Sweet Taste of the Season

My wife told me today that she saw online that the strawberry salad was back at Panera. Anyone who knows me knows I LOVE Panera’s strawberry salad. Strawberries, blueberries, mandarin oranges, pecans – what’s not to love? But it’s only March; kinda early for strawberries. I wondered where they’re getting the fresh strawberries. As with many things, that sent my thoughts down a rabbit hole.

The concept of fresh fruit has changed in my lifetime. To borrow from a recent movie, we live in a day of everything, all the time. If I get a craving for any fresh fruit, I can get it at a local store, even in my relatively small town. It’s imported, sometimes costly, but it’s available. Call it American privilege. Everything, all the time.

That hasn’t always been the case. When I was young (I’m talking 55+ years ago) fresh fruits and vegetables were seasonal. Their distinctive flavors and smells heralded the changing seasons as much as the gaudy holiday decorations at the department stores. Strawberries meant late spring, usually straight from Grandma’s garden, spoils of her constant war with birds over her harvest. Straight from the plant, brush off the black soil, and directly into my mouth. A delicious memory of my childhood.

Blueberries came later. My great aunt would announce she was going “huckleberrying” in the woods and return with a pail full of small, tart, wild blueberries. And wild blackberries were abundant along the roadsides. My cousins and I would watch in anticipation as the berries ripened from green to red to luscious black, bursting with flavor. Grandma would give us a Mason jar promising a blackberry cobbler if we filled it.

Corn on the cob and watermelons always heralded high summer. Mr. Taylor would stop by every year and invite us to pick a peck of corn from his field. And Mr. Massey who grew the fattest, juiciest watermelons ever, always gave us one or two. And summer squash would mysteriously appear on our doorstep. I miss the closeknit community of my youth.

The taste of apples and fresh apple juice remind me of the start of the school year, with always an apple in my lunch box. Dad would drive us up to the mountains and buy a bushel of his favorite types of apples. I still remember the sweet aroma of the bin where he stored them. Pears and pumpkins announced the frost and onset of winter. I remember picking up pears under Grandma’s tree, dodging the yellow jackets who also craved the sweet fruit.

And the smell of oranges will always be paired with Christmas. Bags marked “Florida oranges” would appear in the supermarket. There were always a few oranges in my Christmas stocking. My great grandmother told me that back in the 1880s, her grandmother would give each grandchild an orange for Christmas. That was truly a treasure for a child in rural North Carolina.

Nostalgia is sweet, almost as sweet as the peaches we’d pick up at a roadside stand on the way to the beach or the grapes from Dad’s arbor, but it makes me wonder. Did we appreciate the flavors more because they were rare, only available at certain times of the year? Did the anticipation of waiting enhance the sweetness of the fruit? Did the fact that we saw it growing before our eyes increase its meaning and value? Perhaps. But I’ve become accustomed to everything, all the time. We all have.

So I headed down to Panera today for my first strawberry salad of the season. The guy behind the counter said, “That’s seasonal. It’ll be available next month.”  So I wait in anticipation.


2 thoughts on “Sweet Taste of the Season

  1. My mother always got an orange for Christmas, in the 20’s. Upper Michigan, not much of a growing season for anything. All I remember from my childhood is those damn red “delicious” apples.

    Ever since I moved to NC I mostly buy fruit at the farmer’s market. Grocery store fruit is tasteless, and I do get to anticipate the seasons, mostly strawberries and peaches.


  2. Nice story. I can recall as a kid driving out into the country to buy country gentleman corn from the farm stands with my grandparents as well as tomatoes and other veggies. My grandfather gardened in their back yard with fruit trees, a rose garden and a riot of flowers. Nana made pies, cheated at pinocle ( granddad would always want the meld so badly that he’d overbid and get set. Nana didn’t like that).They and always had root beer and ice cream for brown cows.



    Liked by 1 person

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