Strawberry Fields Forever

1st July 2016 Blogs

At this time of year, it’s absolutely impossible to resist a fresh, juicy strawberry. And since it’s the height of strawberry season, we thought it would be interesting to take a much closer look at this delicious red berry which is the very epitome of British Summer time.

The strawberry or Fragaria to use it’s official scientific name, is one of the most popular berry fruits in the whole world. There are actually more than ten species of Fragaria which differ in flavour, size and texture yet they all have the same characteristic heart shape, red flesh and seeded coat with leafy green caps and stems which adorn their crowns.

But what you might not know is that strawberries are not actually fruits at all as their seeds are on the outside. Strawberry plants are runners and are not produced by seeds, that said each strawberry has an average of 200 seeds per fruit on the outside are actually a member of the rose family.

The history of the strawberry
Strawberries have been enjoyed since the Roman times and are native to many parts of the world, literally hundreds of varieties of strawberries exist due to crossbreeding techniques. In 1714, a French engineer who was commissioned to Chile and Peru, noticed that the strawberry native to those countries was much larger than those found in Europe. He decided to bring back a sample of this strawberry to cultivate in France and this resulted in a large, juicy, sweet hybrid that became extremely popular in Europe as the modern garden strawberry that we know today. Strawberries also make their claim in history as a luxury item enjoyed only by royalty, in fact it was even alleged that newly weds were entitled to strawberries with soured cream as a wedding breakfast, believing them to be an aphrodisiac!

Good for you
Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamins C and K as well as being a good source of fibre, folic acid, manganese and potassium. They also contain significant amounts of phytonutrients and flavanoids which makes strawberries their bright red colour. Their fibre and fructose content may help regulate blood sugar levels by slowing digestion and their leaves can used to make tea. The vibrant red colour of strawberries is due to large amounts of anthocyanidin which also means they contain powerful antioxidants which are thought to protect against inflammation, cancer and heart disease.

Pick of the crop
The strawberry season in Britain is short and runs from the end of May through July. To achieve maximum yields during this short season, farmers need to protect emerging berries from the muddy soil and do this by spreading a layer of straw around each new plant, hence the name strawberry.

You should always try to choose locally grown strawberries during the harvesting season as they undoubtedly have the best flavour, of course imported strawberries are available all year round but we wouldn’t recommend them. The varieties grown for export tend to be chosen for their ability to withstand transportation, rather than for their texture or flavour, which often results in a less tender strawberry with an unremarkable taste.
You should always choose berries that are firm, plump, unblemished and free of mould. Large strawberries tend to have a higher water content, so have less flavour, instead go for small to medium sized ones. Look for those that have a shiny, deep red colour and bright green caps attached. Once picked, strawberries do not ripen further so avoid those that are dull, or have green or yellow patches. Wash and handle them with care and always bring to room temperature before serving.

The scent of strawberries is actually a very good indicator of quality and to enjoy strawberries at their fragrant, juicy and tasty best it’s definitely worth holding out for the British season and if you want to enjoy them perfectly ripe then pick-your-own is the best. Strawberries are really easy to grow in the garden or even in a pot in a sunny spot – just remember to protect them from the birds when the berries appear!

Elsanta is one of the most common strawberries available because it is sweet, but has a high water content, giving it a crisp texture. For flavour, sweetness and a softer texture, look for other British varieties such as Ava, Florence, Alice and Rhapsody. Also look out for the wild fraises des bois, from France. Small, with a conical shape, they have a wonderfully intense aroma and flavour.

Border Berries
As you know we like to keep our ingredients as fresh and as local possible at Seasons and our strawberries don’t come any fresher than those which we pick or collect from Border Berries at Rutherford Farm just outside Maxton.

In fact, Border Berries have been bringing their perfectly ripened Scottish berries to local people here in the Borders for more than 50 years. All grown naturally outdoors, their season therefore starts in late June or early July. The family always announce the opening date in early June when the first strawberry flowers have appeared as a juicy berry takes 6 weeks to develop from the flower, ensuring rich pickings when you arrive. This year they are open around the 4th July. They also grow raspberries, red and black currants, tayberries, gooseberries and peas – you can pick your own or if you prefer can buy them ready picked too.

If you haven’t visited these berry fields in the heart of the Borders before we can’t recommend it highly enough – we’ll probably see you there in the strawberry fields with the Eildons as a backdrop!