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Vegan for the Holidays

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Strawberry at a Glance
History Uses Name Origin Folklore/Oddities Medical Benefits
Growing Nutrition Purchasing Preparation Recipes

It's spring and you've made an exciting discovery--a field covered with fully ripened wild strawberries! Though you try tiptoeing to avoid stepping on the berries, it's impossible. You're stepping on the fruits because you're standing in wall-to-wall berries. You pluck one off the plant--it's sweet and juicy, but so tiny.

You were drawn to the field blanketed with lush green leaves because an intense sweet fragrance perfumed the air and beckoned to you. You spend the next hour picking and enjoying the sweetest fruits you've ever tasted. This moment becomes an unforgettable experience. In 1600 William Butler wrote, "Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God ever did."

There are still fields of wild strawberries throughout the northern portions of North America, Europe, and South America, the countries where wild patches of strawberries developed into cultivated farms centuries ago.

Strawberries were cultivated and traded in South America in Chile and Peru long before the Spanish explorers arrived. When the English Colonists arrived in Massachusetts, strawberries were already being cultivated by the Native American Indians. In Europe, however, cultivation of this delectable fruit didn't catch on until centuries later.

Historical Facts
Prehistoric man had little value for the wild strawberry because of its inconvenience, though he certainly did consume his share. The plants were found in the woods, often covered by lush overgrowth. The season was brief, only a few weeks, and the berries were smaller than our wild strawberries today. Hardly worth the trouble, since early man did not know how to preserve and store foods. Yet, a few tiny strawberry seeds were discovered by archeologists in Mesolithic sites in Denmark, Neolithic sites in Switzerland, and Iron Age sites in England. Strawberry

Though wild strawberries were certainly enjoyed in the ancient world, it is doubtful they were cultivated during that time. Pliny, Roman naturalist and writer, 23 to 79 CE, mentions the ground strawberry, Fraga, briefly and states it is different from the tree strawberry. Of the wild plants eaten during his time he lists strawberries, parsnips and hops but says no more about them. Ovid, the Roman poet, also distinguishes between the ground strawberry and tree strawberry but never mentions cultivation.

Other writers of ancient Rome, Cato, Varro, Columella, and Palladius, never write about strawberry cultivation. Rome's first cookbook author, Apicius, hasn't a single reference to the strawberry in his cookbook, either.

Roman poet Virgil, (70 to 19 BCE), author of the Aeneid, confirms that strawberries were not cultivated during his time when he writes only a warning to children picking wild strawberries to beware of serpents lurking in the grass.

Strawberries are not mentioned in the Bible, nor do they appear in any Egyptian or Greek art. This is probably because they grew only in cooler climates and possibly at locales like the mountainous foothills of Rome and France where they could not be easily picked,. The ancient Romans can at least be credited for preserving strawberries by pickling them.

Centuries passed without mention of the strawberry in any European literature.

In the 12th century an abbess named Saint Hildegard von Binger declared strawberries unfit for consumption because they grew along the ground where snakes and toads most likely crawled upon them. Her words had such an effect on the local political figures that they, too, made similar declarations, discouraging the population from eating the berries. Among Europeans, this belief held for several years.

Sporadic efforts of strawberry cultivation began in the 1300's with a few plantings of the wild fruits into home gardens. On a grander scale, King Charles V adorned his Parisian gardens at the Louvre with 1200 strawberry plants in 1368. A few years later, the Duke and Duchess of Burgundy had their gardener plant a four-block area of their property near Dijon with strawberries.

In the fifteenth century the strawberry was first illustrated in a German botanical volume called Herbarius Latinus Moguntiae, the Herbal of Mainz. Interestingly, this volume and the herbals that followed, describes the strawberry not as a food but speaks of it only as a medicine.

Strawberries captured the palates of many of history's explorers. In 1534 Jacques Cartier traveled to Quebec in Canada and wrote this description in his diary of what he had seen, "vast patches of strawberries along the great river (referring to the St. Lawrence) and in the woods."

Thomas Hariot, an English explorer who came to America, was impressed with the strawberries he had eaten in Virginia. His 1588 diary noted that he discovered strawberries "as good and great as those which we have in English gardens." and brought back plant specimens to his home in London. North America's native strawberries were larger and more flavorful than the European varieties he had encountered.

In 1560, Bruyerin-Champier, physician to King Henry IV, wrote that the English ladies enjoyed their strawberries and cream so much they began planting the strawberries in their own gardens. This hints that European cultivation of the wild strawberry had at last taken root. During this period, many books on horticulture provided information on cultivating the strawberry, noting that the berries grown in the home garden were larger than those gathered in the wild.

