A strawberry influence

Strawberry picking at the farm felt different this year. The wind was strong enough that it made the walk down the pebbly, unfinished path to the strawberry slopes tentative. It was blowing away the small, paper quart containers used to collect the berries, as well as the strawberry fragrance that normally wafts through the air. My summer vacation had just begun, it was a weekday, yet there were quite a few people picking fruit, including one person who said, “isn’t this better than being at work?” Besides the wind, the sun was out shining brightly, and the lady at the farm stand promised that there were plenty of berries to be picked. It is always hard to tell because the strawberries, especially when heavy and ripe bend their stems down to the ground, away from the sun and covered under an overlapping layer of leaves.

Strawberry fields, Virginia
Strawberry fields along the slopes of a farm by the Blue Ridge Mountains

Researchers use genetics to determine the geographical origin of a plant. A likely place of origin would have ancient varieties of the plant1. There might also be diverse varieties of the plant, each different because of a few variant genes that evolution has selected to help the plant adapt and thrive in the local condition1.  The fact that a plant originated and thrived in a certain geographical location, to begin with, as opposed to anywhere else, highlights the unique, evolutionarily-shaped relationship of that plant to that region. It is quite possible that the plant might never have arisen if not for the existence of this harmony between plant and geography. In this sense, it seems, there is no fruit more American than a strawberry. And, standing on an American farm with strawberry fields, it is hard not to think about what made the geography so unique to create a strawberry?

The genetic material of living things is dynamic. It is constantly changing, although slowly. But not all changes are retained, only those that help it thrive better in an environment. And so, plants like the strawberry seem to have migrated from their original regions of birth to many other places, including Europe. They generated variants, by selecting and retaining genetic changes, that allowed them to thrive better in the new location. They adapted, and as a result, sometimes, new varieties of strawberries arose. And so, there are Chandler and Earligrow;  Gariguette and Mara; and, not to forget, the fraises des bois, or wild alpine strawberries.

Just picked strawberries
I try to pick strawberries of similar ripeness, but invariably some variation creeps in

 

An 1858 French cookbook mentions the use of a red copper preserve pan or bassine à confiture2; a 1927 French cookbook3 elaborates by saying that a red copper preserve pan was “the foundation of well-cooked preserves,” that it was “passed down from one generation to another”, and that it could be shared between neighbor and neighbor or even rented from the neighborhood coppersmith.

Is the influence of strawberries in America the same as its influence in France? Can two regions of the world benefit from each other through a strawberry, the way the fruit can from the two of them?

Copper preserve pot
Bassine à confiture or copper pot for preserves

 

History is filled with instances where seasonal food was preserved to savor its flavor over a long period of time. For strawberries, there is strawberry preserve, including American strawberries preserved with some French influence.

What qualities do you like in a strawberry preserve?

Strawberry preserve

Strawberry preserve 2

 

References:

1. Origin of food crops connect countries worldwide. Khoury CK et al (2016) in Proceedings Royal Society B, 283: 20160792

2. La cuisinière de la campagne et de la ville: ou nouvelle cuisine économique, (1858) by Louis-Eustache Audot.

3. La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E.Saint-Ange (1927)

Postscript:

On the relationship between, plants, geography, and humans, my grandmother, Champa Venkatachalam reflects in the comments section below.

 

Related blogposts:

Strawberries and cream

How do you like your strawberries?

 

 

13 thoughts on “A strawberry influence

  1. Aruna Vedula

    Lovely read! This reminded me of the strawberries that my Mother very successfully planted in our house garden in Simla. The fruit were small but very sweet.

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Thank you!

      Growing-up in India, I've only heard of strawberries grown in hill stations. Your comment reminds me to look out for them when I'm in India.

      Reply
  2. Bala

    Email comment from reader, Douglas Hess:

    Saw your strawberry post. We've been in strawberry season for a couple-three weeks in OH, and I've been purchasing regularly at the weekly Farmer's Market on the Case Campus. I've been able to find (jarred) Devonshire Double Cream here, and it is my favorite accompaniment thusfar- it's unsweetened, so I sprinkle with a pinch of turbinado sugar as well (the berries are never 100% ripe, alas).

