These small strawberries grow in woodland clearings, along footpaths (both man-made and natural), in meadows and young partly-shady wooded areas, and have been eaten by humans since the Stone Age. Though they’ve been cultivated since the time of Ancient Persia, the vast majority of strawberries eaten since the 18th century have been the much larger garden strawberry.
When I was 12, my family went camping at a place called Gooseberry Falls, in Minnesota. We had a walk-in campsite about 2 miles away from the main parking lot, away from everyone. After a couple days of hiking and exploring, we packed up to continue on to Canada. As I finished folding my tent, I saw a young deer about 20 meters away, in the woods beyond where I was standing. Despite the significant noise my brother and parents were making, it was intently focused on these tiny bright red spots on the ground. After my brother yelped because of something or other, the deer finally did trot away from the area.
I was intrigued as to what it was eating, since all the berries I knew in the area only grew in sunny clearings or on bushes. As I approached the tiny red berries and bright white flowers, I was transfixed. I wasn’t sure that they were strawberries, or that they were ripe, especially given their size, but I was so sick of dry, bland, and salty “camping food”, I was desperate for even a sour or unripe strawberry. I figured that if I was mistaken about its identity, it was small enough that it wouldn’t kill me, and I picked one of the little berries. It was about the size of a blueberry, but had more flavor than any strawberry - no, any fruit - that I’d ever tasted. I greedily munched down two of the three stalks of berries that the deer hadn’t eaten. The sweet, almost-tart, concentrated-but-not-unnatural flavor of these strawberries was mesmerizing, warming, and filled me with an crazy happiness that food had never given me before. As I slowly finished the second stalk, my brother barked at me to help load up the backpacks so that we could get back to the car. It took more than a small amount of willpower to drag myself away from those little marbles of joy, but I somehow managed it.
Ever since then, I’ve looked for wild strawberries wherever I camp or hike. I once found the blooming flowers, but have never since found more of the fruits.
- from an essay my old friend wrote during culinary school
Illustrations from Edward Step - 1895, and Otto Wilhelm Thome - 1885.