Strawberries are not exactly the traditional harbingers of autumn. When getting geared up for soup season, roasted root vegetables, and the ubiquitous pumpkin pie- strawberries don’t even register a blip on the scale of harvest abundance that comes with the changing of the leaves. Or do they? Thanks to Sierra Harvest, 6,500 local students have experienced the versatile strawberry as part of their autumn during October’s Harvest of the Month program.
With 2 main “types” of strawberries- June bearing and ever bearing, you have one guess as to which type is making fruit here in the sunset of the farming season. If you guessed ever bearing, you are excellent at deductive reasoning! The ever bearing strawberry is what allows California to produce 88% of these berries for the U.S. market, grown year round.
With variety names such as “Albion” and “Seascape,” you can probably also make an educated guess about where these varieties do best. The California coast is the perfect climate for growing strawberries, but they also fare well here in the foothills. In our area, strawberries are at their peak in the spring and fall, and are at the farmer’s market now.
Strawberries are an excellent crop to purchase locally, and to grow at home. As a repeated offender on the “Dirty Dozen” list of pesticide intensive crops put out by the Environmental Working Group, conventional strawberries have been tested to contain 13 or more pesticide residues. That’s quite a chemical load for one little berry!
Additionally, strawberries spoil quickly and taste better when they haven’t been refrigerated. These are pretty compelling reasons to get your strawberries locally! In a home garden, most strawberry plants will perform for roughly three years before needing to be replaced. Many commercial farms treat strawberry plants as annuals and just grow them for one season. Strawberries can be planted here now, or in the early spring.
With an unmistakable, fragrant and memorable smell, strawberries capture the essence of the season. The berries are so fragrant in fact that the Latin name is fragaria. So, sit back and imagine the fragrance of strawberries wafting over you as you take in these fun facts about fragaria.
- Strawberries are the only fruit that wear their seeds on the outside. The average berry is adorned with some 200 of them. Scientists don’t classify strawberries as a true berry! That’s because true berries, like blueberries and cranberries, have seeds inside.
- When ripe, strawberries are bright red, juicy and very sweet. Strawberries are picked with part of the stem still attached. Unlike some other fruits, they don’t continue to ripen after being picked. Strawberries survive in a range of conditions and will grow happily in most places around the world. You can also eat the green tops.
- A member of the rose family, strawberry plants are perennial. This means if you plant one now, it will come back next year and the following and the year after that. Strawberries are the first fruit to ripen in the spring. Strawberries at room temperature are sweeter than cold ones.
- Americans eat an average of three-and-a-half pounds each of fresh strawberries per year. It’s closer to five pounds if you count frozen ones. Giant strawberries can be as large as apples!
- Belgium has a museum dedicated to strawberries. In the gift shop at Le Musée de la Fraise (The Strawberry Museum), you can buy everything from strawberry jam to strawberry beer.
- Native Americans ate strawberries long before European settlers arrived. As spring’s first fruit, they were a treat, eaten freshly picked or baked into cornbread.
- The ancient Romans thought strawberries had medicinal powers. They used them to treat everything from depression to fainting to fever, kidney stones, bad breath and sore throats.
- Eight strawberries contain more Vitamin C than a medium sized orange. Vitamin C is important for the development of healthy bones and teeth. It also helps fight off colds! Strawberries are rich in nitrate, which increases the flow of blood & oxygen to your muscles. This makes exercise easier, so you can get big and strong. Nutritional experts have recently named strawberries a nutritional “superfood,” as a result of their being an excellent source of antioxidants, Vitamin C, potassium, folate and fiber.
- Strawberries are grown in every state in the United States and every province of Canada.
- California produces an amazing one billion pounds of strawberries each year. That’s the same as more than 8,000 army tanks or 67,000 male elephants! If all the strawberries produced in California in one year were laid berry to berry, they’d wrap around the world 15 times!
- In Bavaria, farmers harvested strawberries and tied small baskets of the fruit to the horns of their cows as an offering to the elves, who they believed helped the cows to make more milk.
- Madame Tallien, a member of Emperor Napoleon’s court, bathed in the juice of fresh strawberries, squashing 22 pounds into the bathtub each time! Like most citizens in the 1700s, she did not bathe daily or even weekly. That strawberry bath may have taken place once a year.
- Second wife of King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, had a strawberry birthmark on her neck. Some people claimed that this proved she was a witch.
- To symbolize perfection and righteousness, medieval stone masons carved strawberry designs on altars and around the tops of pillars in churches and cathedrals. Strawberries were served at important functions to bring peace and prosperity.
In honor of the (alleged) peace and prosperity that strawberries bring, here’s a recipe that highlights some of the best food of the season. As the temperatures begin to dip, fall and winter hardy greens are crisp, sweet and delicious. There are many easy salad recipes with spinach and strawberries, here’s an adapted version with kale adapted from the Cookin’ Canuck (www.cookincanuck.com).
Strawberry Kale Salad with Feta
- 4-5 large kale leaves, stems removed, leaves chopped (about 5 cups)
- 1 ½ cups sliced strawberries
- 1 ½ oz. (1/4 cup) crumbled feta cheese
- 3 tbsp toasted chopped hazelnuts
- 2 tbsp fresh orange juice
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp honey
- ⅛ tsp salt
- ⅛ tsp ground pepper
- Place the kale in a colander and massage in warm running water until tender.
- In a large bowl, combine the kale, strawberries, feta cheese and hazelnuts. Toss gently.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, olive oil, honey, salt and pepper.
- Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Serve.