of sex.

In any case, when was anything artificial ever as good as the real thing?

The smell of a ripe, real strawberry picked a second ago on a fine day is so good that you wish you could wear it: fulsome, aromatic, delicious and delicate.

The berry seems too good to put in your mouth, but too enticing not to.

Only raspberries can compete - later, in summer. They're worth staining your fingers and clothing for, and getting scratched, but it's strawberries that are the harbingers of our chilly spring.

I left that plant behind when I moved house. It seemed mean not to. I think it was pretty old - the house itself was well over 100 years old - and certainly looked quite different from the strawberries I bought this week.

My old strawberries were round, with delicate skin and soft flesh. The juice burst into your mouth, sweet yet sharp, and the aroma was divine, but that was then.

This week, I bought a packet of red things in a punnet, under plastic.

They were a mixture of red, white and green, which is understandable early in the season, but not pretty.

They were as hard as radishes, although with a coarser texture. Perhaps they should be grated. They smelled like nothing much.

The only way I like to eat them now is sliced up in a raspberry coulis, made from frozen berries, where they give more texture than taste, so why bother?

This is what we now call strawberries, and if you can buy another kind I would like to know where and when I can lay my hands on them.

The ones we get now are, I guess, a miracle of chemistry and botany, impervious to rain, hail, combine harvesters, meat cleavers, long journeys in trucks, the heavy footprints of gardeners; able to linger for however long on supermarket shelves and quite possibly useful for playing table tennis.

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They taste, a little, of plastic.

I would pay four times as much for a punnet of real ones.

As for my old plant, they wrecked whatever garden I had after they bought the house and it went to the tip, along with the old roses I had thought it would be mean to take with me, and the Victorian terracotta planters I foolishly thought they would appreciate.

The usual box and iceberg roses moved in.

I doubt that it's possible to like the people who buy your house, whoever they are, and it's certainly a mistake to ever return.

They rip down the wrong walls, paint rooms the wrong colour, make horrible kitchens, and with a sure instinct destroy whatever you liked about the place, especially the garden.

I remember the truck that came, when the new people moved in, and the men flinging plants into it.

I wonder what the crabapple, the pink hawthorn, the sweet-scented old roses and that tenacious strawberry had done to offend them.

And I never buy strawberries these days without remembering what they ought to be, what they used to be and knowing what they are not now.

- The Press

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