    Reply
  3. Bala

    Facebook comment from reader, Champa:
    Your blog on the strawberries showed me how meticulous you are in your presentations.I loved reading every word .Strawberries came before me only when I came to college as Calicut market had no time or space for delicacies.I would reach out to this new lady but I was always disappointed in the taste as she was not allowed to ripen lest she drooled away.Looking at your pictures shows me what the right place and species can do.Looks delectable.Maybe those preserved ones are flying out with you.Ha!Ha!

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Thank you for reading the blog and for your comment. I enjoyed reading about your Calicut memory. And, yes the plan is to have some of these preserves travel with us. That was the primary reason for this year's batch. As I was reading and thinking about geography for this blogpost, I have to say that I thought about your expertise in this area!

      Reply
  4. Bala

    On the relationship between, plants, geography and humans, my grandmother, Champa Venkatachalam's reflections:

    Born in Kerala with sumptuous greenery all around,there was no need for color or exotic flavours in my food.Simple breakfasts of red rice kanjee,laced with coconut milk,or hot rice appams again laced with coconut milk,rice putti laced with coconut scrapings were my preferences.We had a "parambha" of coconut trees which I loved.The tall Palm,with her continued supply of nuts were my friends.A kolam(farm pond) with water throughout the year,where I could take a dip any time makes with greenery all around,valued for their individual therapeutic value,which was understood by the ignorant (convent educated Champa's classification) crowd around me.They boiled some leaves for their bath others for drinking some others just to place beside them on their sleeping mats.Now the world recognizes the importance of the environment the botanical value of native plants.We shall go together to Kerala and learn their way of life with nature as their guiding angel all the time.I had Ayurvedic "uzhachil treatment,for fourteen days,with oils steeped in herbs massaged into my body so that the skin was the feeder for the rest of the body.No bath, the oil was rubbed away (kizhachal) cooked rice soaked in milk tied together into bundles.This was my grandfathers treatment for my looking thin.Noon there was always fish curry on the table,the heavy double boiled rice was my preference,with a pappad fried for an exciting lunch.Avial made with native vegetables,yellow pumpkin,white pumpkin,root vegetables cooked and then laced with curds. After fourteen days of massage another fourteen days of rest. Just head bath and rest. The malabar treatment for good health.For my eyes I would go to Sheghu vaidhyar . He would treat my eyes with only locally available oils and drops nothing foreign.Today at eighty two,vision perfect,hearing excellent posture enviable,walking upright,all due to my early childhood food habits.

    Reply
  5. ravi sankar

    Love the strawberry images. the plants I have her eat home unfortunately don't yield much and even the few fruit that show up I think are being eaten up by the rabbits 🙂

    Reply
  6. nirmala

    Wow there is so much geography and history behind one of my favourite fruit. Till I read your blog never gave it a thought about its origin and the various places it is cultivated. Yes weather and soil plays a major role in the quality of the produce.

    Thank you for walking me through your beautiful experience of straw berry picking.

    It is interesting that the cooking vessel makes a difference in the making of the preserve. Reminds me of the fish curry made in mud pot!

    Good quality yield in India comes from the northern region, ones that come from Dehradun and Nainital are sought after not so much for their size but for their taste.More sweet less citric. Since it is not a local produce for us in the southern part of India, we consume it mostly as a fruit during the short period of time it is available, alternatively it is used in making deserts.

    I have had the best strawberry preserve in US. Even as I am writing i can feel its taste in my mouth. I can vouch warm scones and strawberry preserve with fresh cream is a must try.

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Thank you.

      It definitely appears that the strawberries from northern India should be tasted.

      I'm glad you liked the preserve in the US, and yes, scones and cream are a good way to enjoy them.

      Reply

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