I'm embarrassed to admit that I had never been strawberry picking. That's despite the fact that I spent my high school years in prime strawberry country. My urban character was, I suppose, already well entrenched by that time, and the notion of heading into a leafy sea of sticky berries with a basket and a wide-brimmed hat did not seem the most appealing way to spin out an afternoon. This is why I received my husband's suggestion that we load our considerable crew of children into the minivan and head for the wilds one late spring day with something less than enthusiasm.
But I allowed myself to be convinced (Adam had fond memories of his own strawberry-picking childhood) and was surprised to discover an encroaching sensation of anticipation as our vehicle neared our destination.
As for the kids (Kenya, then age seven; Malindi, age five; Finn, age three; and baby Kai, age one), well, they were wild for the plan from the get-go. I'm pretty sure they had no idea that strawberries arrived in anything other than little green net baskets and were surprised to come upon them in their natural habitat.
So off we went, to a pick-your-own establishment I'd located in one of those “How the Heck Am I Supposed to Keep My Kids Occupied This Weekend?” books. It was a fair hike from our city home (thus requiring the de-rigeur layover at Tim Horton's for a TimBit and fruit juice fill-up), and we were all pretty ready to disembark by the time we pulled up a long, windy dirt driveway whose roadfront sign promised we'd found the spot.
We parked and changed a diaper on the front seat while the other three, drunk with freedom, charged around the vast country parking lot, kicking up puffs of dirt with their sneakers. From there, it was onto a tractor-pulled haywagon,—much to our junior passengers' delight—and our assigned picking row. Except for Kenya, who had insisted on bringing her own authentic straw basket from home, each of us toted a little plastic bucket—distributed by our hosts—to contain our treasures.
In no time, Adam and I had filled our buckets to the halfway point. I peeked into the kids' tubs. They held no more than seven strawberries between them.
“Where are all the strawberries?” I asked. But they needn't have answered: the faces of each of my little fruity companions were smeared with guilt.
“We ate them,” they confessed.
How could they not? Strawberries from source are a thousand times sweeter than the supermarket variety. What's more, they explode in the mouth like a firework, spewing their hosts with a residual reminder of their tastiness that's a devil to scrub off.
The end of the afternoon drifted in to find the entire family, grubby, sweaty and stained with the memory of a delicious adventure, sprawled lazily across the loose hay scattered between the rows. “I'm done,” Malindi said, popping the last of her berries into her mouth. “Me too,” said Finn, whose bucket had never served as anything more than a temporary holding station en route to his mouth.
So we struggled to our feet and grabbed the next haywagon for a ride back to the car. By the time we hit the parking lot, the kids were flagging. I insisted upon a thorough visit with a washcloth before anyone could climb aboard. The drive home was surprisingly quiet.
Back in our own kitchen, we took stock. Adam and I had collected several pints worth of sweet red bounty. We wrapped the berries and tucked them inside our freezer door in anticipation of winter cravings. But the kids, whose Timbit stash had long since run out, had snacked on the balance of their afternoon's labour on the way home. They had nary a berry between them.