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In central California, around Visalia area, you can get succulent, drip-down-your-chin, juicy, fragrant strawberries from the local farmers. I think it's the Hmong who've opened up new fields, but I might be wrong about which immigrant group to thank. I was amazed to see them still in business late last fall; apparently there are new varieties that can be planted that late in the season and will still come to fruit AND are just as they're supposed to be. They're deep beautiful red through and through. They're bigger than wild strawberries but smaller than the supermarket berries. They are a testament that good berries are alive and well if you live in the right area. I doubt they are unique to Visalia.

They still don't travel, and they still don't last more than a few days after they come ripe. I hand-carried a flat or two back, and even the slight jarring that came with my tender loving care squashed a few. Shippers could never put up with that. I enjoyed them immensely.

Some years ago the strawberries were particularly fabulous, even for ripe local berries, and my mother paid a fortune to have a flat shipped out to me, over Dad's objections. The shipper was less than careful with the booty. When the berries arrived, some had escaped their baskets and gotten mixed in with the packing peanuts; others had gotten mashed in some airline drop-kick maneuver. The box was stained with berry juice. Still, the surviving berries were wonderful and flavorful. That remains one of my all-time favorite birthday presents, partly for the whimsy, partly for the flavor, but most of all for the love it showed.

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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...or apricots. 

Our markets do have strawberries that taste as good as they look, but the only good apricots I have eaten in this country lately have been dried.

ObThreadDrift: yeah, what's up with the apricots? I've given up buying them in grocery stores, ever. I think good ones must still exist, but I haven't even been able to find them at fruit stands. Did someone yank out all the trees and plant a new cultivar - or regraft everything? That seems so unlikely; I've suspected that they're just picked too soon for shipping, but haven't been able to find out.

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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always here with the bad news: apricots just suck. there is a great old variety called blenheim (or royal, or royal blenheim, depending on whom you ask). but it is problematic: fruit tends to be very small, freckled, fragile. plus, it often ripens from the inside out, so by the time the surface feels soft, the inside is spoiling. plus it tends to alternate-bearing (heavy crop one year, almost nothing the next). you can still find these at california farmers markets and a good one will remind you of what apricots can be. most of the commercial crop these days are castlebrites and pattersons. they ship well. and they're not too bad dried (trader joe's customers can find dried blenheims if they'll look). in fact, apricots are so bad generally, that i'm not even including them in my produce book.

if you're looking for a great spring fruit (and too early for local strawberries where you are), cherries are a really good bet. the bing is a commercial variety, ships well, etc., but if you pick good, dark ones that still have taut skin, that is about as good as any sweet cherry i've ever tasted.

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Based on your description, those might have been Blenheims I grew up with. Does that sound right for the San Joaquin Valley? I remember melting dripping golden fruits, juice running down my arms, almost too rich and sweet to eat more than one. If you were careful, you could split one open in your hands just by pulling gently. They didn't seem small to me, but I dimly recall being surprised at the size of apricots in the store a few years ago, so maybe they were small by today's standards. They were backyard pets, not commercially grown. I don't know my apricots very well, but I sure remember those, whatever they were.

You're right about cherries. They travel well and can be gotten in good condition from grocery stores. The oddballs - sweet dark cherries, and tart pie cherries - are available here if someone makes a run to Michigan, but in the meantime I gorge on Bings.

I have been ecstatic to find really good nectarines, and occasionally great peaches, in the local supermarket at the height of the season. The problem with those is that each variety apparently comes ripe in about a 2-week stretch, and then you're on to the next variety. That's hard for shipping things across country. I've only found one grocer in Duluth who gets it right. Whether that's thanks to the purchaser or the distributor is another question, but they get a lot of my money in the summer.

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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that sure sounds like the blenheim. it's a great apricot and we still get them at farmers markets here. it is fairly small by today's standards; the industry seems to look for something the size of a tennis ball. most of the blenheims we get are only a little bigger than a ping pong ball, but then most of them are coming from very old trees.

and if you find someone who cares enough to stock good fruit, you have to give them your business--even if you don't feel like fruit right then. it's like giving to npr.

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I have never had a decent fresh apricot, other then those I have picked off the tree myself.

I think that this comes down to what Russ was speaking of before, but another issue is that I think that in some case (like the apricot) that most consumers just don't know what a good version of the fruit tastes like and therefore their ability to judge good from mediocre is off. The end result of this is that market is driven by people with low expectations. I think that once this cycle is established that it is also self-perpetuating.

