Plump sweet berries and red juice running down little chins mark a sure sign of summer around the bend. Ever since I was a little girl strawberries ranked at the top of the list for all of us. I’ll never forget my Dad’s “Mmm” as he thought of that first serving of chopped, sweetened strawberries ladled over a fresh chocolate cake. Sometimes for an extra treat, we filled our six-quart ice cream freezer and cranked homemade ice cream to go with it.
Cleaning strawberry patches was never so exciting, especially not when we had hundreds of plants and we picked berries to sell. When I was eight years old I remember our parents giving us five cents a quart. We shuffled one-quart basket down the row for our strawberry customers and the other hosted seconds which were to be used for us as a family. As we neared the end of the season, it seemed endless to fill a quart with these teeny berries. Much to our delight my parents then told us children we could each keep track of how many strawberries we could fit into a quart basket, then get a penny a piece for them. Imagine several children kneeling between the rows of berries, carefully stacking as many as possible, when a handful toppled off, they were all restacked even more carefully. The amount was then carefully jotted down with our five-cents-a quart list, giving it a nice boost. At the time, my parents charged $2.50 a quart for the ones we sold to local customers stopping in, and if I remember correctly, the ones we sold at my uncle’s store were sold for $3 a quart.
Removing the tops was not something I particularly enjoyed, yet it was a welcome break from working in the sun. My mom has always been an early riser and tried to get an early start before the heat of the day, or on some days, before the rain.
Next was washing them. Picture large bowls all on the table waiting for their turn to be washed, drained and chopped. This was more fun as the cool water ran down through our fingers as we rinsed them. (Yes, in our community, we do having running water.)
When I was a teenager we were introduced to our first strawberry smoothie made with ice cubes and sweetener. These berries were put in the blender whole, so we began freezing some minus sweetener or having them chopped. In latter years we used frozen milk cubes or even yogurt with a bit of vanilla and natural sweetener such as stevia. When using frozen berries, we used fresh milk instead of frozen milk cubes. Now we also enjoy adding a banana or a handful of blueberries as it not only adds flavor but also produces a more creamy texture.
Having children of my own adds even a richer dimension to strawberry season. One-year-old Joshua is completely enthralled by the amazing discovery that juicy red berries can be find right out in the garden! He does amazingly well to picking only the red berries — he has his Daddy’s careful ways in little details as such.
Daniel and I had started a brand new patch next to the main part of the garden. I often smiled as I watched Daniel put his whole heart into soil preparation, fertilizing and mulching as he did all could think of to produce maximum production. He had been so excited for this spring and our first crop of berries to see what the harvest will be like. Now as they came in full bloom I endlessly thought of him. My heart ached within, how fun we’d have marveling together over a crop loaded with plump berries, beyond any we’ve had so far. As I’ve done a “million” times in the last six weeks, I surrendered it to God. Though I still hurt, I knew it will be okay.
“Imagine what Daddy has in heaven,” I mused to the children, “No doubt he has things even way better than strawberries!” Now, as we miss Daddy, we thank God for the berry patch he started for us to enjoy.
Strawberry Fruit Pizza
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. lemon flavoring, opt.
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 cup flour
Press into a greased 9 X 13 pan. Bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes. Do not over bake; it should not be brown at all.
Cream Cheese Mixture:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
8 ounces whipped topping
Beat cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Fold in whipped topping. If desired add a dash of lemon juice.Spread on top of cooled crust.
3/4 cup sugar
5 heaping tablespoons clear jel*
3 cups cold water
3 Tbsp. strawberry jello
1/4 tsp. salt
Mix all together in a saucepan, bring to a boil, simmer a few minutes. Cool and spread on top of cream cheese mixture. Chill. We like it best the day after its made, as the flavor blends more.
* Corn starch may also be used, it will result in a bit more cloudy-looking filling.
Gloria Yoder is an Amish house-wife in rural Illinois. She is the third writer of The Amish Cook column since its inception in 1991. Yoder can be reached by writing: The Amish Cook, P.O. Box 157, Middletown, Ohio 45042.