The Strawberry Patch

Enrichment and Inspiration for Beta Sigma Phi Sisters from Marilyn Ross


Dr. William Butler (on the strawberry, 17th century) said it best:
"Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did!"

And, a delightful poem I ran across many years ago, author unknown:

 "More modest than the violet, And blushing like the rose,
 I always find you hiding where the long grass grows.

 I think a rainbow gave you your glowing symmetry;
 No royal coachman ever wore more splendid livery!

 To leave you unmolested should be my earnest wish . . .
 But you are far more beautiful in sugar, cream and dish!"


Fraises des bois (frazeay des bwoi) as they are known in France

Bite-sized jewels and ruby treasures

Most lauded of fruits

One of the oldest

Referred to as the 'Sweetheart of Fruits'

Known as 'Fruit of the Spirit'

Excavations of Swiss lakes revealed strawberry seeds and fossilized berries dating from the Iron Age

In Roman times--both Virgil and Ovid wrote of gathering fragra--the old Latin name for strawberries and root of its present generic name, FRAGARIA. They were treasured by the Romans who used them to treat everything from gastritis to loose teeth!

Historians debate the source of the word, strawberry. Some say the name evolved from the following sources:
 1] Practice of stringing pieces on straw to carry from woods to market
 2] Derived from the Old English word STREAWBERIGE--so called because the plant's runners stray in all directions
 Interestingly, from this source sprang the term "strawberry preachers" coined in the Middle Ages for traveling country clergymen who returned to their parishes only once a year."Out-in-the-field" so-to-speak!
 As well, some believe they started out being called "stray berries" because of the way runners stray away form the mother plant to find growing room.
 3] Anglo-Saxons in the 19th century called them "hayberries" because they ripened the same time hay was mown. The Anglo-Saxon word for hay was "STROEW."
 4] Children of Ireland used to string berries on straws of grass or hay to sell.

Strawberries weren't always as we know them today.

They grew abundantly in the wild because nobody bothered to cultivate them until the 13th century. Until the discovery of the New World, Europeans knew only of the tiny woodland berry, which the French call fraise des bois.

Initially, strawberries were a favorite of country folk. Later, they came to enjoy royal favor as monarchs transplanted wild berries to their gardens. In 14th century France, Charles V ordered 1200 strawberry plants to be grown in the royal gardens of the Louvre.

Another century passed before strawberries were cultivated in market gardens where they produced much larger fruit--up to twice the size of that which once grew in the wild.

When colonists arrived in North America, they found an abundance of berries of all kinds. The small and extremely aromatic native strawberry (virginiana) was the finest of them all. Referring to the lush wild strawberry fields of Maryland, one early settler remarked: "We cannot sett downe foote, but tred on Berries."

Native Americans called these ruby treasures "heart-seed berries" and pounded them into their traditional cornmeal bread.

Until the mid-16th century, the strawberries cultivated in English gardens were almost all descendants of the small wild wood strawberry, in many cases plants brought in from a neighboring woodland by green-fingered housewives.
Everyone knows that the young colony of Virginia gave tobacco to the Western world. But we have a much better reason to be grateful: In 1556 Virginia sent back to England plants of the strawberries that the Native American tribes cultivated--sweeter, redder and more powerfully flavored.

In the next century, 1712, a French naval engineer, ironically named Frezier [pronounced like the French word for "strawberry grower" (frez-i-ay)] was sent to Chile to spy on Spanish fortifications. There he encountered a large-flowered, large-fruited species of strawberry growing in the sands as the Spanish, too, had discovered a New World strawberry, much bigger than any yet seen in Europe, though inferior in sweetness and flavor. Frezier carried some of the plants back to Brittany. From Spain, this Chilean strawberry spread north into the rest of Europe. They were dubbed "pineapple strawberry" due to their slight pineapple flavor. The European plant breeders rushed into action-not least in the huge gardens of Versailles-and cross-pollinated these Chilean beauties with the Virginia scarlets to produce the ancestor of our present large red hybrids.

By the 19th century, growers on both sides of the Atlantic were competing to breed bigger and better strawberries. In England, cultivation of the strawberry reached its peak in the 1890's.

Wild strawberries grew EVERYWHERE! From Canada to the Carolinas and westward to the Appalachian ranges.

Strawberries were a favorite with Daniel Boone--who would tramp miles out of his way to spend an hour in a ripe berry patch!

By the early 1800's, annual strawberry picking parties and subsequent feasts in Boston, Philadelphia and other cities had become so popular that there was something tantamount to "Strawberry Fever" every summer during strawberry season!

In 1848, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society held its first Strawberry Exhibition.

1st Strawberry Festival . . . .
was held ten years later in 1858 in Belmont, a Boston suburb.
After that, the custom of giving strawberry parties and holding strawberry festivals took the country by storm . . and of course, did not abate during the 20th century!

Strawberry Shortcake
was one of the earlier culinary concoctions thought to have derived from an Indian dish--a slightly sweetened biscuit mounded over with fresh wild strawberries, smothered with layers of fresh warm cream.

Other popular desserts:
Strawberry fool
Strawberry buckle
Strawberry slump - an old-fashioned steamed dumpling-berry pudding
Strawberry grunt
Strawberry flummery
Old-fashioned strawberry ice cream
[Note: Flummery, Fool, Grunt, Slump and Buckle were variations of old English puddings made with fruit common in early America.]

Of Colonial America times, it is known that Thomas Jefferson had tried them all! His letters and papers abound with references to wild strawberries! His collection of strawberry recipes and other culinary uses for strawberries makes for fascinating reading.