One of my favourite fruits is the various types of white peaches. These are very fragile and the ripe fruit don't transport well at all. In Australia I would rarely buy these, even though they are grown locally as they were nearly always picked to early. In Scotland these fruit are imported from Australia and sold in supermarkets in quantity. They are some of the most hard, green and flavourless fruits that you will ever see. But somebody is buying them and there is a demand that means a profit can be gained from shipping them around the planet. In the UK, "variety of choice" seems to me much more of an important market force then "quality" (note: quality in this case ="flavour and texture", rather then "appearance and shelf-life").

And to strawberries, peaches and apricots you could add most fruit types to the list I think.

Another issue is that while some of the seasonal farmer's market produce is good and often better then the commercial items, often they seem to be the same varieties. If want to shell out my cash on organic free-range seasonal strawberries, I don't want them to be bloody elsanta's.

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Sigh. And you live in Europe!

Five years ago, friends rented a place in Paris for the summer, very close to the fashionable patisserie, Gerald Mulot. I refuse to sneer or turn up my nose at the place because when I walked in there was an exquisite apricot tart in the display case that cost way too much and that I bought for our dinner. It was one of those very rare times when eating a beautifully produced dessert lived up to the experience of looking at it.

I wonder if the fruit used was as flavorful fresh, without sugar, vanilla, butter and cream.

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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another issue is that I think that in some case (like the apricot) that most consumers just don't know what a good version of the fruit tastes like and therefore their ability to judge good from mediocre is off. The end result of this is that market is driven by people with low expectations. I think that once this cycle is established that it is also self-perpetuating.

i think one of the realities those of us who care about food have to face is that the majority of people don't really give it a second thought. that's neither good nor bad ... there are plenty of things other people care passionately about that i don't. but it does mean that we're always going to have to work a little harder to find what we want. it will never become mainstream.

One of my favourite fruits is the various types of white peaches. These are very fragile and the ripe fruit don't transport well at all. In Australia I would rarely buy these, even though they are grown locally as they were nearly always picked to early. In Scotland these fruit are imported from Australia and sold in supermarkets in quantity. They are some of the most hard, green and flavourless fruits that you will ever see. But somebody is buying them and there is a demand that means a profit can be gained from shipping them around the planet. In the UK, "variety of choice" seems to me much more of an important market force then "quality" (note: quality in this case ="flavour and texture", rather then "appearance and shelf-life").

white peaches are a particular problem. first of all, they show every mark (they're white ... duh!) so they have to be picked early in order to be shipped. but also, most of the current varieties of white peaches (and nectarines) are sub-acid because they were developed for the Asian market, where the big money is, and that's the type of fruit preferred there.

Another issue is that while some of the seasonal farmer's market produce is good and often better then the commercial items, often they seem to be the same varieties. If want to shell out my cash on organic free-range seasonal strawberries, I don't want them to be bloody elsanta's.

we really need to get past the idea that farming is manufacturing and that therefore an ideal product is to be expected. farming requires talent, just like cooking or writing or so many other things. statistically, talent is poorly distributed among the population. this isn't to excuse the average farmers, but to emphasize that when you find a farmer who grows great stuff, you have found something special and you need to be willing to support him. excellence is not the default state and without incentive, it will find something else to do.

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Russ I come from a farming background, but left the country as farming is too much work for too little gain. Maybe I am naive (actually, yes I am naive), but setting up as an small scale organic type farmer is a great deal of work for a small amount of finacial gain, therefore 'lifestyle choice' (starting to hate this sound byte) has to be a factor, along with pride in the produce produced from an honest days toil - or is everybody a cynical 30-something like my good self?

I think that this has been covered on the 'French Market Thread', OK a given that everybody from the soil up is grasping, cynical and out to screw a buck when they can, yet I know some farmers who do produce excellent (dare I say, 'heirloom') fruit and veg. These people I can understand, what I can't understand is all the hard work and stress without a good product. Maybe talent is the key as you say.

I am now British, so I understand that most people don't care that much about food, however nobody likes being screwed over and as far as I can tell everybody hates elsanta strawberries, but why they then continue to buy the buggers eludes me.

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adam, i hope i didn't sound too harsh. that wasn't aimed at you. but you raise some interesting points.

