My first date (I was twelve years old, if you have to know) involved a Sunfish sailboat, a Dairy Queen, and a strawberry sundae. My friend Mark and I sailed from one end of the beach (where our mothers camped out in their aluminum beach chairs) to the other, where the Dairy Queen sat practically right in the dunes. As we lugged our boat up on shore we spotted a twenty-dollar bill drifting in the surf. So cool! That was big money in those days.

“Have anything you want!” my sunburned Romeo said to me as we hopped over the hot sand to the takeout window.

I can still taste that sundae, those warm, syrupy strawberries sliding off the frosty peaks of shockingly cold frozen vanilla custard.

Over the years my love for strawberries (not Mark) has grown, and while I’ve long since moved beyond the DQ sundae, I still adore the combination of strawberries and cream. In my opinion, there is probably no better dessert than freshly picked, still-warm-from-the-sun strawberries doused with cold, thick, heavy cream.  

Of course, that’s not the only way to enjoy this classic pairing. If you want to branch out from the basics, you can go in a million directions: homemade strawberry ice cream, strawberry fool (long live whipped cream), Eton mess (hurrah for meringues), and of course, strawberry shortcake (bless the biscuit).

You can even dress up the concept of sliced berries and cream by making a few upgrades. First, toss the berries with an extra flavor or two: citrus zest, chopped fresh mint or Thai basil, minced fresh or crystallized ginger, balsamic vinegar, vanilla, maple, honey, champagne, curaçao, or cardamom could be options. For the cream, you can sub in sour cream, crème fraîche, mascarpone, whipped cream cheese, even yogurt. To get you started on this path, I’m offering you a simple recipe for Maple-Balsamic Strawberries with Crème Fraîche.

Susie Middleton

But getting back to those sun-ripened strawberries: I wish we still had a pick-your-own situation on the Island, but we don’t (sigh). Happily, we do have Morning Glory Farm strawberries. Once they start coming in, just be sure to visit the farm stand in Edgartown early in the morning as they sell out quickly. Ghost Island Farm in West Tisbury and Cronig’s Market in Tisbury and West Tisbury also carry Massachusetts-grown berries. 

Of course, the best way to procure ripe, juicy strawberries is to grow your own. Growing even a few plants is so rewarding; more than a few, even better.  

When I first started my small farm, I ordered twenty-five bare-root plants in the mail (it’s not too late to get yours) and with a lot of compost and water and bird netting, they managed to send their little satellite plants out all over the place, spreading over a few years into a robust patch with a lush canopy of green leaves and little white flowers that appeared every late spring and early summer. Underneath the canopy was a Lilliputian world of dappled sunlight and tiny berries dangling from long stems. Little white and pale green and pink berries blushed their way through the stages of ripening until the day you’d come to peek on them and one, two, three, then a dozen had turned crimson. 

In my farm garden, the strawberry patch produced over several weeks each summer. Most of my plants were an everbearing variety called Ozark that yielded not only an early-season harvest (late June on the Vineyard) but also a series of smaller harvests throughout the summer. The Ozark was a mighty fine berry – ample and sweet with a decidedly citrus flavor. Mixed in with the Ozarks were a few Earliglow plants (very sweet and dainty berries that ripen all at once in June) and a few mystery plants.

In addition to keeping the plants covered with bird netting, which I propped up with metal hoops, and choosing good varieties in the first place, I think those strawberries thrived for a few other reasons. They were planted in raised beds, which warm up more quickly in the spring and also allow better drainage. (Strawberries need a consistent supply of water, but they don’t like to be too wet. Drip irrigation of some sort is ideal because overhead watering can cause powdery mildew.) The beds were also mulched with straw that more or less cradled the ripening fruit, keeping it away from the soil.

Most of all, they received a lot of love.

The pleasure I got from nourishing those strawberry plants and harvesting from them was probably unmatched by any other farm crop. Growing that many strawberries all at once seemed like the best kind of luck a girl could have.

Susie Middleton

Today I have a tiny patch of strawberry plants in my kitchen garden, but I won’t care if they decide to take over the whole joint. I may even plant more this year. One cannot live on strawberries alone, but one does need enough strawberries to make things like Gingery Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp and the Strawberry-Ginger Muffins. Because while I love raw strawberries, I secretly like them cooked too. Lately, I’ve even been roasting them. They get kind of jammy and syrupy; in fact the stuff bears an uncanny resemblance to strawberry sundae topping.

I’m going out to get some vanilla ice cream right now.