When I was at High School we put on a show one year – ‘Christmas Strawberries’. I can’t actually remember anything at all about it … which doesn’t say much for the excellence of the production – except that I couldn’t understand the title. Strawberries only grow in the summer (a challenge in Scotland, as according to Billy Connolly, we only have two seasons – June and Winter!)
There’s a great berry tradition here in Tayside – raspberries, most famously, but other berries too – and a rich tradition of whole families decamping to the Carse of Gowrie for a week in the summer, to work on the berry fields and earn a bit, have some fun, get some sun and meet up with old friends. Nowadays however, the bulk of the picking is done by Eastern European citizens on short-term contracts – hard, messy work which keeps so many of our industries going.
The current BREXIT discussions have made things very uncertain for these fellow citizens however. The politicians haven’t done anything to reassure them they can stay, now or in the future, even though many of them have been here for years. For farming, this is a huge worry, and many farmers are forecasting that they will be unable to recruit enough workers if this situation is not resolved. It has been said that our very berry tradition may be at risk.
So I was very happy to read in the Courier the other day of an Angus-based farmer who has developed a strain of strawberry with a growing season extended by three whole months. Abbey Fruits in Arbroath uses a biomass heating system with a wood-fired oven to warm the water and air in their polytunnels. This will give Scottish berries a better chance of competing with those from further afield. Apparently the first crop has already been harvested (and the weather outside tonight is very chilly, definitely not strawberry-season weather) and sold to Waitrose.
We don’t have a Waitrose anywhere near here but I wanted a photo of strawberries to illustrate this post, and went to Lidl at lunchtime. Their strawberries were from Spain – and I know Spain has had a weather-related poor harvest this year – £1.69 for 400g, pretty reasonable. They tasted better than I expected. Unfortunately my camera battery ran out at the crucial moment and I have now scoffed the strawberries! So no photo …
Crossing fingers that in our ongoing political turbulence, there’s room for someone to make a sensible gesture and confirm that our European workforce can stay among us.