There are few things I anticipate more each year than picking ripe red strawberries from our backyard patch. I enjoy them so much that I considered myself one of their biggest fans, until I met someone who was ready to risk his life for one.
That someone was a chipmunk we’ll call “Barry,” in honor of his favorite dessert. A few Junes ago, Barry was getting more than his fair share of our crop. His raids became so regular and destructive that I decided to put a stop to them by covering our patch with bird netting.
My plan seemed to work. For the next couple of days, we saw no sign of Barry or the half-eaten, discarded fruits that were his calling card. But later that week, I went out to the garden to discover that Barry’s berry love had gotten the better of him. While trying to steal the largest specimen he could haul, Barry had managed to tangle his paw in the netting and was lying there helpless, although temporarily well-provisioned.
It is so rare that I catch a garden thief red-handed (or red-mouthed, in this case) that I couldn’t resist lecturing him. “That’s what you get for trying to eat something bigger than your head,” I told him before putting on thick, leather gloves to free him. If you think chipmunks run fast normally, you should have seen Barry hightail it out of our yard that afternoon.
Thinking back on that experience and what I’ve learned in the meantime, I realize just how much that little chipmunk knew about enjoying berries at their best. The tastiest berry you’ll ever have is the one you eat in your garden on a warm spring or summer day. When they’re sweet and ripe, strawberries don’t need much enhancing. A sprinkle of sugar and a dollop of whipped cream can turn a humble bowlful of berries into a dessert fit for royalty.
The more berries you have, however, the more recipes you’ll want to try. Last year, my family and I grew 35 pounds of strawberries in our ever-expanding patch, not counting the ones that never made it into the kitchen. (Learn more about growing strawberries in Growing Berries That Thrive Where You Live.) We’ve tried several ways of preparing them but find that the best recipes are those, like the salad at left, that leave the healthy, pure taste of the berry intact.
Eaten raw, strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, manganese, dietary fiber and anthocyanins. The latter is the powerful antioxidant that gives strawberries their red color. Their unique combination of phytochemicals makes them an anti-cancer fruit, a heart-protective fruit, and an anti-inflammatory fruit, all in one compact package.
As healthy and delicious as strawberries are in their purest form, I’m not against making them a little less pure from time to time. Like any parent, I love seeing my boys eat fresh fruit from the garden. If achieving that means dunking an occasional strawberry in chocolate, making strawberry snow cones, or slipping them into tiramisu, so be it.
Years from now my sons probably won’t remember one recipe over another, but hopefully they will remember the strawberries themselves and how fun it was to have them growing in abundance just a few steps out their back door.
Speaking of memories, I never saw Barry again that summer. Our strawberry patch now receives an occasional visit by the neighborhood grackles, but no chipmunks. For all I know, Barry might still be running.
Fresh Strawberry Recipes:
Roger Doiron is a kitchen garden advocate and recently led the successful Eat the View campaign to replant a kitchen garden (with berries!) at the White House.