I bought a box of deep red strawberries at the farmer's market yesterday and washed them as soon as I got home and began to cut them up. Each one was so ripe that the green frilled collar at their stem end was already beginning to turn dark and rot, but if I hurried, if I got all those incipient traces of decay off of them, they would be delicious for lunch. As I picked each one from the box, stuck the tip of the knife in its top, turned it in my left hand and let the knife dig out the little cone of flesh around the stem, then cut each hulled berry into four red-all-the-way-through wedges, I had the opportunity to examine each one. Without necessarily deciding to do so, I absentmindedly compared each strawberry that came under my knife to some perfect, as-yet-unrealized ideal of what a strawberry could be. The perfect whorl of green fringe, the perfect slope of the shoulder, the perfect tapering to the tip, the perfect spread of the drupes, the perfect redness that had not yet fallen into rot, that went all the way through to the core, leaving no trace of white pith. Every single one of those strawberries failed to reach perfection on at least one of those criteria. Fringe beginning to go black, the shoulder too narrow or too bulked up into some genetically modified Rambo strawberry, a disfiguring gnarling of one side of the tip to where it began to resemble a puckered mouth, a crowding of the drupes wherever the growth had been uneven, some red on the outside, but with a tell-tale white core, others with soft patches, or pink bruises that would soon be tiny beds of mold. Not one was perfect. I had to trim some inner pith, some circles of skin and drupe from the outside. But when I was done, I had a glass bowl glowing with the intense red that only fruit and flowers can give us. That we can never reproduce or imitate. Not one was perfect, but in hulling them and cutting them in quarters, they became the apotheosis of what strawberries are. What strawberries could be. While not one was perfect, none of them reached the startling size or uniformity of what Driscoll's has taught most Americans to believe is the standard size and shape of the marketed strawberry. None of them could have made it safely to the next day, let alone any shelf, without decaying. And not one of them felt hard or spongy under my knife, as those supermarket engineered hybrids often do. No, they felt heavy, small as they were, heavy with a ruby juice I coaxed out of them with a sprinkling of sugar and a good toss with a serving spoon, and time. An hour's wait is also required. And this after waiting eleven months basically for strawberries to come back into season.
Each strawberry reminded me of a child. Each unique in size, shape, genetic load, development trajectory, moment of ripeness. Those Driscoll strawberries have been engineered, perfected until each one is a Brad Pitt, an Angelina Jolie of external beauty. But they don't have flavor. They do not ripen at their own pace. You can not, no matter what you do, coax juice from them. Every child is in the process of becoming, as we all are. A work in progress.