Photo ©Puntarelle & Co
Almost all modern cultivated Strawberry varieties derive from two American species, Fragaria virginiana from North America and Fragaria chiloensis from South America. It wasn’t until the plants were cross-polinated in France in the 18th century that the large, commercially-grown, strawberries we know today became popular, supplanting the European Wild Strawberry varieties we had enjoyed here. While some recent introductions may be viewed as a hybridisation too far – bred for resilience, size and sweetness at the cost of flavour – with others it’s not difficult to see why they were favoured over the small wild berries. The larger, sweeter cultivated varieties can usually be kept at least a couple of days. The small European wild strawberry, Fragaria Vesca, or, as the French call it, fraise de bois still has its place but is best eaten very soon after picking before its intense fragrance dissipates.
We get some early varieties from France and Italy, notably the French Gariguette which we will have again this week, though at a more reasonable price than at the start of harvest. The early summer English outdoor-grown fruit, ripened by the sun, are worth waiting for. This week, the third week of May, we have the first arrival from our preferred farmer in Kent. The variety is Elizabeth, which will be followed by Jubilee over the next few weeks.
It’s hard to beat the simple pairing of Strawberries and cream. Strawberry ice cream is divine. Try slicing a strawberry into a glass of red or white wine. Add a few berries to poached rhubarb or try pairing strawberries with a few rose petals or leaves of lemon verbena. If you want something a little different, orange zest, balsamic vinegar or black pepper all complement strawberries. As the season progresses and prices come down, they also make an incredibly fragrant jam. Be sure to add lemon juice for a good set as the pectin levels in strawberries is very low.