Tusser, who wrote Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry in 1557, made a recommendation that would create quite a stir today. He proposed growing strawberries as an appropriate part of the "employment of women," and composed the following poem:

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.

Toward the end of the 1500's the cultivation trend reached Germany where they grew a variety of strawberries that produced two crops a year.

Strawberry Roger Williams, a British born clergyman and founder of Rhode Island, remarked, "This berry is the wonder of all the fruits growing naturally in those parts. . . In some parts where the Indians have planted them, I have many times seen as many as would fill a good ship, within a few miles compass. The Indians bruise them in a Morter, and mixe them with meale and make strawberry bread."

It was the French who took up serious cultivation of this captivating fruit. Many a horticulturist owes homage to both King Louis XIV and one of his gardeners, Jean de la Quintinie, who tended the royal gardens at the Palace of Versailles. The King chose strawberries as his favorite fruit and even initiated a poetry contest on the merits of the strawberry. However, it was his gardener who kept the first detailed account in 1697 of how to develop larger berries, how to prepare the soil and deal with the insects' wont to share the strawberries.

One man, Karl von Linne, a Swedish botanist whose Latinized name was Carolus Linnaeus, defied the common thinking and ate a diet of only strawberries to prove them quite edible. This occurrence took place for a brief period sometime between 1707 and 1778.

Hybridizing of the strawberry first occurred early in the 18th century when a flavorful Virginia variety was crossed with a Chilean variety to produce a berry that was larger and firmer than most. Because of its distinctive flavor, this strawberry became known as the Pineapple strawberry.

It was a crafty French naval engineer named Amédée-François Frézier who noticed the exceptionally large strawberries growing in Chile while he was mapping the locations of West Coast Spanish forts and colonies in 1712. As an amateur botanist, he took a special interest in these plants the natives called quelghen. He wrote that they were, "as big as a walnut and sometimes as large as a hen's egg."

He brought some of these plants back to France, and had two of them planted in the royal gardens. The other five were planted at Plougastel in Brittany, where the climate was similar to their homeland in Chile. The plants grew and grew but produced no berries, a circumstance that confounded everyone until thirty years later someone planted a Virginia strawberry next to them.

What Frézier didn't know was that the Chilean berries produced male and female flowers on separate plants. All his Chilean plants happened to be female and couldn't reproduce without pollen from male plants. A whole new variety developed from this marriage of a South American strawberry and a North American strawberry. Horticulturists named the new offspring Fragaria x ananassa. All cultivated strawberry varieties throughout the world can trace their history back to the joining of the Virginia and Chilean berries.

Louis XV was so enamored with strawberries that he ordered his gardener to plant every variety of the berry to be found in Europe. Despite the nearly 300 kinds of strawberries planted there, Alexandre Dumas, in his Grand Dictionaire de Cuisine written in the mid-1800's, only mentions five kinds. Strawberries were still not commonly eaten in European countries.

During the early 1800's, Americans were planting strawberries with enthusiasm in their home gardens, but because of the fruit's fragile nature, farmers did not ship them to markets far from home. In local markets they sold quickly.

The first "refrigerated" shipping of strawberries across the U.S. occurred in 1843 when some innovative Cinncinatti, Ohio growers spread ice on top of the strawberry boxes and sent them on their way. By the middle of the 1800's many regions of the United States were cultivating strawberries.

By 1831 strawberries finally became a fashionable fruit in the English marketplace. Londoners were gathering wild strawberries from the local fields. The English loved them so much that many of the wealthy as well as the commoners lovingly tended small strawberry patches in their home gardens.

The Naming of Strawberries
The name strawberry came about easily because straw was used freely to mulch the plants during the winter, a practice that discourages weeds and lifts the berries up from the soil. When it came time to harvest the berries, children would pick them and string them on a blade of straw. At the London market the children would sell "Straws of Berries."

Originally strawberries were called strewberries, a name descriptive of how they grew. The berries appeared to be strewn among the leaves, and the runners themselves appeared to be strewn among the plants. Until 1538, the Anglo Saxon spelling streoberie was used. The strawberry's name went through many evolutions including streowberige, strea berige, streaw berian wisan, streabergen, streberi leif, streberewyse, straberry, streberie, straibery, and straubery.

Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, gave the strawberry its official species name of Fragaria. Each of the romance languages, French, Italian and Spanish, refer to the strawberry as Fraise which means fragrant. Those who shop at farmers' markets will confirm the Latin name an apropos description.

On the North American continent, the Naragansett Indians called it "wuttahimneash" which translated as heart-seed berry.