A day of 'strawberrying' in times before modern refrigeration meant several days afterward of gorging on luscious strawberry desserts (puddings, pies, tarts, shortcake and all the ripe berries the family could consume). No berries were allowed to spoil. Those not immediately eaten were prepared for jams, jellies, preserves, sauce, strawberry vinegar and strawberry tonic, a medicinal drink. Dried berries would be used throughout fall and winter to be baked into breads, cakes, puddings and porridge.

Throughout history, strawberries have figured prominently in legend and lore, art and poetry.

In traditions of courtly love: Strawberries were used as a decidedly flirtation signal meaning "you intoxicate me with delight" ...&... "You are delicious!"

Art and Literature: The strawberry was symbolic of sensuality and earthly desire, regarded as an aphrodisiac of the highest quality due to its prolific number of tiny seeds.

At wedding breakfasts in provincial France, newlyweds were traditionally served a soup of thinned sour cream, strawberries, borage (herb/plant) and powdered sugar.

In Norse Mythology: The Strawberry was believed to be the special fruit of the goddess Frigga, patroness of Matrimony. She gave berries as a symbol to the spirits of young children who died in infancy--they ascended to heaven concealed in a strawberry.

Medieval Artists portrayed the Virgin Mary with strawberries symbolizing perfection and righteousness. At this same time, stonemasons carved strawberry designs on altars and around the capitals of pillars in churches and cathedrals.

Strawberries were served at important state occasions and festivals to ensure peace and prosperity. It was this more reserved view that gave them the meaning of 'foresight' or 'prudence' in the Victorian language of flowers.

Poignantly, the gift of a whole plant came to mean the recipient was held in high esteem, but--alas--not loved!

Most curious thing about a strawberry: the berry itself is only a juicy receptacle of the true fruits which are those little seedlike things embedded in the surface!
Second most curious thing about a strawberry is that it was once grown more for ornamental purposes than for eating!

Strawberries have changed a lot in the last 40 years as breeders have now created a gorgeous, year-round berry that travels anywhere--but somewhere along the line, they forgot the flavor!
The search for a better tasting berry began in the 1920's. Then over 1300 varieties existed. Today, those numbers have been pruned to fewer than 100.

The best for us? Local berries in season include:
Northeast and Midwest: Earliglow, Sparkle and Jewel
South: Cardinal
Northwest: Totem and Redcrest
West: Chandler

The newest berry bred for wintertime is Camarosa and is considered the next great hope!

The strawberry is a member of the ROSE family.

Strawberries are more than just tasty; they pack a powerful nutritional punch!

Strawberries are loaded with Vitamin C, fiber, folic acid, iron and potassium, which is important for proper cell functioning

They contain many cancer-fighting phyto-chemicals, which are strong antioxidants and appear to function as tumor suppressors and anti-inflammatory agents. Recently, scientists developed a method for measuring just how much antioxidant activity phyto-chemicals provide after different foods have been consumed. Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries rank in the top five, trailing only behind prunes and raisins. Eat up for a healthier, longer life!

Low in calories - being one of the three lowest calorie fruits along with cantaloupe and grapefruit.

Strawberries have a history that goes back over 2200 years. Strawberries grew wild in Italy as long ago as 234 B.C.

The strawberry, a member of the rose family, is unique in that it is the only fruit with seeds on the outside rather than the inside. Each strawberry is coverd with about 200 tiny seeds.

The English "strawberry" comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "streberie" not spelled in the modern fashion until 1538.

The American Indians were already eating strawberries when the Colonists arrived. The crushed berries were mixed with cornmeal and baked into strawberry bread. Colonists developed their own version of the recipe which became known as Strawberry Shortcake.

The strawberry was a symbol for Venus, the Goddess of Love, because of its heart shape and red color. Legend has it that if you break a double strawberry in half and share it with someone special you will fall in love with each other.

12 strawberries (about 1 cup) provides:
  • 136% of your Vitamin C requirement per day
  • 6% of your folate needs daily
  • 13% of the dietary fiber you need each day
  • 1 cup = 43 calories
  • 1/2 gram of fat
  • 1.4 milligrams of sodium

In the garden. . .

Strawberries exhaust the ground, so every 3rd year prepare a fresh bed with new plants.

Strawberries thrive when planted near painted daisies which serve as an insect repellent.

Lavender is a companion plant as it deters birds during the fruiting season.

If you set plants with borage nearby, the berries will be larger.

Strawberries like to be close to beans, lettuce and spinach.

They turn away from cabbage and are not happy near strong scents of mint, rosemary and thyme.

Gladioli are the kiss-of-death for strawberries. They will die from their effect, even if planted at the opposite ends of the garden.

In the kitchen. . .

Strawberries are used in a multitude of ways!

They are versatile and marry well with most condiments.

In the bath. . .

Strawberries and their leaves have been touted for medicinal and cosmetic benefits. A few ways they've been used:
1] Chewing the leaves for bleeding gums is a remedy that goes back to the time of Christ.
2] 16th century herbalists credited various parts of the plant with benefits and strawberries became every woman's friend, making her bloom, so-to-speak! Some of those benefits included:
whitening the teeth
relieving sore throats
removing freckles
toning and removing wrinkles
smoothing and softening skin
whitening skin
reducing inflammation or sunburn
revitalizing skin
nourishing skin cream
cooling effect on feverish patients

Strawberries, chocolate and any dessert made with a combination thereof was declared as the Most Romantic Food in the July 2000 issue of Romantic Homes Magazine.

Strawberries stand for romance perhaps because their color and shape strikingly resemble a loved one's heart!

The strawberry has one of the strongest perfumes of all fruit--a wonderful, lingering, musky smell. Smells are registered in the limbic area of the brain, where memories are also stored. This explains, perhaps, why most of us love strawberries so much--for their associations with childhood happiness. (refer to the attached article entitled, 'A Spoonful of Love.')

My favorite quotation about strawberries is from Flavia. She writes:


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