First Strawberries

We’ve been waiting for strawberry season to start since, well, last summer’s strawberry season ended in February this year. We’ve been irritatedly eying the super-early strawberries for sale at the traffic lights for a month now, waiting for word that our naturally-grown field strawberries (i.e. grown outside, in soil, and not under shade cloth or in a heated greenhouse) are finally ripe. Growing outside, exposed to the elements, without the supposedly helpful aid of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the strawberries we buy direct from a small Stellenbosch farmer are picked ripe, the day before delivery, and never refrigerated. Mainly because he cannot afford refrigeration, but the upside for us is that the strawberries are immensely fragrant and much tastier (try eat a room temperature strawberry along side a refrigerator-cold strawberry and you’ll see what I mean). These strawberries, roasted in our oven with a little sugar, pureed and added to our custard in an unheard-of ratio of 1:1 berries:custard, make the best damn strawberry ice cream in the world. Strawberry ice cream that tastes of strawberries, not nondescript berries, or pink#47. This is one of the ice creams which made our reputation when we opened last summer, and we’ve got lots of new customers who are keen to make its acquaintance now.

We had some tense days last month, when unseasonal hailstorms flattened a lot of field crops, and when we weren’t sure if we’d be able to replicate last year’s precarious delivery network of strawberry farmer (grows the strawberries) handing them over to our herb farmer (who negotiates a better price for us and handles our orders for a small fee) who sends them to us via our egg farmer (who has her own transport and kindly delivers herbs and strawberries to us as well as our eggs). Naturally grown strawberries are generally in high demand, at exorbitant prices, and given the amount we put in our ice cream, it’s worth dealing with three farmers in order to get 20kg a week of these scarlet jewels.

So it was almost anticlimactic to get the call on Monday from our herb farmer, saying he’d negotiated us a fabulous price, and by the way, he was sending the first twenty kilos on Tuesday morning. Almost anticlimactic, but not quite.

I don’t think I’d realized how important it was to me, seeing the first strawberries, until they arrived yesterday morning. But there they were, perfectly ripe, smelling like heaven and tasting even better, a crimson declaration that The Creamery has survived its first year, from strawberry season back to strawberry season again. Staff who have been with us since last summer ruefully shook their heads at the remembrance of how many kilos we patiently cut by hand last summer, and new staff members were so excited to see (and taste) the boxes and boxes of strawberries spread over the kitchen table.

We all assembled in the kitchen – office staff, kitchen staff – to rinse, trim, and quarter twenty kilograms before noon. Over the course of the day, the kitchen and offices filled with the smell of roasting strawberries, and by afternoon, everyone had found an excuse to sneak into the kitchen and beg a couple spoonfuls of fresh strawberry ice cream out the churn. “This is my new favourite flavour!” Abi declared, and Marianne lingered as long as she could over the last couple mouthfuls at the bottom of her cup, saying mournfully, “I don’t want this bowl to end!”. We all love eating our ice cream, but sometimes it takes a special flavour, or a first harvest, to remind us that what we’re making is something really special.

The first strawberry ice cream is going to our ice cream club members’ October collection. Most of the time we try to send them intriguing and unusual limited edition flavours each month, but the return of strawberries is exciting for a totally different reason, and it feels right to share that excitement with them.

If hope, and spring, was a flavour, I think it would be strawberry.

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