The strawberries have been a surprise of the most delightful kind.
As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I am a deeply lazy gardener. I never remember to water, so we set up an automatic system. I’m terrible about deadheading (as you can see in the photo below, with all that sprouted mustard in the top right corner – and that’s not even mentioning the freely blossoming weeds also visible all over the photo). I even get bored with harvesting and end up leaving vegetables on the plants at the end of the season.
But I still like to try stuff. So I decided to expand the garden by sticking four half barrels in front of the raised beds. Two were meant for flowers (but wound up with eggplant this year) and two for strawberries. Last year we planted eight strawberry plants and waited to see what would happen. We got a couple of handfuls of delicious berries, and I was happy with that.
And then, this spring, the plants took off, filling the barrels to capacity with big, dark green leaves. A few have even spread to the weedy, sandy ground around their containers, battling for supremacy against the bermudagrass and bachelor’s buttons and invasive oregano. (I didn’t know oregano was related to mint or I’d have planted it more carefully, or not at all, since I have no clue what to do with fresh oregano.)
With no input from us but a regular watering schedule and a handful of tomato fertilizer, those plants have joyously put forth more fruit than I would have imagined getting in years – and it’s barely June. We’ve been picking a pint or two a week for several weeks now, of three varieties. The unnamed plants we bought at the farmer’s market have berries that are tiny and incredibly sweet, but annoying to pick. The Seascapes are hardy, huge, and delicious. And the Quinault are somewhere in the middle – bigger than the no-names, sweeter than the Seascapes. All have wonderfully delicate flesh, so much nicer than the bred-for-shipping strawberries in stores.
There are so many strawberries that I can stop guarding them like rubies and actually make stuff with them. It seemed only natural to pair them with our homegrown lettuce. There were fresh avocados on the counter, and a beautiful smoked trout fillet in the refrigerator. (No smoked trout? Hot-smoked salmon would be great too.) I had just learned a dead-simple salad dressing recipe – just cream, cider vinegar, sugar, and salt and pepper – that is a classic Midwestern topping for just-picked lettuce, and would be perfect to marry the flavors together without overpowering any of them. And I tossed in some toasted almonds for crunch.
The resulting salad was a revelation, combining fresh, sweet, salty, and smoky flavors with crisp, tender, creamy, and chewy textures. It took almost no time to put together. And I am confident it would still be scrumptious with good berries and lettuce from the store or farmer’s market. If your strawberries aren’t so sweet, though, you might consider replacing the cream dressing with a simple balsamic vinaigrette to let the balsamic vinegar work its flavor-boosting magic on the berries.
Eat, if possible, sitting outside on one of the last cool days of late spring.