The lusciously red strawberry is one of the most popular berries in North America. It is a sexy fruit. It has elegance and pending terroir, its taste changes. A ripe strawberry is juicy, and sweet. The season is short (4 – 5 weeks) and strawberry being a soft fruit travels less well than apples and pears. Local strawberries, if you live near a growing region, are always best. They are picked at their peak of ripeness, and sold within 24 – 48 hours of picking. Those shipped thousands of kilometres from the east or west coast are specifically bred for long distance travel, and naturally picked unripe.
Once strawberries were England’s pride; great scarlet fields shaping the culture of whole communities. The fruit was rushed to London at dawn daily during the three-week season.
Now you can buy “factory” strawberries from California, or elsewhere in the
U. S. A., or Spain, almost throughout the year. They are huge and thick skinned. It takes less time to pick enough berries to fill a pint basket and the skin is tough enough to withstand the rough ride across the continent. These giant strawberries are “taste free”.
Not so long ago, the strawberry season in Canada was in June, and then the population had to rely on imports. Fortunately for us the situation may change soon, thanks to a few observant ands diligent pomologists (fruit scientists).
In the late 1970’s, a Californian pomologist discovered in the Warsash Mountains of Utah a strain of strawberries sensitive to heat more to light. “June berries” are light sensitive. He called this strawberry Day Neutral which grows between 3 – 37 C (35 – 85 F) and blooms continuously from July to November.
Growing the Day Neutral turns a brief harvest into a profitable summer crop. They taste fine and people like them
University of California at Davis specializes in winemaking and fruit cultivation. Several faculty study strawberries and develop hybrids suitable for a range of climates.
Strawberries comprise dozens of flavours as mysterious as wine. Some researchers identified up to 350 different compounds in strawberries, close to complex wines. In fact many wines exude aromas reminding consumers of strawberries. Some taste faintly of pineapple, others of oranges, ginger, banana and/or apricot.
English strawberries taste terrific, but once planted in North America the aromas ands flavours change and diminish drastically, much like lavender in Provence and elsewhere. In a sense, strawberries are similar in their terroir requirements to vines, but can grow in cooler climates than vines.
Cavendish grows well across Canada and New York State. Prairies provinces
(Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta) farm red Coats and Kents, Quebec developed its own l’Authentic Orleans, and in British Columbia, Totem and Rainier thrive.
Some growers in Prairie Provinces started experimenting with Day Neutrals, Fern, Hecker and Tristar. Diamante, a variant of Day Neutrals, developed in University of California in Davis is the sweetest but its orange colour confuses consumers. They want red strawberries. Now scientists are experimenting with Day Neutral variants such as Colima and Whitney and from England Everest.
Nowadays, growers pamper their plants and monitor their nutrient requirements frequently adjusting magnesium and calcium levels.
Strawberries are delicate and must be handled accordingly. In many farms, females pick them, and pack in the field. Flats are rushed to cooling houses to remove field heat and prolong shelf life. Most local strawberries are in retail stores within 24 hours.
This delightful fruit has lots of vitamin C, folic acid and soluble fibres claimed to reduce serum cholesterol levels.
Here are two simple but delicious recipes:
Wash and hull strawberries, quarter if small, otherwise halve. Marinate in Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Triple Sec, or in Pinot Noir wine. Cover and refrigerate for two to three hours. And serve with a drizzle of whipping cream.
You can also serve strawberries sprinkled with a few drops of quality balsamic vinegar and a few grindings of black pepper!