Strawberry Fields


On Food, Our Daily Correspondent

tuxedo strawberry ash berlin

Photo: Ash Berlin, via Flickr

It has been some years now since I mastered the art of dressing strawberries in tuxedos.

I was first introduced to the skill at a friend’s baby shower in Rhode Island; a young woman demonstrated how one dipped the strawberry in white chocolate, and then, after letting it dry, dipped it again, at an angle, in milk chocolate. One appended a small chocolate bow tie and perhaps, with a toothpick, shirt studs. (And, if feeling really ambitious, made a distaff counterpart, all in white chocolate.)

My first strawberry-in-a-tuxedo looked like he had just come off a week-long bender. His lapels were smudged, his bow tie askew. But by the time I had dipped my fifth—I think we were supposed to stop at two, but I couldn’t—that out-of-season berry was a veritable Brummel. (Just in case one of them needed to attend a summer dinner-dance or something, I made one in a white dinner jacket, too.) The trick is letting it dry properly between dips, and holding it aloft while it does so.

In the years since, I have had occasion to perfect the skill, and have found it to be a very useful babysitting activity, too. I will not lie: on these occasions I have sometimes impugned the purity of the enterprise by introducing those little tubes of gel icing, and sometimes even a candy button, for extra detail work.

Many a locavore has bemoaned the denatured state of the supermarket strawberry: huge, tasteless, pale, and available year-round. It is true that a California-grown Elsanta, baptized with toxic fumigants and bred for long travel, bears little resemblance to the heirloom varieties you see, increasingly, at farmer’s markets. At a greenmarket not far from me, a terrific farm called Berried Treasures sells a hybrid wild-cultivated strain that is really delicious. But you cannot dress such a thing in formalwear. No, for that you want the hardiest, largest, beefiest specimen you can find, able to withstand repeated dipping in warm, tempered chocolate, and large enough to do justice to its finery.

As we know, chocolate-dipped strawberries have long held a cherished place in the echelons of Romantic Signifiers. Apocryphal sources from around the Internet claim that a woman named Lorraine Lorusso invented them in the sixties, when she was a candy buyer for Stop & Shop in Chicago—she used to demonstrate new products at the front of the store, and as looked at the strawberries one day, it occurred to her that they ought to be dipped, immediately, in chocolate. But who was the genius who decided to dress the strawberry in formal wear? Google yields no results, although one suspects the eighties. Like the large martini glass filled with mashed potatoes, or the bed strewn with rose petals, its origins are lost in the mists of time. Like love itself, it simply Is. In the immortal words of James Baldwin, “Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.” Love is a strawberry dressed in a chocolate tuxedo.