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Strawberries


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Nice piece, Russ.

I think the perfection of a real berry can only be momentary. Hours, even, can make a difference.

This having to deal with the imperfection of time as it works against things is a PITA, isn't it.

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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I think it's also important to remember that as with any other agricultural product, a big part of the flavor equation is the person growing them. Good growing takes talent and care and the more plants there are to tend, the more thinly that talent and care is spread. A great grower with 20 acres might produce fruit that is only as good as a good grower working 2 acres (for the most part, strawberries take so much handwork that field sizes are much smaller than for most other crops). Of course, what you're looking for is a great grower working 2 acres and what you all to often find is a good grower (or less) working 20.

...

In the end, it all comes down to a very simple and very difficult proposition: Find a good farmer and be willing to pay more for quality.

Amen...and the bonus is that you don't necessarily have to pay much more. In Visalia (Central California town) the strawberry fields are grown on the small lots you describe. You have to get the berries fairly early in the day before the day's picking runs out, but they are fabulous - and about the same price as the strawberry-colored styrofoam one would find in a grocery store.

I hadn't thought about the mechanics of why a small field would be more likely to produce high-quality strawberries. That's very enlightening.

I'm sure Russ will have more information, but here is a previous discussion thread on frais des bois and different strawberry cultivars: click

I've tasted the Mara des Bois from a local farm in season (late June); they reallly were great.

The local small Visalia growers have found a cultivar that's as flavorful as any we've ever known but that have a growing season that lasts well into October. We have been delighted at the extended growing season, even though the ripe fruit is still as ephemeral as a politician's promise. Someone told us that it's a new variety.

P.S. I know strawberries are classified as vegetables.

? Really? Aren't they the ripe ovaries of a plant?

Found the historical note on Japanese-American strawberry growers fascinating ... the moreso because even once their US-born offspring got the right to own land, those on the West Coast had that land yanked out from under them when they were sent to the WWII relocation camps. Somehow I think there was some definite strawberry-farm envy (and land-grabbing opportunism in general) along with jingoistic war-hysteria behind that sad chapter in US history. I had an acquaintance back in Seattle whose family owned a strawberry farm on Vashon Island before they were shipped off to the camps.

You may be right about the opportunism. I'd like to note, however, that it wasn't universal. I learned a few years ago that when some of our resident Japanese citrus ranchers were shipped out to the camps during WWII, their fellow citrus growers tended the groves, oversaw the packout, and saw to it that the land and funds were kept in trust until the Japanese owners returned. I don't know that it happened for all the growers in our area, but I'm proud and touched to know that at least some received justice from their neighbors when none was forthcoming from the government.

Russ, thank you for the interesting and thought-provoking preview. I'll be off to the bookstore soon.

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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thanks all. i've been staying out of this partly because i've been on book tour the last week and a half.

smithy, what is that new variety you're talking about? is it the albion? i mentioned it in another context in the book as a new variety plant breeders had high hopes for. i just sampled my first ones last night in santa cruz (hi tana!). they had really terrific flavor, though the texture was a little crunchy. still, a marked improvement over the camarosa, which was bland but crunchy.

and yes, strawberries are fruits ... well, it's a little complicated ... the fruit is the little dried "seed" on the outside, so strawberries are actually "aggregate fruits", just like raspberries.

And the history of the internment is definitely complicated. Just like any other traumatic event, it brought out the best and the worst in people, though i'm afraid there was more of the latter than the former. Heroes are always in short supply.

Anyway, I hope you all like the book. Let me know what you think.

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P.S. I know strawberries are classified as vegetables.

? Really? Aren't they the ripe ovaries of a plant?

thanks all. i've been staying out of this partly because i've been on book tour the last week and a half.

and yes, strawberries are fruits ... well, it's a little complicated ... the fruit is the little dried "seed" on the outside, so strawberries are actually "aggregate fruits", just like raspberries.

In my defense, I wrote that little smarty-pants line in haste, thinking that Russ was about to correct my original post. Because strawberries aren't strictly speaking berries with seeds on the inside the way blueberries or raspberries are, some folk don't put them in the same category as other fruits.

