Sunday, April 08, 2007

Strawberry explanifesto

I'm coining the term "explanifesto" to describe posts that are half explanation, half manifesto/rant. This is one of those.

Strawberries, which used to be my favorite fruit, have become sucky. I blame the Midwest U.S.

See, it's difficult to ship strawberries to the Midwest from California and other warmer strawberry-growing regions. So it was in the interest of the strawberry industry to develop big, beautiful, hardy strawberries that travel without blemishing or becoming squishy.

Unfortunately, these beautiful strawberries are hard, juiceless, and nearly flavorless. Cut them open, and they're white inside.

Meet the Camarosa strawberry. The University of California owns the patent, and to my great chagrin, my very own university invented this fruit of the damned. As of 2005, the strawberry was the third-highest earner among UC patents, ranking just below two medical advances.

So there's big money in crappy strawberries. Thank you, Iowa. (When I was living there, the natives swore they saw nothing wrong with the big, hard strawberries. Friends who studied abroad, however, came back asking to join my nascent anti-crappy-strawberry movement.)

It used to be you could find good strawberries locally, but even farmers' markets now sell Camarosas and similar berries to the exclusion of all others. So this year I've planted a dozen strawberry plants in two smaller, sweeter varieties, and I encourage you to do the same once the ground warms up where you are. Encourage local farmers to plant decent berries—there are dozens, if not hundreds, of tasty varieties—and flip the UC Regents the bird.

Further reading:
The California Strawberry Commission
The University of California Strawberry Breeding Program

7 comments:

Jeff Mather said...

The ironic thing is that we used to have the juiciest, tastiest local-grown berries in Iowa. But somehow your California berries took over. So I blame Central Valley produce growers as much as Hy-Vee food buyers.

Phantom Scribbler said...

I was able to get real berries at a local farm last summer. So of course I picked five pounds of them and froze as many as I could.

Except that my family won't, you know, eat strawberries. Ooops.

You wanna bag of non-Camarosa frozen strawberries? I still got lots. Sigh.

Rev Dr Mom said...

I grew up in the south where strawberries were a late spring/early summer treat. My dad would always buy a big big basket of them; we'd get to have fresh strawberry shortcake and my mom would freeze the rest. Yum.

I refuse to buy grocery store strawberries...you are SO right about them.

The same thing is true about peaches, too. Probably lots of other things. The quest to have fresh fruits and vegetables year round has really backfired on us.

Yankee T said...

Local strawberries, like local watermelon, are amazing in the south. And the season is long.

post-doc said...

My mom is allergic to strawberries and could only eat the ones grown locally. Central Illinois makes little, rather ugly strawberries, but they don't make Mom's tongue swell up and they're really quite tasty. Not so pretty, but otherwise wonderful. And I have good memories of riding on a tractor to go pick our own berries in the late summer.

So though I did grow up in the Midwest, I take no responsibility for your icky strawberries. :) But I do hope the ones you grow are juicy and perfect.

garlic = love said...

I used to work on a Straberry Farm in Upper Michigan. In the 50'ss and 60's that area was the center of the strawberry industry with over 500 acres of fields. The best tasting strawberries you ever had (so I'm told, I wasn't around yet). They used to ship them all over the states, including California. Then came California's rise as strawberry producer. BY the time I worked on the farms in the 80's Chassell was down to 50 acres. Last time I went home there was less than 10(closer to 5), and all Hobby farms. It's kind of heart breaking for me, and very much not the midwest's fault. So if you want the best berries, Buy local! Look for places that grow midway or alstar, and don't be fooled into buying the biggest berries. The small ones might take longer to clean but will provide much more flavor! AND, you are helping the farmer get rid of part of his crop that most people turn their nose up at.

Scrivener said...

Have you read Epitaph for a Peach? Heartbreaking. And you're so right about strawberries, too.