Original artwork by Lydia Hoskins.
by Dale Grubaugh
These Ozark Hills can sure produce some mighty fine vittles. Blackberries, dewberries, gooseberries, huckleberries and strawberries. All of these berries grow wild ’round the Ozarks. Most, except for the dewberry, have been tamed. But none have been tamed like the strawberry.
The wild strawberry, sometimes called squaw berry, can still be found if ya know where to look. I have found a few patches of wild strawberries in my day. And thought I had struck gold when I did, ‘cause there ain’t a sweeter strawberry than a wild one. But because they are small and not heavy bearin’, most folks prefer tame strawberries.
There was a time when strawberries were a major cash crop for a lot of folks in the Ozarks. For a few folks, they still are today. There’s some folks over ‘round Billings, Missouri, that have a nice pickin’ patch. And, I hear tell of pickin’ patches down round Leslie, Arkansas.
The soil bein’ thin and rocky like it is is a good match for strawberry growin’. The roots of the strawberry plant run shallow so they don’t need deep soil. And except for an occassional weedin’ and trainin’ of the runners (if ya want to keep the strawberries in rows), they don’t take a lot of tending. Which is mighty good.
Saves more time for important stuff like fishin’ and restin’.
However, when the strawberries are ripe, there’s no time to waste. They gotta be picked. Pickin’ strawberries can be a chore. It ain’t like pickin berries that grow on bushes where you can stand up to pick. No sir, ya gotta bend over and pick strawberries ’cause they grow so close to the ground. But, chore or not, the reward is mighty worth the effort.
There’s lots of ways to enjoy strawberries. The best way is to eat ’em fresh. Now, fresh can mean strawberry pie, strawberries-and-cream, or my favorite, strawberry shortcake. But when I say shortcake I don’t mean that spongy stuff ya get at the store.
I’m talkin about honest-to-goodness-baked-in-yer-own-oven shortcake. Those of you who have eaten real shortcake know what I’m talkin about. It’s mighty-like a great big biscuit.
Now you take and slice that shortcake into two layers. Butter the bottom layer and ladle on a heapin’ of fresh sliced strawberries that you’ve let set in sugar for a while. Then you top that with a slatherin’ of real whipped cream that you’ve whipped yourself. Put the top back on and slather on some more whipped cream. Then cover that with the remaining strawberries. Now folks, that’s eatin’!
Keepin’ strawberries for winter can be done. You can freeze them or make the strawberries into jam or jelly.
I like to make freezer jam. My youngin’s think it’s the best strawberry jam there is. And believe me now, once you’ve had homemade strawberry jam you’ll swear off that store bought stuff fer good.
However you like yer strawberries, try pickin’ a few yourself. It will help you appreciate this wonderful berry and give you greater appreciation for the way folks have made — and are makin’ — a livin here in the Ozarks.