Gosh darn it all, but I was unable to find a nice quick explanation for calling strawberries vegetables. Google gave me virtually zilch--with the exception of a highly specialized message board and a discussion of Jewish dietary practices with expired links. Even Darrow & Karp call strawberries fruit without blinking.

However, trust me, Russ, you've eaten at least one strawberry classified as a vegetable (cf. "Spring" in recipe section).

Always argumentative,

Pontormo who loves to read Acknowledgments

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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it's easy to keep fruits and vegetables straight: anything with seeds is a fruit. vegetables are the other plant structures: roots, leaves, stems, rhizomes, etc. this, of course, means that many things we now regard as vegetables are in fact fruits--eggplants, squash, tomatoes, etc. the only vegetable i can think of that we treat as a fruit is rhubarb--it's the stem of a plant.

anybody have any other suggestions? is angelica a fruit or an herb?

and actually, strawberries are closer to raspberries than they appear. those little "seeds" aren't seeds at all but tiny dried fruits (think of the individual bulbs of a raspberry) ... each of which contain a seed.

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Thanks for that additional information, Russ. Now, this makes me wonder (I hope it isn't too far off-topic): at what point does a plant part cease to be a fruit or vegetable and begin to be an herb or spice? Is it strictly a question of whether the use is as a seasoning or as the main food? Does the nutritional value (or lack thereof) come into play? Where does French sorrel, for instance, fall? Herb? Vegetable? It depends?

This may be like asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin...but I'm curious.

By the way, I've asked my mother to check on the strawberry variety that's working out so well in Visalia, but I haven't gotten an answer yet.

Pontormo, that's an interesting web site you've found, there... :raz:

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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Thanks for that additional information, Russ.  Now, this makes me wonder (I hope it isn't too far off-topic): at what point does a plant part cease to be a fruit or vegetable and begin to be an herb or spice?
Russ is the expert here, but long before the merging of Chilean and European types of strawberries, the plants were considered medicinal herbs. Cf. this survey which cites Darrow's history of strawberries. Still viewed as perrenial herbs. You'll find chapters of Darrow's book online, though it was written nearly half a century ago. I also like "Berried Treasure".
Pontormo, that's an interesting web site you've found, there...  :raz:

Didn't just find it, Smithy, that's the Web site of the farmer's market where I volunteer and buy my local strawberries. I'm wondering if Russ knows more about why the folks at FreshFarm might have classified the plant as a vegetable. Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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[i'm wondering if Russ knows more about why the folks at FreshFarm might have classified the plant as a vegetable.

boy, you'd have to ask them, but as a journalist, one word immediately comes to mind: "typo". i have never seen anything that would suggest strawberry as a vegetable.

As for Smithy's question about herbs and spices: that's a little different. "herb" and "spice" are culinary terms, not botanical. So they are employed depending on how the ingredient is used. Herbs are usually the leafy parts; spices are the hard parts, either seeds or bark. i suppose there's justification for calling vanilla a dried fruit as long as it is in the bean, but the part we really use is the seeds.

there is also justification for using the culinary definitions of fruits and vegetables, too, though it obscures some important information. Fruits tend to be things we eat for sweetness, vegetables for savory. So in that sense, a tomato is a vegetable (also, there is case law supporting this as the legal definition). But if you remember that a tomato is a fruit (and a climacteric fruit at that!), it'll help you choose and store tomatoes better.

eta: one additional bit of food geekery: there actually is no fraise des boises genetics in modern strawberries, either in Europe or here. Instead, the modern commercial strawberry stems from a cross between a chilean beach strawberry and one found in North America (f. chiloensis and f. virginiana), with lots of other things thrown in.

Edited by russ parsons (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...

Hey Russ! It was a lot of fun seeing you at your book signing at the Hollywood farmer's market the other day. You have yet another new fan, my daughter. She loves your book. She's 8 and in 3rd grade (her reading level is very advanced though) and she's telling all her friends about how to pick a peach.

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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Russ, I'm sorry I missed your book signing at the Hollywood Farmers Market. I was expecting some kind of notice in the LA Times so that I would know when and where you were signing the book. Are you doing any other book signings in the LA Area?

