Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Strawberries

 Wild Strawberry Fragaria vesca.

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.

Wild strawberries growing on the bank of a stream in Preuilly.
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.
Newly planted strawberry plants in our potager a few years ago.
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.
Ideally you should eat them immediately after purchasing. Otherwise, keep them for 2 - 3 days in the vegetable drawer of the fridge. The best method of long term preservation is to make jam, which retains the natural flavour of the fruit.

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.

6 comments:

  1. Wild strawbs are a wonderous ground cover plant in the garden....
    never enough for more than a garnish in the kitchen....
    they provide a tasty snack as you "tidy" the garden at the time the weeds are growing at their fastest!!

    And when serving strawbs....
    cut in half and grind on a little black pepper...
    or spray on a good balsamic vinaigre....
    one which works particularly well is Aspall's Apple Balsamic....
    both intensify the 'strawberry'ness!!
    Pepper is the oldest method... mentioned by Mrs Beeton...
    the balsamic we tried and liked after seeing at a tip for other soft frootz...
    raspberries, actually....

    And the balsamic... a proper one...
    is a wonderful addition to strawberry jam....
    one large serving spoon for around a kilo and a half of fruit...

    Also when making strawberry sorbet!
    it is a rough measure.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The more I think about it....
      the more I want a punnet of strawberries, a pot of La Borde "triple" cream and a seat in the sun....
      [1] open cream
      [2] hold strawberry by the hull
      [3] dip strawb into cream as far as hull
      [4] withdraw and place in mouth to the same depth
      [5] hull with teeth and sling the biodegradeable hull
      [6] squish cream coated berry against roof of mouth with tongue
      [7] enjoy whilst reaching for the next....
      repeat stages [2] to [7] as often as necessary...
      or until punnet is empty!!

      Delete
  2. What a serendipitous name - Frézier... Pauliine

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm not especially fond of cultivated strawberries, mostly because in the U.S. they're enormous, harvested green and mostly tasteless. The better way for me to eat them is with sugar and red wine. The mixture of wine and strawberries is great.

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  4. Susan, I am sure your strawberries don't need any addition. We pick the ripe ones late each afternoon when the sun has been on them all day and they are delicious. Usually I don't need to rinse the berries. I bake a shortcake and put all of the day's berries on the table with a little knife so we can each hull our own. Add milk and it's our perfect meal.

    chm, you are so right about US strawberries--they are worthless. We've had gariguette and Mara des Bois in France in September and they were not good--I think it's the season, because last spring every strawberry variety we ate in France was good.

    P. S. Name/URL isn't one of the choices on Select profile. I have to use my Google account. If it shows my info, please delete my comment.

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  5. I am among the few people that don't like strawberries. I'll eat them if they are served to me but it always seems a pity to waste them on someone who doesn't appreciate them! We have wild ones growing in abundance in front of our little house. Fortunately Jean Michel is a fan. I much prefer raspberries and tend my canes with TLC! They are the first things we planted and I bought several varieties so I could have fruit from June to August.

    ReplyDelete