It would not be summer without our New Zealand strawberries. And January is when we visit the strawberry patches for picking (and tasting) and more picking, to load our buckets with the sweet berries. The strawberry fields of west Auckland are a childhood memory, and pick-your-own there is a tradition we maintain.
But, as we bring them home for snacking, freezing, and jars of preserving, we wonder a little about these delicious summer berries. And we have a variation for the jam preserving jars. More on that to follow.
A rose with seeds
The strawberry plant, along with the raspberry plant, are members of the rose family, the fragaria. And, from picking in the strawberry fields, we know they smell as sweet as they taste.
Technically, strawberries aren’t true berries, like blueberries or even grapes, as they don’t have seeds on the inside. And, to be even more technical, each little hard piece that appear to be (up to 200) seeds on the outside are actually considered by botanists to be a separate dried fruit....that contain their own seeds….
But, whether berries and seeded or not, they are a true favourite.
A name of straw
The word strawberry comes, we have read, from the Old English "streowberie" or "streawbelige".
There are a few theories about where the name came from. One is that straw was used around the strawberries after planting, to keep the berries fresh and protect the soil around them. Another is that the actual strawberry plants have runners that look like straw when growing in the fields. Or it could come from "strewed", meaning to spread wide.
Thanks be to the French
Wild (or wood) strawberries have been eaten around the world since ancient times, but not in big quantities. The wild fruits were small, tough, and lacked flavour. But the French are credited with transplanting the wood strawberry from wilderness to garden, in cultivation in Europe by the 1300s.
Today’s commercially produced garden strawberry is a widely-grown hybrid species of the genus fragaria. And it was again the French who, in the 1750s, accidentally pollinated the Virginia strawberry of North America with the Chilean strawberry, which a French spy brought back from Chile. These two New World species of strawberries were crossed in Europe, giving rise to our modern strawberry, fragaria ananassa.
We have read that New Zealand’s commercial strawberry fields now cover a total of 170 hectares, mainly in the Auckland region. And of course lots of home gardens have beds and pots of them growing. The public picking season takes off after Christmas, and that’s when we bring them home in quantity, for lots of different ways of summer eating.
With a crack of pepper
Of course strawberries are delicious with cream - and on the most classic of all kiwi desserts that you can learn more about here.
For a slightly less traditional accompaniment, we have tried them with cracked black pepper and mint. And it works surprisingly well. The strawberries are sweet, but have a fresh vegetable note that holds the heat of the spice.
But an idea we have been enjoying this summer is a variant on traditional strawberry jam. And we have been especially pleased with how quickly it can be made, not to mention its reduced sugar content. For a strawberry chia seed jam idea, click here.