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hiya music,

don't have any signings planned right now (well, there's one at my neighborhood library in Long Beach!), but i'm sure there will be more things as the summer moves along. signings are funny things and generally i try to keep them to a minimum and only at places i really feel good about--there's nothing like hanging out at a book store for 2 hours only to sell 5 copies. on the other hand, sometimes they turn out really well ... i signed at Politics and Prose in DC (hiya mr. and ms. busboy), and had a really great event in Santa Cruz, thanks to tana b.

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ha! i wish. actually, it's got a nice view of my favorite diner: jongewaard's bake 'n' broil. so if you're in long beach june 16, stop by the dana branch library at 3. and we'll go get some pie afterward.

Also, if i'm not wearing out my welcome here with commercials, i'm going to be on the weekend edition of the Today show Saturday morning. I'm not sure exactly what time. i know out here the show is on at 5 a.m. thank god for tivo.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I ran across "How to Pick a Peach" in the bookstore today (B&N). It was in the "celebrity chef/food scholar/fancy new books" section ( :biggrin: ), cover prominently displayed, and the cover drew my eyes right to it. Gorgeous-looking colors.

The contents were quite satisying. Good information, well-laid out and easy to find and use, just long enough to not overwhelm, and the tone (personality of the writer) was individual enough to attract a reader who dislikes either the rampant pomposity or formal (zzzzzzz) teaching tones that can often be found in books of this sort.

Really good recipes, too.

Very nice. A worthy book.

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Your recommendations on storage are perfect. I ate refrigerated strawberries my whole life and only in the last few years learned what a difference it makes in flavor to keep them out of the fridge. We started getting wonderful local strawberries here in Seattle mid-June. We eat as many as we can after bringing them home from the farmers market. Since I love them for breakfast (on waffle with whipped cream this morning), I lay the remaining berries out on paper towel in a single layer on the counter. This seems to work well for getting two days (a day and a morning) of eating. Yesterday we made a batch of freezer jam, which I'd never tried before, and it has a wonderful fresh berry flavor.

I'm looking forward to reading your book.

Hungry Monkey May 2009
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I don't know if they cut it or not - I was channel switching while making my dog food and I heard the part about apples, and what to not refridgerate. I greatly enjoyed what I heard and shall put you at the top of my reading list - shame on me for not doing so already! I was curious however about the comment that bananas are not grown commercially here in the U.S. what about our farmers here in HI? Tell them that when their crops get ripped off and they lose thouands and thousands of dollars as the thefts are almost impossible to control in some fields. They also have had problems with Banana Bunchy top which totally ruins current and future crops. Keep up the good work

and a hui hou! :biggrin:

"You can't miss with a ham 'n' egger......"

Ervin D. Williams 9/1/1921 - 6/8/2004

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smithy, what is that new variety you're talking about? is it the albion? i mentioned it in another context in the book as a new variety plant breeders had high hopes for. i just sampled my first ones last night in santa cruz (hi tana!). they had really terrific flavor, though the texture was a little crunchy. still, a marked improvement over the camarosa, which was bland but crunchy.

I just got an update from my mother. According to the growers she frequents in Visalia, the wonderful strawberries in question are Chandler strawberries. When I asked whether it's the same cultivar all season long (all the way through October as I'd reported earlier) she said she'd forgotten to ask that particular question. I'll keep checking.

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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well, mystery solved, then. chandlers are magnificent berries. and until the late 1990s, they were one of the main commercial berries in california. unfortunately, they have a couple of flaws. first and foremost, they tend to be a little too soft to ship easily. secondly, they bear unevenly--there will be tons of berries to pick one day and then three days of nothing. that makes it hard to give workers steady employment.

they were replaced by camarosas, which found almost instant acceptance among growers (they are steady, weather-resistant and ship well), but for me, mark the beginning of consumer dissatisfaction with strawberries. granted, if they are picked at full ripeness, they can have good flavor. but their color at full ripeness is much darker than other strawberries, almost black, so picking crews usually harvested them slightly underripe, exaggerating all of their flaws. they are so firm they are crunchy.

You can still find chandlers at farmers markets, as well as other varieties like seascape and gaviota, which don't work so well in large commercial operations but are perfect for local selling. there is also another new commercial berry called the albion that can have really good flavor, but it, too, is extremely crisp, something i don't really care for in a strawberry.

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