Strawberry trees are frequently overlooked. Although you can find them growing in many neighborhoods in California, I’ve never met anyone else who’s eaten the fruit of the arbutus unedo. Maybe the fruit is avoided because of its unfamiliarity: it’s oddly-textured, spoils quickly, and is probably difficult to harvest and transport to grocery stores. The fruit’s dimpled surface makes it annoying to wash without squishing it. The bright red fruits are palatable, but their coloration is frequently deceptive: sometimes the dark red fruits are still woody, whereas certain trees produce fruits that are best eaten when still small and orange.
Bananas, apples, pears, peaches, grapes, avocados, watermelons, and the other fruits that we see in grocery stores are repesentations of perfection. All of these fruits are designed to be fast-growing, long-lasting, pest-resistant, and delicious. The strawberry tree is none of these. It’s awkward, fibrous, weird. Even the name is difficult: is it a strawberry tree berry? A strawberry bush fruit? Or just an un-strawberry?
But I like the fact that the strawberry fruit is so imperfect. Maybe its imperfection is the reason that Hieronymous Bosch painted one in the middle panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights; the panel between paradise, where everyone presumably eats pomegranates and avocados, and the inferno, where all you get are durian and crab apples.
The food we encounter on a daily basis is too perfect: it’s captivating, controlling, and ultimately corrupting. We’ve created a food paradise, but taking a bite from the apple gets you cast out of the metaphorical Garden of Eden and into a state of obesity. It’s possible that Bosch understood that the strawberry tree is neither too perfect nor too imperfect.