Monday, 2 March 2015

Strawberry Picking

When we lived in England we used to have a large garden, where I grew many vegetables and fruits, including strawberries. Growing your own strawberries is a bittersweet experience. Perfectly ripe strawberries, just picked, taste better than any other strawberries you've ever tasted before (strawberry harvesting tip - wait until the strawberries are completely ripe, then wait one more day), but you never enjoy shop-bought strawberries in the same way ever again.

My son discovered an early age that nice-tasting things grew in the garden, and from the moment he could walk independently he treated it as his very own PYO paradise. At such a young age his taste was not discerning, and he assumed that if one strawberry tasted good, the one next to it must taste good too, notwithstanding that it was green, or dirty, or slug-eaten. In fact, as far as we could tell, he really did find all those unripe, soiled, holey strawberries just as delicious as the juicy red ones.

Spring is strawberry season in Taiwan, when the temperatures are warm but not roasting and the days are growing longer. The plants are usually grown in polytunnels to protect them from subtropical rainstorms and pests. By summer, temperatures under the plastic must be unbearable, but in spring conditions are cosy and dry.

This is my long-winded way of introducing our latest expedition.

A kind poster on Forumosa responded in detail to my enquiry about where to go strawberry picking. The nearest MRT station to the farm we visited is Neihu. Behind the station, in Neihu Road Section 2, is the Bihu Elementary School bus stop. Here, minibus no. 2 picks up passengers heading to Bishanyan Temple and the following stop, the strawberry picking field.

Unfortunately for us, we happened to choose a day when lots of people had the same idea, and after waiting an age for a bus, it became so full we couldn't get on it. We caught the next instead, after about an hour in total of waiting. (This bus departs from City Hall Bus Station, which, we realised, would have been a much better place to catch it).

When we finally arrived at Bishanyan Temple, just a 10- to 15-minute drive away, the bus driver advised the passengers its was quicker to alight there and walk to the strawberry farm through the nature park. This was actually hooey, as we discovered later, and I'm not sure his reasons for wanting all the passengers off the bus.

Anyway, we found the place in the end, and much strawberry picking ensued. I think my son regressed eight or nine years in the process.

Baskets and scissors are supplied by the owners, and the picking process is very civilised. Everyone is careful not to damage the plants or fruit, and no one helps themselves to fruit they haven't paid for (though this may be due to worries about pesticide sprays).

Most people only bought half a basket or so of strawberries (about one pound). The price was no cheaper than buying them in a supermarket, but these were far nicer than supermarket strawberries, which are varieties bred to withstand manhandling. These strawberries were tender, sweet and juicy.

We went a little overboard.

We had a late lunch at the Farmhouse Cafe in the nature park, and walked back to the strawberry field to catch the bus back to Neihu. This turned out to be a good idea because, again, we had to wait for a second bus before we could get on, and there was no room for anyone waiting at the temple stop.

I would definitely recommend strawberry picking as an excursion, but on a weekday morning or other less popular time.

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