Strawberries and socializing: good old-fashioned fun

A sign of the season: in this photo from the Community Press, which covers a lot of central and southern Hastings County (communitypress.ca), three-year-old twins twins Mason and Jacob Hennigar, 3, make short work of bowls of strawberries and ice cream at the June 24 strawberry social at Farmtown Park (formerly the Hastings County Museum of Agricultural Heritage) in Stirling, a lovely little town about half an hour southwest of Queensborough.

Strawberry season is rapidly drawing to a close – though here in Quebec we are fortunate to be able to get luscious strawberries from the Île d’Orléans, near Quebec City, well into late summer – so it seems like now’s the time to say something about the time-honoured rural tradition of the strawberry social.

I don’t believe that St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough holds a strawberry social any more, but it was a popular annual event when I was a small child living at the Manse. My memories are a bit foggy; I’m not sure if a full meal was served, or just strawberries, probably in the form of strawberry shortcake. I’m guessing the dessert course was preceded by a meal of cold meats and salads or some such. (Oh, and cheese. As I’ve mentioned before, there could never be an event connected with St. Andrew’s without plates of very sharp local cheddar being laid out. I was delighted to see just such a platter at the luncheon served after the service celebrating the 140th anniversary of the congregation on June 24. Some things never change.)

What I really remember are the pony rides. What little kid wouldn’t? A pony was conjured up from somewhere and, one child at a time, we’d be taken for a gentle ride along a path of a few dozen yards between the church and the big brick house where Roberta (Bobbie) Sager, the Sunday School superintendent and local storekeeper, lived. I believe the pony was white, but I can’t swear to that. But what a thrill for a little girl to get a ride on that pony!

I also remember a “fish pond” game, where kids were given a “fishing pole” to dangle over the top of a blanket, behind which were small toys and treats that we magically “caught.” That was big, big stuff to us.

The former United Church in tiny Cooper, Ont. I have fond memories of the people who attended the services conducted by my dad in that pretty little church before it closed in 1967. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

Many rural churches and other community centres still hold strawberry socials; there was one at the community centre (the former one-room school) in the hamlet of Cooper in the week following the St. Andrew’s anniversary, and I’m sorry Raymond and I weren’t around to be able to attend it. Cooper was one of the three “points” on the pastoral charge when my father began his ministry in 1964, and I have happy memories of the church there. It was closed in 1967 and is now a private residence.

Our strawberry socials were about fun and food and community. They were – and are –  a celebration of a seasonal local food that is all the more a treat because its season is so fleeting. It’s lovely to see the tradition continuing. I wish pony rides to you all!

2 thoughts on “Strawberries and socializing: good old-fashioned fun

  1. Although I’m a big fan of church/community dinners (homemade pie!) and I love strawberries passionately, I’m suspicious of strawberry suppers after going to one in a village near us last year and being served those hard, tasteless imported things to spoon over cake for dessert. I know timing a supper around seasonal produce can be tricky, but once bitten, etc.

    • Nancy, you are becoming quite an evangelist for local produce in season, and for brooking nothing else – and more power to you for it! One of these times I must dig up an editorial I wrote in the Port Hope Evening Guide back in the mid-’90s, on what was doubtless a slow day for editorial ideas, encouraging the eating of local and seasonal produce. Which, as I recall, at that particular time of year meant rutabagas. But hey, what’s wrong with rutabagas? And I like to think I was a little bit ahead of the curve on that one. I will dig it up.

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