Strawberries grew wild for centuries and were appreciated by many Europeans, although much smaller in size than we have today. Like so many other fruits appreciated initially as medicinal and mentioned in ancient Roman writings, they’re depicted in oil paintings during the 15th century by Renaissance artists (a little snacking on the side, possibly?) . Seems they were consumed as a panacea to depression (who can feel blue once you have sweet berries to nosh on?) .
Gathered in the woods by early colonists, foodie president Thomas Jefferson experimented with different varieties in his vast gardens as early as 1789, serving them up at grand dishes to the joy 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 are not the only country which cherishes this delightful red fruit. They’re a tradition at England’s Wimbledon annual tennis tournament, served with cream. In Italy, strawberries are a favorite gelato flavor. The Greeks like to dip them in sugar, then roll them in brandy. Japan still experiments with dozens of varieties, which were initially very expensive and available only for royalty. Throughout the 1930s, their creation was increased dramatically, and they now rank as one of the best growers in the world.
Obviously, America’s love affair with the strawberry is legendary, as we far surpass any other country in production and usage, 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:
Jam – America’s favorite flavor
Pie – either fresh (with a sugar glaze) or baked, often with rhubarb
Ice cream – in popular Neapolitan (with chocolate and vanilla) or by itself
Yogurt – fruit at the bottom or blended
Smoothies – blended and flavorful
Pairs well with bananas
Fresh – independently, sliced and sugared or as a topping
Sliced – on breakfast cereal and sandwiches
Hardy and easy to grow, the plants also make an attractive ground cover, although local creatures 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’re lucky to live in a region where strawberries are grown, an enjoyable outing is seeing a”pick your own” field, even 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 on your next visit to the local supermarket or farmers market. The top ones are fresh, ripe and flavorful.