Strawberries have been growing up in Orange for as long as I've been around, and were probably growing there for thirty years before I arrived. That would make almost 90 years of fresh strawberries every June, and plenty of strawberry jam to last the rest of the year.
When I was little, my Grandpa used to pay me 25 cents a day to keep the birds off the berries. I'd sit up under the maple tree holding onto the end of a long string attached to another string running between posts stuck down the middle of the strawberry beds. Strung in between the posts were aluminum pie plates, meant to reflect the sun light and scare off the birds, when jiggled from my cool, shady spot under the maple tree. I don't know about how scared the birds were but it was a great money maker for me. Sometimes when the birds were sufficiently scared or, more likely, had eaten their fill, Grandma prepared the strawberries and cream, and I got to help Grandpa set up the old ice cream maker, packing rock salt all around to keep it cool. Then everyone would take turns hand cranking until the ice cream was finally hardened. I've never had strawberry ice cream since, to compare with the delicate, fresh flavor of Grandpa Pete's.
All these memories were running through my head last week when I drove up to Orange to pick berries while my parents were in Washington. I missed the old wooden berry baskets that had been replaced by pale green cardboard ones, but as I started to load them up, everything else was the same. Picking along, enduring the heat and bugs, I felt completely joined to past generations. It was like they were all there with me, Grandpa just down below on the jalopy and Grandma on her way out to check that I didn't eat more berries than I picked. I remembered how thoroughly you had to explore under the leaves to find the best berries and agonized over whether to pick the ones that weren't completely red or risk the birds getting them before the next picking. Some I left, to be sure the next picker would find at least a few perfectly red and deliciously ripe berries to savor, not just for the reward of good eating but for making use of the land and confirming a long line of Yankee self-sufficiency. And I was proud, for the first time, to put my name in the 'strawberry log', with the entry July 16, 7-1/2 quarts.