Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Strawberry Memories

The kiosk below, right, advertising and selling the strawberries, is just a kilometer from our house. They sell more than strawberries just now; also their own cherries, jams, jellies and wine.

When very young and living in Prince Edward Island, I loved the first strawberries, just as I do now.  In those long-ago days they were likely even more special than they are today, as one never saw them except in spring.  But still today, we all look forward to the wonderful sweet strawberries of spring.  This year in Germany they ripened early, and so we have been enjoying them since early to mid April, just as we have the Spargel.  Strawberries and white asparagus ripen at the same time, with the fields everywhere filled with men and women picking both, to be served in home kitchens and in deluxe restaurants alike.

The strawberry pickers are on the left, beside and behind the kiosk selling them.  The asparagus pickers are on the right, just beyond the Autobahn, the reason for such a fleeting glimpse.  We were driving at around 150 to 160 k. per hour. 
 Green asparagus is grown, of course, but it isn't served as often as in North America.
I grew up in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island during my early years (during my teens, in Nova Scotia).  One of my memories from those days is riding my bike out to see my mother's sister--my Aunt Grace--and Uncle Frank during strawberry season.  They and my cousins, Bill and Doug, lived on a farm.  It seemed to me like quite a ways at the time--I was only about ten or eleven years old--although it was no more than about three miles.  Aunt Grace always phoned my mother to let her know I was there, as I usually just went without saying anything beforehand.  (I am still pretty independent!) 

The picture at left shows me (centre) and my sister Carol and cousin, Billy, at his parents' farm (with barns in the background).    The picture on the right shows me on the right, my sister, Carol, beside me, and our cousins Donnie, Billy and Jean.  (Donnie and Jean lived in Needham, Massachusetts.) 
This picture below shows my good looking father standing at left and Uncle Frank on the right.  My mother is on the right below and Aunt Grace in the centre with baby Douglas.  Billy is on the far left and my sister Carol, on the far right.  This would have been about 1939 or 1940.
On those days when I drove out there, Aunt Grace would pick large, luscious strawberries from her garden patch in the field behind the barn and she would serve me a bowl of them, topped with their own whipped cream, fresh cream from their cows that morning.  I can almost taste the sweetness and hear Aunt Grace laughing.
The picture below is of my grandparents--my father's parents--in the early 1900s.  I only knew Grandad with a thatch of white hair.  His hair whitened when he was young, perhaps in his 30s or 40s.  He was of Scottish descent, though born in Canada, and my grandmother was of English descent, and also born in Canada.

When I was quite young, in May or early June, my sister Carol and I would go over to the cottage at Rocky Point with our grandparents to open it up for the summer.  I can still remember the smell of the railway tracks and nearby waterfront buildings--almost like tar--as we walked along towards the ferry that would take us across Charlottetown Harbour to Rocky Point, about a 15-minute ferry ride.  At the last corner, before turning to go down to the ferry, we would often stop in at McCannell's store for a few groceries and a chat--and always some candy.  From the ferry, on the other side, we would then have to walk about three miles, which seemed to Carol and I as the longest walk ever.  (Our grandfather didn't drive, perhaps one of the reasons he lived to 101, as he walked everywhere throughout his life.)

Grandad, heading to his late years, with still lots of hair.  
That walk from the ferry took us up a long dusty road past the grocery store, perhaps stopping for a few things to take along with us.  (That store is no longer there and neither is the ferry.  Today, one must drive around, about a 30-kilometer drive from Charlottetown.)  Then another walk past a barking dog (I still remember how afraid of him I was!) and up the narrow, red country dirt road to the cottage.  That road is still exactly the same, dust, bumps, ruts and all.

That is the road below, showing it from the top down, back towards the main road and the ferry.  It looks to be in pretty good shape. 

Carol, below, in the early days of our childhood sitting in front of the screened-in porch of the cottage.  We children sometimes slept in that porch, protected by netting and rain covers that pulled down in bad weather.  We loved it there. 

