In Europe the wild strawberry (Fr. la fraise des bois) has been cultivated since the 14th century (Charles V had 1200 strawberry plants in his garden). Its botanical name comes from the Latin for 'fragrant'. In 1712, Louis XIV sent the military engineer and explorer Amédée François Frézier to Chile. He brought back a plant carrying big white fruit and gave some plants of this strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis to the botanist Antoine de Jussieu. It wasn't until 1761, in Brittany, that the agronomist Antoine Nicolas Duchesne discovered that the plant would only fruit in the presence of another strawberry species, F. virginiana, from north-east America. From this cross was born the Garden Strawberry Fragaria ananassa, which is the origin of all our strawberries today.
The strawberry season extends from March to October for the late varieties. There are more than 600 varieties. Amongst the most well known in France are gariguette (which appeared in 1977), the most popular variety, followed by mara des bois, which tastes like the wild strawberry.
In 2009 France produced 37% of the strawberries consumed in the country, with another 43% coming from Spain. However, the French strawberries are considered far superior in quality and taste. The Fraise du Périgord has had IGP (international geographic protection) certification since 2004 and Label Rouge has certified strawberries as meeting their criteria of harvesting when mature and at the peak of sweetness since 2009.
Strawberries flowering in our potager in May a couple of years ago.
If buying strawberries, the hull must be green and the fruit shiny. Never buy strawberries in stormy weather. They are fragile and will go off easily. Strawberries must be harvested when perfectly ripe, as once picked they will not ripen further.
A bucket of strawberries from our potager from a couple of years ago.
Strawberries are delicate and shouldn't be served too cold otherwise you will lose all their aroma. They can be eaten raw on their own or with a bit of sugar. They give their best flavour in coulis, tarts, puddings such as charlottes, ice cream, smoothies or compotes. They go well with rhubarb, citrus and exotic fruits like pineapple.
Gariguette strawberries from O Petit Verger at Preuilly market.
Never hull strawberries before washing them. They will just suck up water and lose nutritional value. Don't bother with special tools for removing the hull -- a thin sharp knife works best.