Strawberry Cultivation in California
The California strawberry boom took root in 1887 with a 9-year old boy named Charlie Loftus whose father moved to a ranch about 20 miles north of Redding, California, an area called Sweet Briar. In a small patch of strawberries inherited from the previous landowner was a singular plant that stood out from the rest. Little Charlie noticed that its berries, larger than the rest, were bright red, conical in shape, and smelled and tasted exceptionally sweet. That winter this special strawberry plant was carefully transplanted into a wooden keg and eventually produced one quarter of an acre of exquisite berries his family named Sweet Briar.

At a breakfast table in 1900 the Sweet Briar strawberries became the subject of a partnership involving Charlie's father, Thomas Loftus, of Shasta County and two growers from Pajaro Valley, Dick Driscoll and Joe Reitner. Together they decided to protect and propagate the Sweet Briar strawberries.

In 1912 the Pajaro Valley partners came up with a unique way to promote their special variety at the San Francisco markets. Each crate of strawberries was dressed up with a blue paper ribbon that had an attractive red strawberry printed on the banner. The innovation was so successful that the Sweet Briar strawberries became known as Banners, a name associated with superiority.

The business has been handed down through the Loftus line and today is in the hands of Roger and Tom Loftus, sons of Tim Loftus. Part of the farm is in Malin, Oregon while the other is in Susanville, California.

Today, 80 percent of commercially grown strawberries are from California's farms, where each acre produces about 21 tons of berries. Approximately one billion pounds of strawberries a year are grown in the state.

Strawberry plants are members of the Rosaceae family also known as the rose family, while all strawberries belong to the Fragaria virginia or Fragaria chiloensis genus. In the 1500's, when the wild strawberry was transplanted into home gardens, it was given the genus name of Fragaria vesca.

Strawberries initially grew best in northern countries where the colder winters kept the plants happier than in the warmer, southern regions. Strawberries require good irrigation and do not tolerate drought conditions. They are unique in their ability to adapt well to a broader range of climates than most other fruits and are not fussy about soil conditions that lean to acidic or alkaline.

Because of their adaptability, strawberries are grown in all 50 states of the United States and in all of Canada's provinces. Some varieties are everbearing, F. sylvestris semperflorens, producing berries beginning in the summer and continuing through the fall, some even fruiting until the frost.

Ideally, new plants are put into the ground in the spring. If the weather is too cold, fall plantings can be challenging; however if special care is given, plants can be successful.

Strawberries are unique in that their seeds are on the outside rather than contained inside. Their seeds do not serve to grow new plants. Strawberry plants multiply by sending out runners along the ground during the time that fruit is developing. These runners develop roots and form new plants. A whole new plantation can be started from these newly formed runner plants.

Because strawberries are so delicate and highly perishable they cannot be machine-harvested and are almost always picked by hand. Strawberries do not ripen after they are picked and, therefore, shouldn't be picked until they are fully ripened.

Birds have played an important role in the distribution of seeds that started many wild strawberry plants growing. When the birds eat ripe strawberries, the seeds pass through them in rather good condition. The seeds require only light to begin germinating and do not actually require soil to begin sprouting.

Ask a Nebraska Court
On January 4, 1996 the Nebraska Supreme Court handed down a decision that affects anyone buying strawberries in a store in that state. In an effort to avoid confusion, the state has created a law that could possibly result in more confusion. Many states across the country have adopted the Uniform Weights and Measures Act stating that small berries may be sold by weight or by volume. Nebraska State inspectors declared that a store could not sell strawberries by weight and by volume in the same store at the same time. If the store desired, they could sell the strawberries by weight one day, and by volume the next. The ruling was an effort to avoid confusing the consumer about which was the better value, a pint or a pound, but . . .you figure it out! Here are a few shopper's comparisons that may provide some help when purchasing strawberries:

1 1/2 pounds equal 2 pints or 1 quart
1 small basket equals 1 pint
1 pint equals 3 1/4 cups of whole berries
1 pint equals 2 1/4 cups sliced berries
1 pint equals 1 2/3 cup pureed berries
1 cup equals about 4 ounces

The sizes and weights of the strawberries will vary; therefore, all pints will not have the same weight.

