Tim Brayford Landscapes – Strawberry
The Strawberry Field
The sun comes out and I close my eyes as I sit on the garden bench. The warmth seeps into my arms and is chased away with a slight breeze. I sigh and reach down to the punnet and lift out a strawberry. It looks wonderful, deep red with a fresh green calyx, I bite into it and …. nothing. No burst of flavour on my tongue, no unctuous juice to run down my chin just a hard white centre. How disappointing. I was talked into buying them by No.4 son who, with the optimism of youth, thought he was getting strawberries.
When I was younger, (quite a lot younger!) I worked in the strawberry fields in early summer. It sounds idyllic, it was anything but. The first job in early spring was to put down the straw, by hand over about three acres. The boss always got the easy job, he would drive up and down the southern sloping field on his Ransom Crawler tractor stopping to chuck bales of straw off the back of the trailer. Then a couple of the blokes would come out with hay forks, split open the bales and spread them across the rows of plants. Then the three full time women, Carole, Sylvia and Ruby, would start the arduous task of ‘tucking in’. There was a knack to it, you held the leaves and hard green berries in the left hand, cupped upwards and pulled the straw around the plant with the right, swirling round to get the other side. The ladies worked on their knees, using old cushions for padding but I preferred to straddle a row of plants and work doubled over. I could go all day like this and still prefer to weed the garden this way. One year the boss obtained some cheap straw and we found out why, it was short cut barley and stuck itself into our hands and arms where it festered. Still, didn’t bother him did it!
Tim Brayford Landscapes – Ransomes Crawler
When the berries started to ripen the part-timers joined us. I would be organizing up to twelve ladies, some of whom had never had experience of commercial picking. One year there was a crowd of ladies whose husbands were friends of the boss, they thought it would be a good laugh and lots of free berries. The first day started with a promise to be hot, I was wearing my usual jeans and a cotton shirt, with sleeves, and a bush hat. One rather vocal lady derided my choice of clothing and proceeded to strip off to shorts and a bikini top. Her friends did the same, extoling the fabulous sun. We worked for three hours before morning break. They sat in the sun and ate the damaged berries that we were allowed to keep for ourselves. I sat in the shade of a tree. By three in the afternoon it had gone a bit quiet, the banter between the ladies had stopped. By four o’clock the sun and berries had taken their toll and most of the ladies were ‘re-visiting’ their earlier meal of strawberries along the hedgerow. Shoulder blades and lower legs were a livid red and tops were being put back on with amazing caution. They walked off the field on that first day very gingerly, arms held away from the body to avoid anything touching. They didn’t come back the next day.
So the next time you buy a punnet of strawberries remember the work that’s gone into growing them, oh yes….. and make sure they’re British and in season!
Tim Brayford Landscapes – Strawberries
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