Natalie Tan

Simmer Down, Issue #26 04.13.2021

sky diamond strawberries

I want this to be romantic. It has been uncharacteristically sunny for the past two weeks, and with the time change, warm golden light has resumed blasting through my windows at 5pm every afternoon. I think it has somewhat lifted my mood. I scroll through my photo album back to this time last year, and the images are of daffodils, freshly folded dumplings, soft dimpled pillows of gnocchi, my record player spinning a Glenn Miller vinyl I brought from Canada, and my excessively washed hands holding home-mixed cocktails with cucumber slices nestled between ice cubes. They’re all imbued with that resplendent glow and I think to myself, I should resume happy hours. It’s all very romantic. I write stories, and I read books. I don’t get paid to do any of it. Trés romantic. I’ve met my Goodreads 2021 goal of 20 books, accelerated by my hatred of staring at social media, and my foray back into the romance genre, which I haven’t read for over 10 years. I’ve gobbled up four romance novels in the past four months like Purdy’s bonbons at Christmas. In Sally Thorne’s The Hating Game, there’s a line that goes:

“I love strawberries. I’m so lovesick, I eat them constantly.”

Sitting in the dark, face illuminated by the page open on my iPad, I whisper back, “I fucking love strawberries.”

What has gotten me through the winter lockdown, amongst a few other things, is the thought of British strawberries in the spring. It’s a very short season that spans from May to June and is signalled by 2 for £3 berry deals at Tesco, and abundantly packed flats displayed at the local produce stall that pops up on the high street next to Pret a Manger. The best strawberries, regardless of variety, are from Kent in the Southeast of England–a place where, sans pandemic, I would’ve visited last year for the sole purpose of shovelling strawberries straight from the vine into my mouth. Kent strawberries in the spring are like ruby jewels, heart-shaped and deeply red from tip to stem and through the flesh; bite into one and there’s no tart white core in sight. They arrive so ripe, they’re unable to contain the juice that produces a scent that is so unparalleled in sweetness that when accented by the heat of the sun, they smell almost artificial. Leaving them un-jostled for over a day is a mistake, wait too long and they’ll rot at the spots where they’ve rested and rubbed against one another in transit.

This year, I pledge to unabashedly indulge in strawberries. I promise I won’t let any go bad. In those short weeks, I’ll buy four punnets at a time and eat them whole, nibbling at the stems until only the leaves remain. I’ll whip cream for them, crack meringues for them, and pop open bottles of prosecco for them. I’ll free pour Pimms and lemonade for them, and sit in that golden 5pm spotlight sipping that amber liquid, until what remains are thin coins of saturated cucumber and slices of plump drunken berries adorned in jagged mint for me to savour in the afterglow.

Ripe strawberries are a gift from spring, a reminder that you’re allowed to slow time, to have moments immersed in pure, deep sweetness without always having to first wade your way through the sour. I want to softly cradle this feeling, to tattoo signifiers of it onto my skin so I can habitually remember all that is evoked by ripe fruits and the spring sun, by fictional strawberry-fuelled lovesickness, the giddiness of it all that momentarily muffles the calls that woefully pull us back to bitter reality.