A picture from later years when all we siblings were grown.  This picture, in front of Paula and Laurie's cottage, just down from the old one of our grandparents, shows my sister Paula in the forefront on left and her son Ken on the right.  From Paula, left, is Stephen, Anne's husband, then Carol and my sister Anne.  At the end, Laurie, Paula's husband, me, and lastly, Derek, Carol's husband.  Hans took the picture.  That was in about 1988.  Paula and Anne were younger by a few years, thus were not so much a part of our childhood days, other, of course, than being our little sisters.
When Carol and I went to the cottage in May or June, the fragrance of spring was in the air and every time I go back there, which is rarely these days, it brings back those long-ago memories.  The same scents still:  wild garlic, wild roses (oh, so lovely!) and, later, sweet hay with a profusion of sweet clover and buttercups along that red road and in the field alongside it.  Wild strawberries grew here and there.  Later, in summer, we would go picking wild blueberries and raspberries, with our grandmother's blueberry pie and fresh raspberry tarts for lunch and supper.
These wild strawberries grow along the front of our garden here in Germany.
 My mother's family, below, in about the late 1920s or early 1930s. Her father is at the left and her mother, on the right with her siblings--my aunts and uncles--in between.  Mom is at the front, right.
In early July, we would visit our other grandparents, who lived in Georgetown, a small harbour town about an hour's drive from Charlottetown, where we spent a couple of weeks each summer.  Grandpa Louis was the station master in Georgetown for the Canadian National Railway, which meant we would get a treat at the end of the day.  The train arrived every evening around suppertime during my childhood.  We would hear the whistle far down the tracks warning us that it was on its way.  Steaming, huffing and puffing, it would arrive with brakes screeching.  Black smoke would be belching and, with a final two or three puffs, all would come to rest.  Our big moment of the day would then arrive: Once the passengers came off, we would be allowed to climb up onto the engine.  With a loud whistle and a burst of smoke, off we would go as it backed up to the "train barn" a few hundred yards down the track.  It was such a thrill and I'm sure every one of us remembers that still.
 The picture below is of my Grandma Tillie, my mother's mother.

I can remember coming downstairs at my grandparents' house in the morning and going into the kitchen. During strawberry season, which was still ongoing in early July, my grandmother often had a huge bowl filled to the top with those berries, all covered by sugar and sitting on the table in the kitchen or pantry.  I don't remember if she cooked them or not, but I know I always wanted to have a bowl right then and there.  They would be on the breakfast table to have with our cereal and toast shortly thereafter.

Spring is such a beautiful time of year with all the lovely fruit, berries, asparagus and many other early vegetables at the farmers' markets and in the home gardens.  Many country kiosks are also selling boxes of freshly picked dark red sweet cherries.  Our own tree has given us a bumper crop, with more than we have ever seen on it.
The kiosk products on the left include cherries, red currants and strawberries.  The cherries on the right are from our tree.

We generally don't cook with either the strawberries or the cherries; instead, we just eat them fresh and whole.  I do, however, make a strawberry dessert a couple of times each spring.  A week ago we invited four friends visiting from Canada for a Spargel dinner:  that special white asparagus, the meal one doesn't have in North America, at least not as we have it here.  Strawberries being in season at the same time as asparagus became our dessert, as traditionally the two go together.

Here is the recipe for my frozen strawberry mousse, an easy and make-ahead dessert.

Frozen Strawberry (or Raspberry) Mousse - Makes 6 to 8 servings
This recipe came from Canadian Living's 1985 Summer Time Cookbook.

1 cup sliced fresh strawberries (or raspberries) or 1 package frozen (425g; nearly 1 pound)
3/4 cup white sugar
2 egg whites
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1-1/2 cups whipping cream (I whip about 2 cups)
For garnish:  a few strawberries, cut in half (or whole raspberries)

In a large bowl, combine berries, sugar, egg whites, lemon juice and a pinch of salt.  With an electric mixer, beat for 10 minutes or until pale pink and stiff.  (I beat the mixture for the 10 minutes and it was just right.)
(This is how mine looked after the ten minutes of beating.)  Stir in almond extract.  In a separate bowl, whip 1 cup of the whipping cream; fold it into the berry mixture.  Spoon it into a souffle dish or individual serving dishes or a nice glass bowl--as I do.  Freeze it until firm, about two hours.  (I make mine the day before and freeze it until the next day. Make sure to remove it from the freezer a good half hour or more before serving in order to taste the true flavour.  I did not remove mine as early and it took a while for the flavours to meld.)  Whip the remaining cream before serving.  Garnish the mouse with the whipped cream and remaining berries.  I garnished mine only with the berries and served the whipped cream separately.  You can also add the berries to the whipped cream if wished.  I made a smaller bowl with the remaining mousse as shown below.

Below is our white asparagus dinner with our friends, Ingelore and Kevin from Victoria, British Columbia on the left, and Brenda and Mike, from Chelsea, Quebec (near Ottawa), on the right.

Hans, the chef, on the left with Ingelore and Kevin.  I on the right, with Brenda and Mike, Kevin and Ingelore.  The dinner was superb!  Some of the best Spargel we have ever had; wonderful Kratzede (torn up crepes, sauteed); new, boiled potatoes; three types of Schinken; Hollandaise/Bearnaise Sauce.

The Strawberry Mousse with whipped cream on the side, rather than on the mousse itself.

Summer is yet to come, with its many warm and sunny days ahead to look forward to, although here in Germany, summer came unofficially around the first of April.  Both the white asparagus and the strawberries were early this year and are now coming to an end.  We have enjoyed both several times and look forward to next year when they will beckon us once again from the markets and market gardens.

Guten Appetit!


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