Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Fruit Plate: Strawberries

The best strawberries I've ever eaten came from a farm in Norway owned by a relative of Diner #1's. I first had the chance to be present at the strawberry harvest one July, when Diner #2 was about a year old. Soon after arrival, we were sitting around the kitchen table when Diner #1 cleared his throat and meekly submitted that we might perhaps like to pick a few, you know, just as long as we were there. "Oh, pick as much as you want," said the relative, waving a hand. "It's not like we're going to run out."

After dinner, we walked into the still sunlit fields, from which arose a scent like that of bubbling strawberry preserves, and looked down. Spilling onto the neat straw-lined walkways, as if each plant were an open jewel box, were berries upon berries in all stages of ripening, from the cutest jade marble to blood-ripe specimens.

The scent was only a hint of the ecstatic experience. There was the glossy skin delicately punctuated with tiny seeds, the bite into the flesh, the taking of the sweetness into one's body. Pausing, one could easily become envious of others' obvious pleasure. There was an equally easy cure for this, and that was to eat more berries.

Norway is justly famed for its berries. These were not just any Norwegian berries, though, but Valldal strawberries. The village of Valldal possesses a climate and soil beautifully suited to strawberry growing. Since they fetch a premium price in Oslo and elsewhere, only strawberries grown in Valldal may be marketed as such---a sort of berry-sensitive appellation controllee. 

"Why don't the birds attack them?" I wondered out loud. It turned out that the birds preferred the local wild blueberries.

That was about ten years ago. Since then, the Diners and I have been fortunate enough to visit Valldal during several more harvests. Our relatives always apologize for not having more time for extended conversation. I always reflect that even if harvest time permitted that, it would be impractical for us as well, whose mouths are occupied with such strawberries.

Immersion in the Valldal strawberry mystique has made me picky about the ones back home. Driscoll's has proven itself time and again to be the best source. The berries should be red all over, without mushy spots (I turn the clamshell package over to examine for these). Sniffing them pays off, too: they should have an appealing scent.

Although best eaten right away, strawberries may be stored for a day or so in the fridge and taken out in time for them to warm up before serving. We don't add anything to them. Good berries don't need any adornment; the intense flavor is worth savoring on its own. The Diners and I sit and munch and remark on the degrees of sweetness: this berry needed more ripening, that one was unusually good. "But, of course," someone always adds, "nothing beats the ones from Valldal."

Copyright (c) 2016 Anna Bendiksen