wild strawberries

Oh, summer!  Oh, wild strawberries!  Oh, toxic fox pee that prevents me from eating you!

A couple of girlfriends and I were walking along in the countryside one afternoon about a year ago and I was waxing poetic over the wild ‘fraises de bois’ or ‘strawberries of the wood’ whose tiny four-petaled flowers were popping up all along the path.

“They’re EVERYWHERE!” I was saying, jumping from plant to plant like a nutso strawberry ninja.

This is the thing about food–you kind of forget that it grows literally everywere.  The world, my friends, is covered in food.  I’m talking your house, my house, the public pathways, the field, the side of the road–ALL OVER THE PLACE!  And it’s magical, once you remember that.  Food!  Delicious food!  There for the taking.

And I had found strawberries!  Wild ones!  Untouched by man or pesticide.  For free, when the cheapest container of non-treated berries in our town was about 5E a pop.

“Well, I wouldn’t eat them,” my French girlfriend said.  “They’re probably covered in fox pee.”

“Fox pee?” I said, mystified.  Were there enough foxes in France to accomplish such a feat?

“Fox pee.  There’s a huge national problem.  Foxes have toxic pee, and then they whizz all over the berries and things, and then people eat them, and then they die.”

It sounded as ludicrous to me as poisonous spiders and biting ants probably sound the the average French person (because, miracle of miracles, there aren’t any here).  But my friend, being French, was obviously the authority.

I deferred to her wisdom.  I nodded, eyes wide, thinking of all the wild berries and mushrooms and kind-of sort-of maybe loosely identified plants I’d eaten from places fully within range of an enthusiastic fox.  Which, hello, foxes are.  Have you seen them?  They’re enthusiasm incarnate.  Don’t know how anybody has the heart to kill them.  Poor biddies.

“And you don’t find out if you’ve got it for years and years,” my friend continued.   “They’re these little worms that eat your liver from the inside out, and you don’t even know it until it’s already too late.”

I was horrified.  “Are you for real?”

She shrugged.  “C’est comme ça.  Nothing we can do about it.”

Let me just say, it was a tough blow, knowing that I might have given myself a lifelong, irreversible, and potentially fatal illness just because I can’t keep stuff out of my mouth.  For the next year, I avoided any and every ground-level comestible I came across.  I sadly watched the seasons change, the chanterelles and strawberries and bear’s garlic and wild onions coming and going, untasted.  I learned about exciting new herbs and plants in my guidebooks, only to realize that they, too, were off-limits.

Until this year.  Yesterday, in fact.  I was on a walk, and as per usual I was thoroughly updating myself on the progress of the wild strawberries.  Just because, you know.  Even if you can’t taste them, you can still admire them.

People who live in the areas where I ramble around must think I am completely fucking crazy.  I’m always sniffing stuff and crouching down to investigate some plant that I’m 100% positive is a culinary wonder and turns out to be either poisonous or inedible.

Anyhow, there I was, getting updates.  Even though it had been too cold and rainy lately for the wild strawberries to do much of anything.  I squatted to admire the flowers.  I stuck my face as close as I could to see what’s happening.  Some poor unsuspecting neighbor drove slowly by, staring at me, his daughter in the seat next to him, her mouth moving a mile a silent minute, pointing.

That’s when I see it.  The very first ripe, red strawberry of the season.  I squeal in delight and swoop down to investigate.  I wish I were exaggerating, but I am not.  Hélas, as the French say.  I do, truly, honestly get that excited about a single flipping strawberry.

It was gorgeous.  It was the only ripe one of the bunch.  My mouth, the traitor, immediately started watering.  I thought about all those toxic foxes.  I poked the strawberry.  Lifelong illness.  I picked it.  I held it up and examined it.  Microscopic, liver-devouring worms.  Invisible to the naked eye.

I squished the strawberry in my fingers, and holy be, it was juicy.  This is kind of a big deal, people, because wild strawberries are known for their woodiness and lack of juice.  I lifted the squashed bit of red pulp to my nose and sniffed.

Nothing like it.  Pure strawberry essence.  Juicy, tangy, spongy goodness.

And I decided, right then and there, to do some dang research.  I let the berry drop to the ground and reminded myself not to touch my mouth.  I then went and picked a bunch of chamomile and red clover and honeysuckle to make into tisanes, not thinking about the cross-contamination crime I was committing.

I went home, put the flowers in some water, and turned on my computer.  I typed in ‘pipi de renard toxique‘ or ‘toxic fox pee’ and found out, holy mackerel, that there was more chance of getting hit by a car than coming across a berry doused in pipi de renard toxique.

I was kind of crushed.  All that time!  All that self-deprivation!  And, more’s the pity, it’s easy enough to kill the little worms–just boil them.  I thought of the endless vats of wild strawberry jam I could have made, all those delicious garlicky treats I’d foregone in the name of my foie, and decided that I must immediately make up for lost time.

So, today’s the day.  The life-changing event.  I’m going wild strawberry hunting.

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