A Strawberry Homecoming

Yesterday, friends came over for supper. Our main course was to be strawberry shortcake. It’s strawberry season here and, even though we’ve had way too much rain to make it a good year for berries, there are still wonderful berries to be had. At this time of year, we all have our favorite berry patches. […]

By Edie Clark

Jun 22 2009

Yesterday, friends came over for supper. Our main course was to be strawberry shortcake. It’s strawberry season here and, even though we’ve had way too much rain to make it a good year for berries, there are still wonderful berries to be had.

At this time of year, we all have our favorite berry patches. Mine happens to be one in Walpole, Homestead Farms. My older dog, Mayday, has been very sick and in hospital up near there so I had been making the best of a bad situation by stopping to buy strawberries on my way up or on my way home to visit with her.

Because of the rain, the berries are bigger than usual, almost swollen, but still red, red and extremely juicy. Also because of the rain, they spoil faster so it’s necessary to eat them as soon as you get them. No problem.

My friends were coming over in the afternoon and promised to bring salads. It had been raining on and off most of the day. The hay standing in the meadow is overdue to be cut. It waves, the tall tassles swaying in the wind like wheat on the plains, and in places, the grass has been flattened by the weight of the water and by the wind. The garden doesn’t mind the water but could use some sun, which is how we all felt. Earlier, I’d had a small fire in the cookstove which made it warmer inside. It wasn’t so much cold outside as it was not warm.

Mayday had been in hospital for almost a week, running a high fever, origin unknown. She struggled through the week, not only hot but refusing to eat. At home, I had the puppy, Harriet, who was more than thrilled to be an Only Dog and filled the empty space quite nicely, in her opinion. But there’s no dog like Mayday. She was finally ready to come home. And I was more than ready to go get her. I took Harriet for a walk and settled her in her crate before I left. Poor Harriet didn’t seem to know that her reign was about to end.

My reasons for traveling nearly an hour north of here to have my animals cared for is simple: many years ago, Andrea Neilley, a newly licensed veterinarian, set up a practice in Westminster, Vermont. At the time, I had a dog named Gorm, a lovely and humorous combination of basset hound and golden retriever. When she was eight, she fell ill. I took her to my vet at the time who advised she should be put down, as she likely had a brain tumor. I was shocked and had no interest in his advice.

So I took Gorm to another vet in town who said something similar, except she felt that Gorm had liver cancer. She hadn’t done any tests, but that was what she thought. Another vet kept her for observation and concluded she was a “hypochondriac.” I knew that Gorm was smart but not that smart.

From there, I took her to the famous Angel Memorial Hospital in Boston. Gorm, in the meanwhile, was still very ill. I had to carry her everywhere as she could not stand up. Angel concluded that Gorm had kidney cancer. And suggested she be put down. She was gravely ill, I could see that, but I wasn’t ready to give up on her yet.

I had heard good things about this new vet, Andrea Neilley, and made an appointment at her new place, an old house on the main road in Westminster. Her tests were inconclusive. She was unsure what was wrong with Gorm but she suggested I make a mixture of rice and chicken and gravy for her, see if I could get her to eat, which seemed like the most important thing for her at that point. I took Gorm home and cooked for her.

Gradually, gradually, Gorm recovered. In fact, she lived to be fourteen, a respectable age for a dog who had been condemned to death three times in the middle of her life.

hat I admired about Andrea was that she was content to say that she did not know what was wrong with Gorm and suggested that remarkably sensible treatment. I have used it many times since with my various dogs and it always works. That was many years and many dogs ago but Andrea has been my vet ever since, even though I have moved further and further away from her office, which means more travel to get help for my dogs.

One of the problems with Mayday this time had been that she wouldn’t eat. So I made up some of this old remedy and took it up to Mayday where she lay in Westminster. I put it into her dish and she wolfed it down. I left a large container of it for them to feed her. She had lost a lot of weight because of this spell but several days later, her fever was gone and she was ready to come home and resume her life with me and Harriet, her nemesis. I couldn’t wait to get her. She apparently couldn’t wait to come home with me as she pranced in front of the car door, anxious to get back into our routine.

On the way home, I stopped at Homestead and picked out a quart box, overfilled with the red berries of June. At home, Mayday went for a short walk and then headed for the bedroom to settle in her favorite spot. Little Harriet chafed to get to Mayday but I kept Mayday behind a closed door. Mayday was not ready for Harriet’s antics just yet. I washed and hulled the strawberries.

My friends came soon after. After we ate the salad and bread that they brought, I got the flour down from shelf in the pantry and started the biscuits. My recipe calls for sour milk or buttermilk but I use kefir which is like yogurt except you can pour it and it’s wonderful to drink, lightly sweetened. I keep it on hand all the time for various things and this is an especially good use of it as it gives the biscuit an extra lift, preferable to milk. Making biscuit is quick and while they were in the hot oven, I whipped up the cream.

While I was doing this, the rain had stopped and the sun came out, illuminating our world and spilling light across the kitchen floor. It had been so long since we’d seen the sun, we all stopped our chatter and looked out as the light flooded the hayfield, bringing up a thousand shades of green in the hills near and far. It seemed that it was still raining so while I split the biscuits and piled the sliced berries on top, my friends looked to the east for a rainbow.

None was found, though we didn’t look very hard. We were pretty focused on the strawberries and the shortcake. I drizzled maple syrup over the berries, gilding the lily no doubt, and topped it all with the cream. Sun on the field, Mayday asleep on the bed, there was silence as we ate. Harriet, it seems, was the only one not totally satisfied.