Strawberries grew wild for centuries and were appreciated by many Europeans, although much smaller in dimension than we have now. Like so many other fruits appreciated originally as medicinal and mentioned in ancient Roman writings, they are depicted in oil paintings throughout the 15th century by Renaissance artists (a little snacking on the side, perhaps?) . Appears they were consumed as a panacea to depression (who can feel blue when you have sweet berries to nosh on?) .
Gathered from the forests by early colonists, foodie president Thomas Jefferson experimented with unique varieties in his vast gardens as early as 1789, serving them up at grand dishes to the delight of his guests. His frustration was the small size at that time, still a strain of the Alpine variety which he brought home from France. Luckily, horticulturists and growers continued to work on producing a larger size and of course were finally profitable.
But Americans aren’t the only nation which cherishes this delightful red fruit. They are a tradition at England’s Wimbledon annual tennis tournament, served with cream. In Italy, strawberries are a favourite gelato flavor. The Greeks prefer to dip them in sugar, then roll them in brandy. Japan still experiments with dozens of varieties, which were originally very expensive and available only for royalty. Throughout the 1930s, their production was increased dramatically, and they now rank as one of the top growers in the world.
Obviously, America’s love affair with the strawberry is legendary, as we far surpass any other nation in production and use, cranking out 1.5 million tons a year, a third of the entire world’s production. Translating into just over 9 lbs per American in consumption, here’s what tops the U.S. hit parade:
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 vanilla and chocolate ) or by itself
Yogurt – fruit on the bottom or blended
Smoothies – blended and flavorful
Pairs nicely with bananas
Fresh – independently, sliced and sugared or as a topping
Chocolate-covered – a candy and fruit in one
Sliced – on breakfast cereal and sandwiches
Hardy and easy to grow, the plants also make an attractive ground cover, even though local critters like to sneak into backyards and devour the fruit once the coast is clear. They also freeze well and can be enjoyed year-round.
If you are fortunate to live in a region where strawberries are grown, an enjoyable outing is visiting a”pick your own” field, though it’s tiring under a hot sun and places a strain on the back, worth doing once (and all you can eat in the procedure ). So make it a point to get a quart or two in your next trip to the local supermarket or farmers market. The top ones are fresh, ripe and flavorful.