That realization hit me this year as I sampled the first of what is going to be a bumper crop of strawberries from the new bed we started a couple of years ago. Slowly, insidiously, the grocery store strawberry has been lowering my expectations about what a good berry should taste like.
We’ve been buying strawberries the past few years after crown rot took the strawberry bed we’d been enjoying every year (it’s pretty much finished the asparagus as well). Since you can’t continue to plant in the same area once that happens, and since you really shouldn’t grow strawberries over and over in the same place, we started a new bed of some June-bearing Honeoye plants at the front end of our garden. But new beds take a year or two to get going. This is the first year we’ve had any real strawberry harvest.
My family eats strawberries way too fast for us to keep up with buying them at the farmer’s markets. So we’ve been getting them at the store.
And I have to say, the direction store berries have taken hasn’t been a good one.
Of course they’re gorgeously red and aromatic. Good camouflage, is what I’d call that. Once you cut or bite in, it’s another story.
Store strawberries have become hard, dry and bland. They fight you when you try to cut or bite into them. I found myself having to cut out a woody core of one batch of berries before they could be used for anything, even cooking.
Also, they’ve become freakishly large. I took this picture last year after buying another disappointing batch. That’s a plum on the left. I just can’t think of any reason a strawberry should be as big as a plum.
I can only guess the reasons for this. I would assume that commercial growers are concerned about shelf life and the bouncy truck ride hundreds of miles to the store. Or maybe it’s because they stand up well to being dipped in chocolate. I hope that’s not true. The idea that people will only eat a strawberry if it’s encased in an inch of chocolate is extremely depressing.
But the point is that, because we’ve regularly been eating store strawberries, we’d come to sort of accept that this is what real strawberries are like.
And friends, they are not.
First, the juice. When I bit into that first sublime garden berry of the season, juice ran out onto my fingertips. Try getting that from a plastic box of Driscolls! I’d forgotten strawberries had juice.
Then there’s the almost melt-int-the-mouth tenderness. No resistance when you bite down, only tangy, juicy goodness. And certainly no woody core.
My garden strawberries don’t smell as strongly as the store’s. But there’s no comparing the distinctive strawberry tang. When we made the celebratory strawberry shortcake, we only needed a fraction of the sugar.
Of course, a berry bed is hard to keep going. This will be a great year, but some of the bed will need to be thinned out for next year. And maybe the year after that, we’ll tear them all out and start over.
But it’s worth it, so worth it.
Posted by: Roxie