August 12, 2002

Strawberry Fields Forever We


Strawberry Fields Forever

We won't even worry with all the supposed reasons they are now called "strawberries". Nobody really seems to know for sure. What we do know is that what you may have eaten on your cereal this morning is NOT the same fruit that William Bartram found in spreading acres on his horseback travels through the southern mountains more than two hundred years ago. Then, his horse's legs were red from riding through miles of berries.

They grow over on our pasture road, but are few in number, disappointingly small, and the turkeys almost always find them the day they reach their sweetest state...the day that we had said "lets go pick the wild strawberries today".

Like Bartram, the original red berries were 'pioneers', colonizing bare ground that had been burned. Burning, either by Native Americans in their efforts to increase browse for game animals, or resulting from lightning, were common across the southeast, leaving vast areas empty of vegetation. The 'scarlet berry', as it was called, thrived as an early colonizer, and spread readily. The first settlers here quickly discovered its sweet taste and fragrant smell. Strawberry fields, strawberry plains (names still present in the south) lured Sunday picknikers to pick gallons of scarlet berries....no minor effort as the native berries were much smaller than those we purchase today in the grocery stores.

Another similar species from the Pacific coast called the Chili Berry produces large, pale berries of poor taste. Both plants eventually ended up in a European gardens, where anything from the New Country was eagerly cultivated. In one particular garden in the Netherlands, both the chili berry and the scarlet berry were planted close together. Enough similar that one was able to accept pollen from the other, a hybrid was formed, with the best qualities of each: large, hardy, scarlet and sweet.

I hate to even confess that the 'strawberries' I had this morning came out of the cereal box, flat and felt-like, molded berry-looking things that tasted of red kool-aide and were called 'strawberry bits'. My apologies to the scarlet berry and its kin. And Mr. Bartram, you're not missing anything.

Posted by fred1st at August 12, 2002 02:57 PM
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