By late June in the 1950s and early 60s, the strawberry patch was pretty much picked out but my mom would ask us boys to if we would run out there and see if we could still find a few for mash up for supper. If there was a single berry left in the field, she didn’t want it to go to waste.
Dad usually mowed the field in early July and plowed the plants under. We then we set about digging the young “runners” out into wide rows so they would make plants for the coming year. He also allowed friends and neighbors to take all the old plants they wanted to set out in their own gardens. Every plant in this year’s current strawberry crop will usually produce at least a dozen new plants for the coming year.
We never sold a lot of strawberries on Blair Branch because most of our neighbors already had a patch they’d started from ours. But most folks only needed a couple of short rows with a couple hundred plants.
We grew about two acres with several thousand plants, at one point in time, but scaled it back to about an acre by the time I was out of grade school.
Still, as far as I was concerned, an acre of strawberries was about 99.999 one thousandths of an acre too many. Picking strawberries from daylight until dark, seven days per week, during the five weeks they stayed in season was my introduction to summer vacation during my grade school years. I was allowed to eat all I wanted while picking them but that got old really fast. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t founder on strawberries. However, getting sick on them was never considered a valid excuse to stop picking. And the only thing worse than picking strawberries all day long is doing it with a belly ache.
I was 60 years old before I even thought about eating strawberries on purpose. To this day, I suspect that learning to like them in my old age may have been brought on by a stroke. Now I’ll buy a quart of fresh strawberries every time we grocery shop. I usually wind up eating them by myself.
We canned at least 100 quarts of strawberries every year which meant there was almost always a hot or leftover strawberry cobbler on the table or in the refrigerator waiting for a late night snack. There was always, 365 days a year, a pint of strawberry jam on the table at every meal. Strawberry jam spread on cornbread tastes a lot better than it sounds. I remember being told that I was not allowed to open a jar of apple butter, peach preserves, or blackberry jam until the open jar of strawberry jam was polished off.
We didn’t have a stand-alone freezer (deep freeze) during the 50s and early 60s, but the freezer compartment on our refrigerator was crammed full of sugared strawberries and freezer jam. We would leave just the exact amount of space among the berry containers to fit in a half gallon box of ice cream as though it was a piece of a jig saw puzzle. The frozen berries were usually reserved for times when company was there for the week and staying all night. That happened at least once or twice a month. Mom took great pride in having our kinfolks swear that her shortcake and pie strawberries tasted like they just came out of the garden.
I, personally, would not have given a penny for anything strawberry but company coming usually included at least one meal of chicken and dumplings. As far as I was concerned, chicken and dumplings didn’t need any dessert. My late Uncle, Jim Adams, would always ask me, “Are you sure you don’t want a bowl of this strawberry cobbler, Ike?” He knew that I didn’t care for anything strawberry related.
I would tell him, “No, I don’t want any unless you’d be willing to swap that bottle of Peach Nehi for my cobbler”.
In fact, I would have swapped anything on the table for a Peach Nehi, which, in my humble opinion was the best soda pop that’s ever been invented. A Strawberry Nehi was the worst!