May Harvest of the Month: Strawberries

StrawberriesStrawberries are a unique and wonderful fruit, not only because of its incredibly sweet taste but because of its complex origins and history.

As spring’s first fruit to appear, strawberries have always been a special treat.  But what kind of fruit is a strawberry?  Instinct would tell us that a strawberry is a berry, however this tasty fruit cannot be called a true berry, like blueberries or even grapes.

Fun Fact #1: bananas, cucumbers, oranges, tomatoes, pumpkins, avocados and watermelons are also considered berries.  The true definition of a “berry” is a simple fleshy fruit consisting of a single ovary with multiple seeds.

True berries have seeds on the inside, whereas strawberries show their seeds on the outside.  Like other fruits, the edible portion we recognize as a strawberry is actually the central part of the plant’s flower.

Strawberries form when the central portion of the flower [called the receptacle] becomes enlarged with maturity and is covered with dried “seed’-like” fruit, which many call seeds but are actually, according to botanists, miniature fruits themselves. Thus, strawberries are an example of an “aggregate fruit” much like raspberries and blackberries.

Fun Fact #2: the average strawberry is covered with 200 of these seed-like fruits.   

75922-004-176205B5

The flowers and fruits of a garden strawberry plant (Fragaria ×ananassa). This hybrid species is cultivated worldwide

Fun Fact #3: Strawberries are a part of the rose family. [1]  

History

Strawberries have a long history dating back to 234 B.C. when it grew wild in Italy.  In fact, the ancient Romans thought strawberries had medicinal powers and used them to treat everything from depression and fainting to fever, kidney stones, bad breath and sore throats. [1]

Europeans discovered the Virginia wild strawberry in Virginia in 1588, however Native Americans had been eating them long before the settlers arrived.  By 1860, strawberries were grown in many parts of the country, and of course, Thomas Jefferson grew them as well.  In fact, in a letter to Monroe, Jefferson once said that the Alpine strawberry as one of the “three objects which you should endeavor to enrich our country with.”[5]

Being a devoted and passionate gardener, Jefferson grew the Alpine variety of strawberries at Monticello and Poplar Forest [6], which was a place a personal respite located in Bedford County, VA.

 Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 1.50.21 PM

Nutrition Facts

Strawberries are believed to help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. They are low in calories and high in vitamins C, B6, K, fiber, folic acid, potassium and amino acids. Strawberries also contain high levels of nitrate, which increases blood and oxygen flow to the muscles. Research suggests that people who load up on strawberries before exercising have greater endurance and burn more calories.

Eating Strawberries

If you would like to learn how to preserve strawberries or make strawberry jam, see the excerpt below from the 1842 Virginia Housewife cookbook, by Mary Randolph, To preserve strawberries

“Get the largest strawberries before they are too ripe; have the best loaf sugar, one pound to each of strawberries – stew them very gently, taking them out to cool frequently, that they may not be mashed; when they look clear, they are done enough.” Page 160

Strawberry jam

“To each pound of ripe strawberries, put one pound of loafsugar – stir it frequently, and stew till it is a thick jelly.” Page 160

IG1C15_fresh-strawberry-jam_s4x3

The Food Heritage Project thanks you for taking the time to read about the history and heritage of strawberries and asks you to consider eating fresh strawberries this spring!

   This blog was posted as part of City Schoolyard Garden‘s Harvest of the Month program.

This post was written by Abigail Sandberg

 References:

1.  Stephan Wilhelm and James Sagen, History of the Strawberry, From Ancient Gardens to Modern Markets Published by the University of California Regents Press, Berkeley, California,

2. Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, Published by E.H. Butler & Co., 1860, Philadelphia. page 100.

3. Jefferson, Thomas. Garden Book,1766-1824 [electronic edition]. Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive. Boston, Mass.: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003.http://www.masshist.org/thomasjeffersonpapers/garden/.

4. Hatch, Peter. “Thomas Jefferson’s Favorite Vegetables.” Twinleaf Journal Online, 2000. Available on Monticello’s website: http://www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/thomas-jeffersons-favorite-vegetables.

5. Jefferson to Monroe, May 26, 1795, in PTJ, 28:362; letterpress copy at the Library of Congress 6. Jefferson, “Planting Memorandum for Poplar Forest, 1812,” in Betts, Garden Book, 494;transcription available online from Poplar Forest.

Advertisements