Thursday, August 12, 2010

Berried Alive

Zermatt in Switzerland is a somewhat vertical place. In summer, it is an endless European fairy tale green, arcing all the way across and up, with icy spatterings of the memories of many magical winters. The air is clean and the water is pure. Little chalets like gingerbread houses stud the steep mountain side, while a gushing limestone river cuts the valley through the trees in between. It is elevated and inspiring, more of the skies than of the earth. Staying here for a week is a wonderful experience for all your inner and outer being, with the exception of a very little part of you. Little for some, anyway.

Your eyes will love it - all that green and blue to take in, vibrant, aching colour. Your mouth will be fine - ample CreamySharp fromage and new born baguette. Your arms will have so much space to gesture and stretch to their arms content. Your lungs will lap up the pristine air. Your legs might even enjoy all that sun. But your poor, poor bottom - it won't fare nearly so well. Everything in Zermatt is Very Up or Very Down. After a day or two of wandering around and a couple of respectable hikes, Gluteus Maximus and Min, noble gladiators that they are, will die their own silent, sinewy death inside the beige colosseum of your hiking shorts. They'll be aching in actin and moaning in myosin.

But there is a very good reason to climb up to Zermatt, and it has nothing at all to do with the scenery.

It was another ordinary day. We all gathered around the table, earl grey and bread and rich coffee piping from the special machine, talking about this and that and what we were going to do that day. Enter Anton, back from the supermarkets carrying a bundle of fresh berries. I was sipping tea, calm and happy, unaware that my life was on the verge of changing, irrevocably and wonderfully - forever. After a little toasted baguette I grabbed a big white bowl and went to help myself from the mesmerizing mess of berries that lay before me, raspberries, blueberries and...strawberries.

Gasp. Fireworks. Stars Exploding behind my eyes. Seraphine sweetness bomb in shuddering scarlet. It was like falling back through centuries, wandering into Eden and tasting the Very First Strawberry. The Prototype of Strawberry. I had long heard that Australian strawberries were the Ugly Taste Step Sisters to the European counterparts. Hela had told me tales of how it only takes one or two good, deep Polish strawberries to stain a glass of milk the deepest, smoothie pink.

This was gentle, sweet and blushing, the length of flavour is entirely different. Usually strawberries taste like sweet and tart and all at once. This little Swiss Miss tasted sweet all the way through with a little kick of tartness coming in towards the end - and then sweetness again. It tasted happy, alive and wonderful.

Biting into shiny, seeded pith and into plump, burgeoning strawberry flesh - raging in redness. Every one else at the table was no stranger to Swiss strawberries, so I looked like a bit of an idiot running in my Pj's to grab my macro lens and start shooting off. With pink stained lips I was stuttering over how wonderful they were. Sweet, sweet, teeny-tart, round and furiously full of flavour. Perfect as they are, no need for flan or tart or short-cake. Just the naked, stunning fruit.

Back in Sydney, I waited a little while, hoping the memory would fade a little so I could enjoy strawberries back here again. I have enjoyed a few plausible punnets since.

Despite the fact that other Harris Farm shoppers will think you're a tad perverted, always lean your nose right up against the top of the punnet - run it along and over, up and down - and draw a deep breath in. If the strawberries don't smell intensely fragrant then they definitely won't taste sweet. Although, sometimes they can smell sweet and still be dull. Make sure to turn over the punnet and inspect the strawberries at the bottom to make sure they're consistent all the way through. You want a deep bright red colour, when the hue becomes a bit maroon then the berries are a bit too ripe and the sweetness will be more sickly than subtle. If the whiteness that circles around their tops, under their leafy green hats goes down too far, its probably a bad - watery berry. You want just a simple, thin crown of white at the top, and generous gushing red around. It used to be that only the smaller ones tasted amazing, but larger ones are beautiful as well. Generally look for a well formed berry, they shouldn't be too squarish and should converge into a properly pointy end. Deformed strawberries usually taste a lot like they look.

There you have it, a tale in tragic. Snowed in under so much scarlet starlet glory. An avalanche in berried beauty - I was simply berried alive - and I never, ever want to be rescued.

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