Strawberry Fields Forever

Strawberries grew wild for centuries and were enjoyed by many Europeans, albeit much smaller than we have now. But they were first cultivated in France in the 1750s (leave it up to the French). Like many other fruits originally valued as medicinal and mentioned in ancient Roman writings, they are represented in oil paintings during the 15th century by Renaissance artists (a little snack on the side, perhaps?). It seems like they were consumed as a panacea for depression (who can feel blue when you have sweet berries to eat?).

Gathered in the woods by the first settlers, the gastronomic president Thomas Jefferson experimented with different varieties in his vast gardens as early as 1789, serving them at large dinners to the delight of his guests. His frustration was the small size at the time, still a strain of the alpine variety that he brought home from France. Fortunately, horticulturists and growers continued to work to produce a larger size and, of course, they were finally successful.

But Americans are not the only country that appreciates this delicious red fruit. They are a tradition at the annual Wimbledon tennis tournament in England, served with cream. In Italy, strawberries are a favorite gelato flavor. Greeks like to dip them in sugar, then roll them into brandy. Japan still experiments with dozens of varieties, which were originally very expensive and available only to royalty. During the 1930s, their production increased dramatically, and they now rank as one of the world’s leading producers.

Needless to say, America’s love affair with strawberry is legendary, as we far surpass any other country in production and use, producing 1.5 million tons a year, a third of world production. This translates to just over 9 pounds for American consumption, this is what heads the successful United States parade:

Jam – America’s favorite flavor

Shortcake – with biscuits or sponge cake, topped with whipped cream, a classic

Pie – either fresh (with a sugar glaze) or baked, often with rhubarb

Ice cream – in popular Neapolitan (with chocolate and vanilla) or by itself

Yogurt – fruit on the bottom or blended

Smoothies – blended and flavorful

Pairs well with bananas

Fresh – by themselves, sliced and sugared or as a topping

Chocolate-covered – a candy and fruit in one

Sliced – on breakfast cereal and pancakes

Hardy and easy to grow, the plants also make an attractive ground cover, though local creatures like to sneak into the backyards and gobble up the fruit when the shoreline is clear. They also freeze well and can be enjoyed year-round.

If you are lucky enough to live in a region where strawberries are grown, a nice way out is to visit a “choose your own” field, even though it is exhausting under the blazing sun and puts strain on your back, it is worth doing a once (and you can eat everything in the process). So be sure to pick up a quarter or two on your next visit to the local supermarket or farmers market. The best ones are fresh, ripe and tasty.

Author Dale Phillip never knew a strawberry she didn’t like. Growing up in the Midwest, she has happy memories of “pick your own field” and her mother’s amazing homemade jam, as well as tart and pie combined with rhubarb. He currently lives in Southern California, where they are grown locally and enjoy a long season. Dale invites you to see his numerous articles on Food and Drink, and his blog:

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