Tuesday, 15 July 2008


During a very brief interlude in the incessant rain, Hubby, in a moment of uncharacteristic levity, suggested we go, en famille, strawberry picking.
“Why dear?” was all the enthusiasm I could muster, it after all being a Sunday morning after a filthy wet day.
“Only 8 weekends to go and it’s the autumn”, had been my mantra the previous day and now Hubby’s suggestion meant that I’d have to shake myself out of this unseasonal torpor, and get dressed.
“C’mon Alice. Let’s do it. We can make jam”.
“As in the royal we I suppose?”, I asked with just a hint of sarcasm.
“No, really, we’ll do it together”. So, against my better judgment we packed three of the children into the car, gave strict instructions to the fourth to work on his Jane Eyre essay and drove to the south Hams.
Many years ago, when a child, strawberry picking was great fun. We made a day of it and we children would stuff our faces with the fat, red, juicy bounty as our parents, bent double, would fill the truggs to the brim with what was left over. It was innocent and free, and those strawberry stains were, by all accounts, a nightmare for our mother to remove from our pre-Primark, cheap as chips t-shirts.
It is by far a different story these days. So much so that Jeremy Vine had a phone-in recently on the very subject where an irate strawberry farmer had his five minutes of fame by berating the youth of today and how appalling they are and what a nightmare it is to be a strawberry farmer as his livelihood was being compromised because his customers had the temerity to eat as they pick. Hardly a modern phenomenon.
The South Hams farmer must have been listening to the same Radio show as I because, as we pulled up in the car park, I saw ominous signs that suggested any child found with the tell tale red juice around it’s gills would henceforth be admitted to the nearest Borstal tout suite. I became very nervous and whispered to Hubby, “How the hell can we stop the youngest from trying the occasional one? We can hardly leave them in the car can we?”
“No?”, suggested Hubby.
“No”, I said firmly. And so, consequently our time, which should have been a bucolic reminder of gentler days, was spent with Hubby and I hissing at two young girls, who were thrilled to be out in the fresh air, to not dare put any of the strawberries into their mouths only into their punnets.
After fifteen minutes of punishing self control the Red-Head protested vehemently.
“This is not fair and not fun, I don’t want to do this stupid job”. The six year old, it appeared agreed with her sister,
“You let us eat the ones from Tesco’s and someone else has had to bend down to pick them. We are doing the work here. It is slavery”. She is a precocious six year old.
Hubby sighed, the eldest daughter sighed and once again I tried to point out the fun in picking your own, the methodology of jam making and finally the joy of spreading one’s own confiture onto a warm slice of toast. They were not impressed and instead dumped their punnets before running off to play.
Due perhaps to the weather, few people had been out picking and subsequently there was a glut of fruit, which meant that within half an hour, Hubby, our eldest daughter and I had filled our cardboard truggs and took them back to the farmer to pay for them.
He put them on the scales and quite calmly said, “That’ll be £32 pounds please.”
“Excuse me?” I couldn’t quite believe what he said. Thirty two quid? For strawberries? I’ll never eat that much jam in my lifetime, not even if I bought Tiptree.
“I’m sorry”, said Hubby we didn’t come out with enough cash, “Would you be kind enough to wait while we locate a cashpoint?”.
The farmer sighed before reluctantly putting the truggs behind him. We got in the car.
“What are we going to do now?”, I demanded from Hubby, “No wonder people go to Tesco’s and such. So much for local produce and pick-your-own. And he wouldn’t even let a free one past our lips. What a rip off”.
We found a cafe cum organic shop, who thankfully offered a cash-back facility. I paid nine pounds for a few slices of free range turkey and a bottle of organic rose wine and received twenty five pounds cash-back.
“That’s it”, I said to Hubby, “I’m not prepared to pay more than that”.
We returned home with two and not three truggs, whereupon I set to hull the berries. “I thought we were doing this together?”, I called to Hubby.
“Just a minute. Just sorting my work shirts”. I don’t quite see how sorting a week’s worth of white shirts takes forty five minutes, but evidently it does because by the time Hubby came to join me every strawberry had been hulled.
“Shall we get them on the boil then?”, he proposed.
“Not on a Sunday evening. I’ll make the jam tomorrow morning when everyone is in school. Less mess”.
Hubby shrugged, “Whatever”. I went to bed before him but was woken at 1am with him prodding my shoulder, “Alice”, he whispered, “Disaster. It didn’t set”.
What was he thinking meddling with jam making? Independently.
Of course the following morning I walked into my kitchen and found eight gallons of strawberry soup on my hob. After much consultation with Delia and my old domestic science teacher not to mention the loan of a jam thermometer from the stalwart of the local W.I, I now have enough jars of jam to comfortably provide every cream tea this side of the new millennium. We shan’t be bothering with chutney.


It's just me said...

Do they really honestly not let you eat as you pick? My local farm doesn't seem to mind at all. Although, the last thing I picked there was asparagus, and that didn't seem to work quite so well.

Eloise said...

I loved hearing of your strawberry picking adventures. If you could send some of your lovely jam across the pond, I'd be an enthusiastic recipient!

How's the Jane Eyre essay coming along?

DL said...

32 quid?! i'd tell him where he could shove his bloody strawberries!

Jen M. said...

My favorite memories of picking berries int he deep south (for jam!) were of how sick we all made ourselves stuffing our mouths with berries as we picked. You should find a place that lets you eat!

Anonymous said...

We had a strawberry picking adventure of our own a few weeks ago. I was too busy wishing away my need to pee (far, far, far from the portapotty) to worry about eating the fruit before paying, but I know the kiddos indulged. We then paid a small fortune for the privelege of picking our own, and proceeded to wash, hull, and prepare 50 pounds of berries for freezer jam. No one will have naked toast this year!