Russ I come from a farming background, but left the country as farming is too much work for too little gain. Maybe I am naive (actually, yes I am naive), but setting up as an small scale organic type farmer is a great deal of work for a small amount of finacial gain, therefore 'lifestyle choice' (starting to hate this sound byte) has to be a factor, along with pride in the produce produced from an honest days toil - or is everybody a cynical 30-something like my good self?

we all weigh economic gain vs. lifestyle when we decide our careers and i would never suggest otherwise (me, a penniless journalist).

OK a given that everybody from the soil up is grasping, cynical and out to screw a buck when they can, yet I know some farmers who do produce excellent (dare I say, 'heirloom') fruit and veg. These people I can understand, what I can't understand is all the hard work and stress without a good product. Maybe talent is the key as you say.

talent is part of it, but so is a willingness to gamble on people being willing to pay more for quality. I'm not sure how the produce business works in the UK, but in the US, almost everything you see at retail comes from packing houses where individual farmers pool their produce into lots that are big enough to make sense to big supermarket buyers. so if you grow a smaller amount of fruit that is very good and your neighbor achieves minimum standards but grows a lot of fruit, guess who is going to make money? how often does this have to happen before you decide you're willing to accept slightly lower quality in order to get bigger harvests (it's a rough rule of thumb that high quality almost always equates to smaller harvests)? it's a funny thing: farmers consider themselves the last of the rugged individualists, but it really is the most socialistic business model around. for good growers, the only incentive is to go outside the system and try to realize an incentive through some kind of direct marketing--farmers market, CSA, mail-order, farmstand, whatever. that's the only way they can make more money than the average.

Edited by russ parsons (log)
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  • 2 months later...
Having grown up consuming over-sized styrofoam strawberries in the U.S., I was appalled - APPALLED - to taste a true wild wood strawberry. 

It was the last days of a wonderfully temperate summer and happened through the heavily wooded region of Europe near Luxembourg.  At Mosconi Restaurant, I had this bowlful of the most splendid strawberries I had ever tasted.  So foreign were the tiny scarlet red beauties to my Americanized eyes that I mistook them for dehydrated strawberries.  They were intensely sweet and and had the texture of meaty olives.  Meaty.  Not loamy, not styrofoamy, not vapid, not tasteless - sweet, meaty, and woodsy-sweet...

1. I have NEVER in my farmer's market days seen such jewels.  That being said, I am from the Midwest and have only spent limited time shopping in farmer's markets around the U.S.

2. Anyone have any clue what these strawberries are?  Can I grow them?  Where can I get the seeds/starters?

Thanks!

u.e.

I found them!! I found the alpine strawberries that chardgirl recommended. I was visiting my go-to nursery for some perrenials. I love this nursery because the owners stock the most strange and exotic plants... da doo... and sitting there (literally) stuck in among the zinias there was the fragaria - although no strange humming noises or total eclipses of the sun. :laugh: Anyway, I asked the owner (not a Chinese man) why these strawberries were with the flowers and not the vegetables. She told me that it was because most people bought these for decorative use. :blink:

"But these are strawberries, right?"

"Yes, but you wouldn't want to eat the berries."

"Why not?"

"They're just usually not why people buy these."

...and so it went... I never got down to the bottom of this... except to buy a few.

So, long story short, I bought a couple to try in my nice shady plot. I'll let you know how it goes... hopefully it doesn't turn out to be Audrey 3!! :laugh:

u.e.

[if you missed all the seemingly nonesensical references in this post, I highly suggest you find the nearest performance of Little Shop of Horrors].

Edited by ulterior epicure (log)

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

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Here's an earlier thread with some discussion on frais des bois and other flavorful strawberry cultivars. click

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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I had never had a locally grown strawberry until I picked up a couple quarts of strawberries at the downtown Farmers' Market here in KC. I could smell them table from 10 or 15 feet away, and the couple selling them were passing out sample berries. Small, soft, intensely ruby red, so succulent and juicy that I found myself licking the juice that ran down my hand. Even though they bagged them in the cardboard cartons, by the time I finished the rest of my shopping and made it back to my car and home, several of the berries had smashed and the whole inside of the back was a red sticky mess, perfuming my entire apartment. I immediately turned them into a batch of neon-red jam. I'm going back for more until the season for them fades.

