It's raining today, but lately, it's been really nice. Spring came early this year and everyone I talk to seems to mention that their lilacs bloomed early, the black flies came AND went (thankfully) early, and the strawberries are now in - two weeks ahead of schedule!
I did plant some runner-type strawberries this year, thanks to the generosity of the McM's and Starky-starks, but I don't expect much from those until next year. Last year, I read up on and then purchased some alpine strawberries, which do not produce runners and are less likely to run rampant over the lawn. They actually produced a few strawberries in the early fall, but it's absolutely incredible what they are up to this year!! They started blooming in April and have been prolific in both fruit and flower - the first berries ripened almost 2 weeks ago.
Aren't they gorgeous (even if a little out of focus)?? These are fruit straight out of a fairy tale. I remember a book I read as a child that involved a cute little grey mouse and in the story, he eats a cute little red strawberry... just like the ones I have growing in my yard.
Alpine or woodland strawberries are actually native plants of North America. Their Latin name is Fragaria vesca. These strawberries are also known by their more alluring French name, fraises des bois. (This translates to strawberries of the wood - oh my, how poetic.)
My three plants in the front garden are substantially more prolific than the wild woodland strawberries in the back yard, but I also coddle them by putting them in a location with full sun, giving them water, pulling weeds, and piling leaves around them in the winter. The wild berries have to tough it out on their own.
These are not the kind of berries you would care to turn into jam. For one, they are tiny - compare to the size of the basil leaves in the picture above. You would have to pick and pick and pick and pick until your fingers couldn't move. The second reason is that these strawberries are too irresistible to wait to bring back into the kitchen. They have a subtle perfumey flavor layered on top of the sweet strawberry taste - they really do deserve their fancy French name because they are far more sophisticated than their strawberry farm cousins. Considering the Latin genus Fragaria, it should be no surprise that the fragrance of strawberries stands out. Barbara Damrosch is much more eloquent in describing the flavor profile in her Washington Post article on this special fruit.
Our cats have been controlling the rodent population for the neighborhood this spring, so I'm hoping that the cute little grey mice won't eat all my fairy-tale strawberries.