On the strawberry:
"Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did."
~ Dr William Butler, 17th century English writer
On this last day of the month, it's a day of firsts. First rose, as I said before, and this morning I got to take the first cutting of spinach. At the other end of the vegetable garden lies the strawberry bed and it's just beginning to bless us with its scrumptiously sweet fruit.
If I had to pick one single fruit that's my favorite, it would probably be the strawberry, but I like peaches and nectarines, too. And melons of all kinds. We're growing 'Savor Charentais' canteloupe and 'Quetzali' watermelon.
Charentais 'Savor' is an heirloom French melon that you'll rarely find in the produce section of your grocery store, because its skin is so tender that it's difficult to transport without damaging it. Romie doesn't like cantaloupe all that well, but he admitted that this one was good when he tried it last year. I saved the seed so we could grow it again this year. I learned the hard way though, that you want to harvest this melon before it gets too ripe, because its flavor changes drastically if you don't. *ick*
We only managed a couple of ripe watermelons last year, but they were some of the best we've ever tasted! 'Quetzali' measures 12% on the Brix scale, which is used to measure sweetness and that's very sweet. It has minimal seeds, too. I saved some of those from one of last year's melons, and we've got them growing again this year.
I purchased 50 very tiny 'Honeoye' strawberry plants last year from The Greenhouse Effect and to be honest, I wondered if those puny little things were going to produce berries ever, but we actually had a fair amount of them that first year! I'd always heard that you're supposed to pick off the blooms the first year you plant them so you'll get stronger plants and better berries the following years. Apparently, that's a myth and nothing is gained by doing it. We didn't pick ours off and from the looks of the berries coming on right now, I can't imagine we could have done anything to increase our yield. They're LOADED.
I couldn't tell you how many plants we have now, but we no longer have two neat rows. We have a section. This year, we put cement blocks on the sides to help contain the runners that they put out. If we didn't do this, I would imagine that they'd take over the entire garden within two years. I read that after three years, you want to take the plantlets that grow on the new runners and start over with those, because by this time, the mother plants will have declined to the point where they no longer produce a good amount of berries, nor will they taste as good. This is only our second year with them, so we won't have to worry about this until after the 2008 harvest.
Our spinach is 'Springer' and though we've grown spinach at various times through the years, last year was our first for growing this variety. We liked the taste and texture of it a lot better than any other kind, so we grew it again this year. It is slow to bolt (go to seed), and while most spinach grows better in cool weather, you can grow this one in the heat of summer, too. Its leaves are thicker than most, so that might be why it does better in warm weather than other varieties.
We will always have spinach in our garden, because we both love it so much. I prefer it over lettuce for salads and it's very high in iron which is good for me, since I'm always anemic. Bad for Romie, though, because his iron levels are always too high. I doubt that will stop him from eating it, though.
Since both the strawberries and the spinach are ripe for harvesting at the same time, I'd like to try this salad:
|SPINACH, STRAWBERRY, & PECAN SALAD|
1 lb. fresh spinach, washed & dried
1 pt. strawberries, washed & halved
1/2 c. pecan halves, toasted
1/3 c. raspberry vinegar
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. sugar
1 c. vegetable or olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp. poppy seeds
Combine dressing ingredients except the poppy seeds in a blender. Add the poppy seeds by hand. Toss dressing with spinach, strawberries and pecans.
When I was a kid, my next-door neighbor Kelly and I used to walk down the railroad a block from our houses and pick the wild strawberries that grew along the tracks. We even made strawberry maps showing where the patches were and then we hid the maps in a wood pile elsewhere in town. The Super Secret Strawberry Patches. Ha! Likely, even if others knew the whereabouts of those wild strawberries, they wouldn't be bothered to pick them since you can pick for an hour and only get enough for one pan of shortcake. Maybe. But ohhhhhhh, nothing beats the intensity of flavor and the sweetness of wild strawberries.
We have some growing in our yard this year and I wanted Romie to skip that section of the yard while mowing so I could once again taste that little bit of heaven, but he mowed it anyway. Maybe I should see if The Super Secret Strawberry Patches are still there ...