Saturday, April 18, 2009


The radio had an item about the steep increase in household costs. One item mentioned was strawberries. Why, I do not know. Production and distribution probably. Despite having passed Economics 1 at university in 1954 on this subject I remain a bear with very little brain.

I know more about strawberries. They are members of the rose family. Archaeology shows pre-historic people ate them but they were not an important food – the collection of them would have been too laborious. The Romans didn’t cultivate them though Virgil warned of the danger of children collecting them in the fields because of adders and Ovid has a love-sick swain offering a small cottage beside which his beloved can “gather the soft strawberries growing beneath the woodland shade.”

Strawberries were cultivated and traded in Chile and Peru before the Spanish explorers arrived. We don’t know for how long, but it was probably long before it began in Europe. Certainly, it was not till the 1300’s that the French began cultivating the little woodland strawberry, much smaller than its South American counterpart. The English followed suit. In 1534 Henry VIII’s expense list has ten shillings for a pottle of strawberries. Thomas Tusser in his Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, (1557) wrote under the month September
Wife, into the garden and set me a plot
With strawberry roots, the best to be got:
Such growing abroad among thorns in the wood,
Well chosen and picked, prove excellent good.

Early in the 17th century F. virginiana was introduced into Europe from North East America. They were much larger berries than the European ones. Indeed the Indians grew them and used them in many dishes including mixing them with meale to make strawberry bread. It was not till the 19th century that the white settlers there began cultivating them, they were so plentiful in the wild. In early 18th century the Chile breed was introduced into Europe. The hybridisation of these two American berries forms the basis of today’s modern, big-fruited strawberry. We now eat bigger, tastier strawberries than Henry V111 did thanks to French horticulturalists and their successors.

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