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s p r i n g 2 0 1 7 | 4 7 Strawberry Varieties to Look For Farmer's markets and roadside stands are the place to look for these great-tasting varieties. There are hundreds of others grown, so it pays to sample. s p r i n g 2 0 1 7 | 4 7 When the hot June sun baked those fields, great clouds of strawberry fragrance would rise to meet me, and I spent many happy, sweaty hours down among the grasses and weeds, eating them straight from the plants. The berries are only the size of your little fingernail, more often round than conical, but each packs all the intense strawberry flavor of a full- size hybrid berry—and then some. Something of the wild strawberry's flavor persists in our cultivated varieties, because it's one of the par- ents of our modern hybrids. Wild strawberry plants were taken to France about 1600, and a century later, another wilding (Fragaria chiloensis), from the Chilean coast, was also transported to France. The two species crossed by accident about 1750, and the first modern hybrid (F. x ananassa) appeared. Much work was subsequently done in England to bring about a wide range of cultivars. Eventually the hybrids returned to the Americas to become the basis of the strawberry industry here. I've begun to see the little European wild straw- berries called fraises des bois—woods or Alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca)—in farmers markets, but only occasionally. They have a rich fragrance and flavor, although not as intense as the virginianas. On the upside, they give you berries sporadically during the growing season, not just in June. Vesca's genes are also in some modern hybrids. Some varieties of hybrid berries have virginiana's gene for a once-and-done big crop in June, and then are finished for the season. These June-bearers are usually better flavored than everbearing types that carry vesca's gene for producing a sprinkling of ber- ries throughout the summer. Something about the intensity of the June sun brings up the sugars and flavors of strawberries, and also their nutritional quality. The berries of June bearers contain up to 77 mg. of vitamin C per 100 gm. fruit, as well as folates, potassium and dietary fiber. Commercial berries for shipping—even organic ones—must be picked before they're fully ripe or they get too soft. This means that the best berries are going to be locally grown—the nearer your house the better—so that they can ripen fully on the plant. And they will be from June bearing types. Then they'll be soft, juicy and dripping sugar, with a hint of pineapple in their flavor. These are the ones to buy by the flat for freezing. Although strawberries don't freeze very well texturally—if they're soft going into the freezer, they'll be mushy coming out—they will make won- derful strawberry ice creams, ice milks, sorbets and smoothies when put through a blender. If you slice them and freeze the slices individually on wax pa- per laid on a cookie sheet, then put them in freezer bags when frozen hard, they can be added to winter fruit compotes. But the glory of strawberries is to get really flavorful June-bearing varieties grown organically and picked at their peak ripeness and eat them fresh, just by themselves, or in heavenly flavor marriages: classy with Champagne, perfect with crème fraîche or mascar- pone, delicious with oranges and tangerines (the acidic zestiness of which enhances the flavor of strawberries), harmonic with pineapple, classic with rhubarb, perfect with chocolate, and they provide creative chefs a rich environment for culinary experimentation. In mid to late July, peaches and strawberries are peaking. So think about combining these succulent flavors. Sample the following dessert, and if you like it, scale it up. De-stem and slice a pint of organic strawberries. Peel, pit and thinly slice two peaches. In a bowl, toss the fruit with the zest of a lemon, a couple of tablespoons of quick-dissolving sugar and a cup of Moscato wine from Italy's Piedmont region (or any white sticky of your choice). I emphasize seeking out organic berries, because no berry is more loaded with agricultural chemicals when it's grown conventionally. Pickers who have to enter the poison-drenched fields wear hazmat suits and call strawberries "the devil's fruit," not just because of the backbreaking labor it takes to harvest them but also because of the toxic environment of the fields. Over 7,000 tons of pesticides were used on strawberries in 2012 in California, including some of the most toxic pesticides in existence. In a study by the Environ- mental Working Group of 42 fruits and vegetables, conventionally grown strawberries had the highest concentration of chemical contaminants. ■cr Alpine Type Alpine Yellow: Long, conical berries are highly aromatic, great flavor. Baron Solemacher Improved: Berries are an inch long, "wild" flavor. Ruegen: Small fruits with the intense flavor of wild strawberries. Everbearing Type Chandler: Bright red berries of very good flavor from U.C. Davis. Mara des Bois: Wild woodland type ripens late summer, early fall. Selva: Produces good-flavored fruit summer through fall. Tristar: Deep red flesh and skin, with excellent flavor for an everbearer. June-Bearing Type Cavendish: A Nova Scotia introduction with an excellent, sweet flavor. Delmarvel: A standard of quality in the Mid-Atlantic states; large fruits. Fairfax: Early season bearer; dark red when ripe; aromatic, flavorful. Royal Sovereign: An old English variety with a distinct, delicious flavor. Sequoia: Frequently planted on U-Pick farms; excellent quality. Sparkle: Makes lots of runners and excellent, late season fruit. Suwannee: Large berries that are also frequent taste-test winners.

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