Berrying a Hundred Years Ago

wild strawberry plant

What was it like to pick wild strawberries a hundred years ago? Here’s a description that appeared in a 1919 magazine:

One might manage April and May, or even July, in the city, but a wild strawberry June belongs only in the heart of the country.

Do you know where these, the sweetest of wild berries, thrive? Up a hill road strewn with leaves, where an ovenbird calls and the red squirrel scolds, over a wall in a mowing, shut away from the rest of the world by pines and birches. A towhee hops on a crumbled stone fence. From remote woods is the trill of a thrush. A squirrel speaks out of the abundance of his irascible nature. The trees sway, the clouds trail their shadow across the slopes of the mountain.

Gathering wild strawberries is exceeding intimate work. Here they grow in a wide patch, to the exclusion of other plants, so thick that when you lean close to them and peek under the leaves you see a red-spotted carpet. Continued bending is painful. Continued squatting is impossible. You select a less fruited section and kneel. Then, preferring stains to stiff joints, you sit. Basket full, you cover the delicious sweetness with ferns and, then, there at the foot of the hill is the brook in which to dip your arms to the elbow and lave your hot face.

Excerpt from “Berrying” by Beulah Rector (American Cookery, June/July, 1919)

23 thoughts on “Berrying a Hundred Years Ago

  1. I didn’t realize there are wild strawberries. I once came across strawberry look-alikes on the west coast, but the effects of one taste made clear they weren’t strawberries, and weren’t meant for eating. That was the end of my sampling things I didn’t know! Still, what a wonderfully poetic description of berry-picking. It just as easily could describe dewberry picking here in Texas.

  2. Such an accurate description – right down to the irascible squirrel. We’ve left a patch of wild strawberry take over the lawn – it grows exponentially, which is great – neither my hubby nor I much enjoy mowing. And hopefully, the wild berries will distract the robins from the cultivated patch.

  3. Really enjoyed this passage on picking wild strawberries, Sheryl. We have wild strawberries on the west coast in No. Calif., I never pick them because they’re tiny, the size of a dime. But I will always think of this passage when I see them, now; and I know I will taste one now. They are very low to the ground, like she writes. And all the wildlife she mentions, ovenbird, towhee, thrush, squirrel, are still around on our planet a century later, how wonderful.

  4. Never picked wild strawberries which sounds like it is easier to do than the wild black raspberry . I loved the writers wonderful description of her pickings one thing she left out was a bird scolding her for picking its berries,or maybe her birds were more sharing. The mockingbirds here can be rather vocal and even fly down close enough to give you an evil eye!πŸ˜€

  5. My favorite memory growing up in PA is going to pick Huckleberries. We put on long pants with a sand pail belted to our waist and picked for hours. Strawberries were always picked at a farm.

  6. I used to love picking wild strawberries when we lived in France. Until a neighbour spoiled the fun and told me not to risk eating fruits that a fox might have peed on, as they transmitted diseases. I’ve not really been able to find out how true this is, but it definitely put me off!

  7. What a lovely scene the author describes! A relative has wild raspberries and blackberries on her land, and it’s fun picking them, but they’re not low to the ground like the wild strawberries.

  8. At one of our homes we would always pick the wild strawberries as we went for a walk – very small and I sure do prefer the strawberries we get at the grocery. Same with the wild black raspberries (before the deer ate them).

  9. There used to be a few wild strawberries when we lived in northern MI, but I grew strawberries and those were more numerous and easier to pick. They both tasted so different and better than the store bought ones.

  10. My parents are from Pennsylvania and when we would go home when I was younger there would be wild strawberries that everyone would be talking about.

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