I’ve transplanted the faded spring bulbs from the window boxes to a couple of large pots, so I can leave them to die down in the least conspicuous corner of the terrace. In their place I’ve installed a dozen small plants of a ‘perpetual’ strawberry called Cijosée. It’s a selection of Fragaria vesca, the wild or woodland strawberry, so it should be more shade tolerant than large-fruited garden strawberries. The label assures me that the variety will be appreciated by ‘les amoureux des petits fruits sucrés et acidulés’ and that the plants will fruit from June until October. The plants are already in flower, so I may have less than six weeks to wait for the first fruit.
Trying to grow food in a window box makes no economic sense, but the possibility of a crop from my small patch of earth gives me a feeling of rootedness that is more about belonging than about food production. I’m not just passing through, I’ll be here for the harvest, even if that harvest has to be shared with the local blackbird. Strawberries were one of the most successful crops on my Yorkshire allotment, though in that case success meant far more fruit than we could reasonably eat. Sometimes I got round to making jam for the winter, but more often a spare bowl full of sun warmed fruit was a good excuse to call on neighbours I’d not seen for a while and to catch up on their news.
I can’t expect to be harvesting strawberries by the pound from the window box, but the prospect of a few fresh picked fruit for breakfast is equally tempting. It’s a well worn cliché that food you’ve grown yourself tastes different. There are all sorts of reasons why this might be the case; sugars that start to turn to starch immediately after picking, as in peas and sweetcorn; varieties chosen for flavour rather than for shelf life; flavours that are more concentrated in lower yields; tomatoes and strawberries that are sun warmed rather than chilled from a cold store. These differences can be measured but taste, or the perception of flavour, isn’t just a matter of chemistry. I’ll be keeping an eye on those strawberries in the hope of noticing a ripe one before the blackbird does. When I get to taste one of the fruit I’ll really be paying attention.