A Berkshire Journal: Of Strawberries and Tigers

May 26, 2019 Updated: June 2, 2019

Warm weather finally arrived like a five-ton load pulled by a pair of mismatched oxen—in three-foot increments and with tremendous effort.

This spring, it seemed that no amount of goading and chortling could convince April and May to give up more than a few consecutive days of sunshine. The pair just had their minds set against the yoke! Bullheaded and uncooperative, they dug in their heels for eight full weeks, while the population of New England wore itself out, cheering them on from various cold and sodden corners of all six states.

Despite all efforts, the brave northeastern folk finally gave up and trudged back home through the mud, battle-fatigued and chronically pale in complexion, and hung their dripping slickers from shower curtain rods.

The rhubarb at the lower garden didn’t seem to mind, however. It rather enjoyed the lengthy cold and reminisced on its Siberian forefathers. Robustly pushing heart-shaped leaves up into the rain, it vehemently fleshed out red-pink stems in hearty anticipation of its annual embrace with the sweet, scarlet strawberry.

With just one bite of a freshly picked strawberry, it is possible to eradicate any residual weather-induced trauma suffered from a cold, drawn-out spring. I am convinced.

Strawberry Rhubarb Galette

While I sprinkle sugar, corn starch, and lemon over chunks of juicy strawberries and tart rhubarb this early, wet morning, a Buddhist story comes to mind.

It tells of a man who is being chased across a field by a ferocious tiger. Running for his life, he finds himself suddenly at the edge of a cliff with the hungry tiger rapidly advancing. The man has no choice but to grab hold of a vine and swing himself over the cliff. Hanging there, to his dismay, he sees more tigers on the ground below him, gnashing their teeth and pacing. At the same time, two little mice have made themselves busy chewing at the vine to which the man is desperately clinging.

Hanging there and facing peril from all directions, he notices a wild strawberry growing on the cliff wall to his side. Being human and naturally prone to giving in to pleasure, at the very moment on which his life hangs, the fruit distracts him. He decides he simply must have it! Clutching the vine with one hand, he reaches out to pick the strawberry with the other, and pops it into his mouth. He realizes then that he never knew how sweet a strawberry could taste.

The Filling

Tossing the fruit together gently in a bowl, I spoon a taste of the deep-red syrup into my mouth. It is heavenly! I understand now why the strawberry was chosen to illustrate the point of the story. Had it been a stalk of rhubarb hanging there at the dangling man’s nose, clearly he wouldn’t have been so foolishly distracted from his present situation. Perhaps, he would have risen instead to face the beasts that threatened him and not fallen to the nature of temptation. Maybe, somewhat scarred but plenty stronger, he would have lived. And upon returning home, he would have related the heroic tale to all attentive ears of his village over a juicy bowl of strawberries.

I ponder these thoughts while letting the juices of sugared fruit draw and settle in the bowl.

The Crust

Cutting cold butter into the little heap of flour on the counter now, with a bit of sugar and salt mixed in, I lightly work the chunks in further with my fingertips. Soon the mixture gets piled up again into a little mountain with an indentation at the top. Into this, I pour an egg yolk mixed with cream. A miniature culinary volcano.

It is threatening to rain again, but with the oven cranked to 400 degrees and everything about to come together nicely, I am pleasantly distracted.

Now, the egg gets mixed in from the center out with a fork and finally, some tender kneading encourages it into dough. A smooth flat disc of dough now sits on a plate, wrapped and chilling in the fridge.

I wait with a cup of tea, to the rumbling of thunder.

Putting It All Together

One brief downpour later, I roll the cooled dough out between two sheets of parchment. Its circumference is uneven, a cumulonimbus cloud pulled from the sky to the counter. The fruit is lifted, dripping, out of its juices and placed into the center. With the palms of my hands, all excess dough at the edges is folded up to hold it in a free-form, raw-edged bowl. The remaining juices are drizzled into the top.

In the cycle of northeastern seasons, the warmer months make up but a small fraction of the whole. The drenched components of this particular spring have made me conscious of how heavily I anticipate a warmer, speedier entry to this short-lived portion of the year. And yet, the beauty of the seasons lies in their imperfections and unpredictability, and the sweetness of the strawberry is made even more so by the sour bite of rhubarb.

This is summer after all, and despite its soggy entrance, the temperatures have risen. By the time the galette has finished baking, the skies may be clear again! If not, I’ll head out in a pair of rain boots with it, underneath a large umbrella. If I come across some tigers on the way, at least I’ll be the wiser from all my rainy weather pondering, to offer him a slice.

And while he hungrily devours it, I’ll continue quickly onwards to the neighbors, with the rest.

Cardinale Montano is a freelance writer living in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. She shares her creativity with good friends, family, and eager learners, and celebrates daily the blessings of nature in the beautiful Berkshires. She is the founder and designer at LineflaxAndRoving.com

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