Growing strawberries

I have been thinking a lot recently about my paternal grandmother. I am not sure why, both her birthday and death fall in October so there is no reason in May to feel her presence but I have been. It is strange, is it not, how sometimes one inexplicably finds oneself thinking a lot about a particular person? Maybe it is the presence of the royal wedding this upcoming weekend that has done it? My grandmother was a great fan of the royals. She had a royal china collection that rivals any you might see. She would’ve appreciated a commemorative plate or mug of Meghan and Harry.

This past week, I harvested the first strawberries that I have been growing in pots on my windowsill. It is an ideal spot and they seem very happy there. (The ones I planted bare root onto the allotment don’t seem to have survived the late snow. I am holding out in replacing them but I think it is inevitable). I always think of Jane Grigson whenever I think of strawberries. It was Diana Henry who first introduced me to Jane when she quoted her in an article. Since then I have become a big fan of Jane Grigson, picking up a copy of The Very Best of Jane Grigson in an Oxfam bookshop. (I keep hoping I might find her Fruit and Vegetable books second hand but they are never there. People obviously hold on to good things.)

Anyway, Diana quoted Jane on strawberries:

“Do you remember the kind and beautiful girl in Grimm’s fairy tales, who is driven out by her stepmother to find strawberries in the snow? How she comes to the dwarves’ house, and shares her crust of bread with them?

And how, as she sweeps the snow aside with their broom, she finds there – strawberries? That vivid image of delight, of fruit and snow against forest darkness, is never forgotten. It’s our northern winter longing for summer, a joy of the mind. And yet, in the sudden snow of winter a couple of years ago, I went to sweep our doorway – and found strawberries.”

It is such exquisite writing. All magic and fantasy and the allure of a strawberry in the depth of winter. Well now I have my own strawberries growing and I finally realised that when one has ripe fruit one should pick and eat it, not simply admire it because otherwise, it will rot and you will be devastated. So as much as I loved admiring my strawberries against their terracotta pot, I picked them.

For dessert after dinner, on an ordinary weekday, I sliced the larger ones in half, and covered all of them (there may have been six) with the smallest sprinkling of golden caster sugar. My grandmother used to do this. Maybe that is why she felt so close? Because I was invoking her way of eating strawberries? Whenever we visited in the summer, she would always have strawberries macerating in sugar to draw out their juices and sweetness, so they could be enjoyed with ice cream. Strawberries in sugar becomes a dessert, rather then a mere fruit. And so I ate them that way, thinking of her in her house, tablecloth smoothed over the table, strawberries in a blue and white china bowl.