Strawberry Fields Forever, The Beatles
In 1950s small-town Nebraska, strawberries were not a big thing, either in size or in importance. Everyone grew a few in their backyard garden, made a little jam if they had extra, and enjoyed a few rounds of strawberry shortcake. Our berry game changed when we started visiting my Aunt Norma and Gramma Lottie on Vashon Island. There was the annual Strawberry Festival, buckets of frozen berries from the Kiwanis Club (perfect for jam), coerced child labor in Mr. Mukai’s berry fields, sliced strawberries and cream on our morning bowl of Cheerios, Muth’s Strawberry Pie (flakey crust piled high with berries barely held together with red Jello), and Normie’s strawberry sauce over home-cranked vanilla ice cream.
I’m sure sending six children under the age of twelve to the fields to pick fruit, didn’t seem cruel and unusual to Muth and Aunt Normie—they just wanted a little peace and quiet. We six would trudge off (Nikki in charge) without adult supervision, to Manzanita Road to wait for the old school bus to take us to the fields. Marshall strawberries, first to the harvest in late June, were our favorite crop—easy to pick, good to eat, convenient to throw. At the end of the day, when we walked in the door of Normie’s high-bank, waterfront cabin, we were sunburned, tired, dirty, and stained red from fingertips to bare toes. If anyone was bleeding, no one knew about it until bath-time.
After strawberries came red currants: squishy to pick, too sour to eat, but satisfying to throw. At the end of the summer, we took Harlan’s bus and our hard-earned money (paid out each day in coins and dollar bills) into Seattle and the Pike Place Market. Lunch was at Lowell’s window counter (“Almost classy since 1950”), on the ground floor of the Market. We had already eaten a cup of clam chowder on the ferry, so we ordered Alaska cod and chips with sourdough rolls—exotic fare for Midwesterners. After lunch we headed downstairs to the Giant Shoe Museum to see a shoe worn by the “tallest man in the world” and check out the tricks at the Magic Shop.
Although James Beard once described the Marshall as “the tastiest berry ever grown”, the delicate Marshall didn’t ship well and was eventually replaced by more robust, but less flavorful California varieties. In the late 1980s, the strawberry fields disappeared and the Vashon strawberry harvest came to an end. Recently, however, two Island women found heirloom Marshall seeds at the Corvallis Seed Repository, carefully cultivated them, and now are selling plants at the Saturday Market. Who knows, maybe Vashon’s next generation of six-year olds will be back in the fields, picking, eating, and throwing.
Our Aunt Normie and Grandma Lottie in Vancouver B.C., circa 1945
Every late June, I make strawberry pie, with uneven results. This year’s attempt was not memorable, but Glenda’s strawberry cobbler was, so here is that recipe.
- 3 cups fresh strawberries, diced
- ½-3/4 cup sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 cup milk
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 stick butter, melted
Preheat oven to 375.
In a medium bowl, combine strawberries and ¾ cup sugar. Stir to coat strawberries in sugar and set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
Add milk, vanilla extract, and melted butter. Stir until combined—a few lumps are ok.
Grease a 9-inch casserole dish, pour batter evenly into dish.
Spoon strawberries evenly on top of batter. Do NOT stir.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden.
Serve warm or cold.