(Hold on. This is too good an opportunity to play the song. Hit play and keep reading, if you will.)
My new home is known for agriculture, particularly strawberries. According to the USDA (via Wikipedia), Oxnard is California’s largest strawberry supplier, producing about 1/3 of the state’s annual strawberry volume.
Strawberries are in their peak season around here right now, from April to June, and anywhere I drive, I see vast strawberry fields stretching out, their neat little rows dotted with the tiny berries. Groups of workers stoop over the rows, filling baskets and preparing them for shipment.
Because I just got here, and because strawberries have been plentiful and juicy and perfect, I feel like strawberry season will never end, though I know it must. I am trying to get my fill, enjoy them as much as possible, before they disappear from the farmers markets and I must turn my sights to some other fruit (peaches? figs? please?).
This week, I made my second attempt at strawberry jam (after last year’s failure). The good news is that, this time, it actually turned into jam instead of sugary syrup that sort of had strawberry notes to it. I’m still not convinced it’s the perfect recipe (if you have the perfect recipe, you should share it with me). But that’s six jars of jam put up in my freezer, and I’ll likely do one more batch before the season is over.
But yesterday, since Amanda had to work and I had the day to myself, I felt like I needed to make a strawberry dessert. I considered scones, biscuits, cookies, but then, as so often happens in life, I found a recipe on smitten kitchen that I had to make. Deb Perelman’s Strawberry Summer Cake not only looked amazing, but sounded like just the buttery, sweet treat I needed. Also, it gave me a chance to break in my deep-dish pie plate, so it was a win on so many counts.
And y’all, that cake was a serious win. The top gets all crystallized because of the sugar sprinkled on top so that cutting into it feels a bit like breaking the top on a crème brulée. And though the strawberries shine in this dish, I have to say that the cake part really was my favorite. I think in the future, I might like to make just the cake part and then top it with a strawberry frosting. Or chocolate frosting. Or ganache. (You get my point.)
Strawberries align nicely with an interesting emotional moment I’m having, and I didn’t really realize it until I began looking into the strawberry growing season in my area. I had told myself that the strawberries must grow year-round, but of course they don’t. They have a cycle, just like everything else.
I find I want to immerse myself deeply in my surroundings, to frequent farmers markets and head down to Channel Islands to buy seafood, to find new coffee shops to fall in love with, to label places as my new favorites. I want to be completely present and be in love with my new home.
But all the while, a little voice in my head says, “Careful, Dana.” I had the same little voice when I first started dating Amanda. I had been hurt before by getting too excited about a potential relationship, only to be left disappointed when it didn’t grow into the something bigger I had thought it would. That echo (“Careful, Dana”) was there through the early part of my relationship with Amanda because I didn’t want to get in too deep if it would all come to nothing.
That same impulse follows me to California. “Careful, Dana,” it says because it knows what I know (because it’s in my brain… you know what I mean): it knows that we are a Navy family, that tours of duty are finite and temporary, that we will do this all over again in a few years. Move to a new place, start over again, find new favorites.
One of the things I love about cooking, and about fresh produce, is the cyclical nature of it. Strawberries are in season, and before too long, they’ll be out. Something will replace them. And in about a year, strawberries will come back, the way peaches and figs and apples and potatoes go away and come back again. We can trust these things (God willing and the creek don’t rise).
And the same holds true, I think, for life. There are cycles. There are clear iterations of motion, reaction, repetition that happen time and again. I think part of our job as humans is to have faith in that cycle, to trust in it.
Even though we feel that cautionary echo in our bones (“Careful…”), it’s important not to give ourselves over to it entirely. To forever hold ourselves are arms length from the world around us, just because of impermanence or a fear of being hurt, might seem wise and judicious, but in the end, it’s not. In the end, it’s like never eating a strawberry because you know that, for a time, you’ll have to live without them.
I look out at those endless strawberry fields. Even when they’re naked and without fruit, I’ll still sing the song to myself. Strawberry fields forever. They’re there even when the strawberries aren’t, and they’re my reminder that the strawberries will be back, and on a grander scale, that life will continue, that we can start anew, fresh, over and over again.