I have gotten a lot of feedback over the past week about our strawberries. Everybody says they are delicious and some people say they are the best they’ve had in years–or ever! What do we do that makes them taste so good?
The work starts a few years in advance. We spend a lot of time reading seed catalogs and reading about strawberries that might do well in our area. The catalogs use all kinds of descriptive words to describe their berries. They will tell you things about a particular variety: “large fruit”, “good flavor”, “high yielding”, “firm fruit”, “disease resistant”, “early producing”, “beautiful red color”, “conical shaped”, “ideal for shipping”, and on and on. Think about the strawberries you see in the grocery store. They are all big with a bright red color and a perfect strawberry shape. These are the qualities that the grocery store wants to see in strawberries. They also wants something that ships well and has a long shelf life.
We only try strawberry plants that are described as having a good (or great!) flavor. That’s what matters, right?? A few years ago we ordered a few plants of a bunch of varieties to try. We then spent a couple of years growing them and evaluate them for taste, yield, disease resistance, and probably a few other things I’m forgetting about. We might find a variety that has an amazing flavor, but it is too prone to disease for us to grow on our farm.
After we’ve done all of this work, then we can buy our strawberry plants for real! We order thousands of plants and get them planted in the spring. Then we watch them grow for a whole year because strawberries hardly produce any fruit the first year. Finally, about 5 years after we started on our strawberry project, we have strawberries for you! We pick them when they are completely ripe and try to get them to you that same day. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have a shelf life and only last a few days because you probably won’t make it home before you’ve already eaten them all!
Wyatt and I were in Florida two winters ago. We came across a farm stand and got to talk to the farmer. His main crop was strawberries and I think he grew a few hundred acres of them. He said that he picked most of the strawberries while they were still green so he could sell them wholesale to be shipped all across the country (I have no idea how they ripen when they are picked green!) He had a few acres of strawberries set aside that he would let ripen all the way and then sell at his farm stand and other local markets. The strawberries were huge and red and beautiful! But the taste was so-so. It’s because he picked varieties that were huge, and red, and beautiful, and that would ship well and have a long shelf life. It wasn’t too important to his business how they actually taste.
This is one of the many benefits of growing your own fruits and veggies or buying them from a small, local farm. You can be more concerned with taste and freshness. It turns out that shelf life and appearance don’t matter that much when it comes to good food.
Enjoy your strawberries!