Favorite Dishes
Strawberry Shortcake, an all-time favorite American dessert is a frequent star on the sweet table when strawberries are in season from early spring through summer. A sumptuous dessert, Strawberry Shortcake is composed of sponge cake, divided into two layers, filled with sliced, sweetened strawberries and whipped cream between the layers, and finished with a generous layer of sliced strawberries and whipped cream over the top. In present day California, different varieties of strawberries come into season at different times of the year and are shipped across the country, making this delectable dessert available year-round. Strawberry

Strawberry Shortcake is not the creation or invention of any one person. The Native Americans Indians inspired the creation of Strawberry Shortcake by introducing the Colonists to their style of baked bread made simply of cornmeal and crushed strawberries. The Colonists then applied their English baking skills and created their own version, strawberry shortcake.

Strawberries and Cream, a tasty combination, has a rather long history. In 1542, an Englishman named Andrew Boorde expresses his appreciation for the comfort combo in this way:

"Rawe crayme undecocted, eaten with strawberyes or hurtes (whortleberry, billberry) is a rurall mannes blanket. I have knowen such blankettes hath put men in jeoperdy of theyr lyves."

In Eastern Europe, strawberries are paired with sour cream, while in France and Italy, strawberries are topped with wine and sugar.

Medicinal Uses
During the 13th century the French cultivated strawberries to use as a medicinal herb for numerous digestive discomforts.

The roots, leaves, and fruits of the Alpine Strawberry, Fragaria Vesca, were used as a digestive aid and skin tonic. The berry was prescribed for diarrhea and digestive upset, while the leaves and roots were supposed to relievie gout. The berry itself was rubbed on the skin to ease the pain of sunburn and to relieve blemishes. The juice of the strawberry has its own special prescription--it brightened discolored teeth.

The ancient Romans were staunch believers in the curative powers of the strawberry. They believed it relieved melancholy and masked bad breath. According to the ancients, strawberries could cure inflammations, fevers, throat infections, kidney stones, gout, fainting spells, and diseases of the blood, liver, and spleen.

John Gerard, a French herbalist, touted the value of boiled strawberry leaves as a poultice. Of the fruit, itself he says, "the ripe Strawberries quench thirst, and take away, if they be often used, the redness and heate of the face." Patients enjoyed the medicinal fruit treatment so much they began eating them as a food, accompanied with cream or wine.

Folklore and Fascinating Facts
Legends often tell about love rituals. Be careful with whom you share a double strawberry. It is destined that the two of you may fall in love.

Because of their bright red colors and heart shapes, strawberries were the symbol for Venus, the Goddess of Love.

Henry VIII's second wife, Ann Boleyn, was thought to have been a witch because she had a strawberry shaped birthmark on her neck.

During medieval times, strawberries symbolized righteousness and perfection. Stone masons applied their carved strawberry signs onto altars and at the tops of pillars in churches and cathedrals.

If you live in Bavaria, somewhere out in the country, you might be participating in an annual spring ritual that recognizes the importance of strawberries. The farm folk make an offering to the elves that they believe will help their cows produce healthy calves and a good supply of milk. The spring offerings of little baskets filled with wild strawberries are tied to the horns of their cattle to wait for the berry-loving elves to enjoy the berries and offer their good spirits to their hosts.

Strawberry The United States honored the strawberry with a 33-cent stamp first issued on April 10, 1999. The stamp featured a cluster of bright red strawberries peeking out from their brilliant green leaves.

Strawberries just happen to be in season during the world-famous Wimbledon Tennis Matches, a time when tennis fanciers nibble on the berries as a snack while viewing the games. If you were British, you might easily think of the event as Wimbledon Strawberry season.

Ever consider bathing in the juice of fresh strawberries? Twenty-two pounds of crushed strawberries made up the bathwater that went into the tub when Madame Talien, one of the court figures of Emperor Napoleon, took her bath. This ritual did not occur often since people did not bathe regularly during Napoleon's time, mid 1700s into the early 1800s.

Many places in the world have been named for the strawberry. Here are a few you may have visited:

  • Strawberry, Arizona

  • Strawberry, California

  • Strawberry Crater Wilderness in the Cocinino National Forest in Arizona

  • The Virtual Strawberry Beds west of Dublin, Ireland, a beautiful area unaffected by urban development

  • Strawberry Mountain in Malheur National Forest, Oregon

  • Mansikkala, Finland translated as The Place of the Strawberry. Farms there grow strawberries that ripen 24 hours a day during the time of the midnight sun

  • Horace Walpole, English novelist of the 1700's, named his villa Strawberry Hill. He grew Virginia strawberries on his estate.

A blond whose hair has a reddish tint is called a strawberry blonde.

In the family of finches there is one variety called the Strawberry Finch

Nutritional Information
One cup of fresh strawberries contains only 43 calories and an impressive nutritional profile. Looking at the figures, one cannot help notice that this fruit is not lacking in valuable nutrients, but is endowed with a healthy content of every vitamin and mineral except Vitamin B12.

Just 5 medium-sized strawberries will supply your minimum RDA of Vitamin A and includes the following nutritional benefits:

1 g. protein
.5 g fat
10 g. carbohydrates
3 g. fiber
.6 mg iron
1 mg sodium
20.2 mg calcium
30 mg phosphate
39 IU Vitamin A
.03 mg thiamine
.10 mg riboflavin
81.6 mg Vitamin C
239 mg potassium
.02 mg zinc
14.4 mg magnesium
.09 mg Vitamin B6
25.5 mcg folacin

Purchasing and Storing
Since strawberries do not ripen after they are picked, select only those with a fresh shiny look and bright red color. Check to see that the green stems, too, look fresh and not wilted. Refrigerate soon after purchasing the berries.

Do not wash the strawberries until shortly before ready to serve. Berries are highly perishable, and the extra water on them causes their cells to break down more quickly. Wash the berries and pat them dry before removing the stems. This method avoids excess water entering the berries from the stem end.

Wash and cut up only what you can consume that same day. If you've refrigerated any leftovers, you'll notice that they have lost their fresh appearance, much of their water content has oozed out, and they simply don't taste the same.

The best way to store strawberries, if you have the space in your refrigerator, is to arrange them in a single layer on top of paper towels. Use the berries within three or four days.

If you are picking fresh strawberries, use a shallow basket or bowl and don't pile them more than two layers high. Too many layers will crush the fragile berries on the bottom.

To freeze strawberries, wash and dry them, remove the stems, and arrange them single layer on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the freezer until the berries are solidly frozen. Then pack them into a zip-lock freezer bag and keep them frozen until ready to use.

Strawberries are so special just the as they are; they don't require any formal preparation. Simply wash 'em and eat 'em.

Coarsely mash them into a sauce, maintaining lots of their texture, and pour the sauce over a fruit salad. Sweeten if desired.

Slice them into a tossed green salad for a touch of spring color.

Serve them as dessert in combination with blackberries. Create a sauce by mashing a few of the strawberries to pour over the top.

Combine them with soaked grains and nuts for a hearty breakfast.

Create a unique salad dressing with strawberries. Whirl them in the blender with oil, balsamic vinegar, and seasonings to taste. See the Recipe Index.

Make a strawberry smoothie with strawberries, bananas, a splash of lime juice, and a little sweetening.

Make a savory strawberry sauce by adding crushed garlic and minced jalapeno to mashed strawberries.

Bake a strawberry pie. A favorite among pie lovers is the combination of strawberry and rhubarb that is also in season.

Stir them into pancake or waffle batter. As an alternative, serve them on top of your breakfast favorites.

Cook up some strawberry jam to spread on your morning toast.

Make a strawberry cobbler.

Prepare a strawberry mousse with frozen strawberries, soft silken tofu, and a sweetener.

For an elegant finish to a meal, serve some strawberries dipped in dark chocolate and some in white chocolate. Leave the stems on for added color.

This month we offer two recipes featuring strawberries--one as a light beginning to your meal, the other, an ideal finishing touch.

Strawberries almost always bring to mind thoughts of something sweet. Our soup, while retaining the natural sweetness of the berries, has added dimension fusing a hint of the salty, along with a touch of tartness.


1 pint (1/2 liter) fresh strawberries, hulled
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
1 t. lemon or lime zest
1 T. Bragg Liquid Aminos
2 1/2 t. mirin (Japanese sweet wine)

2 T. diced fresh avocado

  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender except the avocado. Blend on low speed until thoroughly pureed. You may have to stop the machine a few times to redistribute the strawberries. Chill at least 2 hours before serving.
  2. Pour into serving bowls, and garnish with diced avocado. Makes 2 cups (480 ml) or 2 small servings.


1 pint (1/2 liter) fresh strawberries, hulled
1 T. lemon juice

20 pitted dates
1/2 ripe banana

4 small sprigs of mint leaves

  1. Wash strawberries and put them into the blender with the lemon juice. Blend until thoroughly pureed. You may have to stop the machine a few times to redistribute strawberries.
  2. Add dates and banana and blend until thoroughly pureed.
  3. Pour into a metal loaf pan and freeze. To serve, remove pan from freezer and allow to stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Then scoop into the blender or food processor and process briefly.
  4. Spoon into long stemmed wine glasses or attractive dessert bowls and garnish with a sprig of mint. Makes 2 cups (480 ml) or 4 servings.

See Recipe Index for other strawberry recipes.

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