Last summer was the first time in my 25 years for buying local produce. I know now that I'll be doing with strawberries what I did with tomatoes all winter - do without until that brief season that I can get the real thing. I almost wish I hadn't experienced this strawberry epiphany, because now I'll be craving these for 11 months of the year, tempted by the large, hard, perfect looking supermarket substitutes. (At least I'll be able to sate the cravings somewhat with jam.) Then I think, this is the way humans are supposed to eat. There are other vegetable seaons to look forward to. And I'll be voting for the local farmers with my wallet for as much of the year as I'm able.

It's a shame what most people (me included) have accepted all their lives as good produce. All it took to convert me was a single sampled strawberry. Maybe that's the only way change will happen - one single locally grown berry at a time.

"Nothing you could cook will ever be as good as the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet." - my EX (wonder why he's an ex?)

My eGfoodblog: My corner of the Midwest

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I found them!!  I found the alpine strawberries that chardgirl recommended.  I was visiting my go-to nursery for some perrenials.  I love this nursery because the owners stock the most strange and exotic plants...  da doo... and sitting there (literally) stuck in among the zinias there was the fragaria - although no strange humming noises or total eclipses of the sun.   :laugh:   Anyway, I asked the owner (not a Chinese man) why these strawberries were with the flowers and not the vegetables.  She told me that it was because most people bought these for decorative use.   :blink:

Residents of my city, be on the alert! :unsure: There's a house across from the Swiss Embassy that is lovingly landscaped, with flowers in full bloom lining the front steps and a garden on the sides of the property that face passers by.

Carpeting the lawn, almost within reach, are tiny, briliantly colored alpine strawberries :wub:, perfectly ripe. Birds were hopping all around when I made my discovery. No one was home. The guards on the other side of the street were busy chatting in French. I remembered the cravings of Rapunzel's mother and guilt-stricken Augustine's pear and kept my hands away.

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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I found them!!  I found the alpine strawberries that chardgirl recommended.  I was visiting my go-to nursery for some perrenials.  I love this nursery because the owners stock the most strange and exotic plants...  da doo... and sitting there (literally) stuck in among the zinias there was the fragaria - although no strange humming noises or total eclipses of the sun.   :laugh:   Anyway, I asked the owner (not a Chinese man) why these strawberries were with the flowers and not the vegetables.  She told me that it was because most people bought these for decorative use.   :blink:

Residents of my city, be on the alert! :unsure: There's a house across from the Swiss Embassy that is lovingly landscaped, with flowers in full bloom lining the front steps and a garden on the sides of the property that face passers by.

Carpeting the lawn, almost within reach, are tiny, briliantly colored alpine strawberries :wub:, perfectly ripe. Birds were hopping all around when I made my discovery. No one was home. The guards on the other side of the street were busy chatting in French. I remembered the cravings of Rapunzel's mother and guilt-stricken Augustine's pear and kept my hands away.

Aha! The last time I foraged for strawberries was third through fifth grade, when the (surely condominium developments by now) fields surrounding my little subdivision sported patches of tiny wild strawberries as delicious as any I've ever tasted and as zealously protected by my friends and I as any truffle patch in Perigord. Hitting the Swiss Embassy will be just like being a kid again.

BTW, if your worried about the Swiss Guard, hop an H bus Saturday morning, the fraises at Mt. Pleasant have been cheaper and better than those at Dupont for three weeks running.

I've been making the secret recipe sorbet. It ends up costing about ten bucks a pint, but it's an extraordinary thing.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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As a child, I went strawberry picking every year, and I remember the berries being fantastic. Then, after years of no berry-picking, and years of eating plastic strawberries, I decided to go berry picking again. I was in Saskatchewan for the summer (long story). After doing some research with Saskatoon locals, I was directed to a reputable farm. Guess what? The berries were bland. Their texture was not styrofoamy like the supermarket ones, they looked beautiful, they were juicy, but they tasted like nothing. Throughout that season, I bought berries from other berry farms, farmer's markets, organic markets, chain supermarkets, you name it. They all tasted like nothing. I noticed a similar problem with cucumbers. Now I'm trying to figure out if my memory is just deceptive, or if the strawberries in Ontario are better than the ones in Saskatchewan. Anyone know about this?

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As a child, I went strawberry picking every year, and I remember the berries being fantastic.  Then, after years of no berry-picking, and years of eating plastic strawberries, I decided to go berry picking again.  I was in Saskatchewan for the summer (long story).  After doing some research with Saskatoon locals, I was directed to a reputable farm. Guess what?  The berries were bland.  Their texture was not styrofoamy like the supermarket ones, they looked beautiful, they were juicy, but they tasted like nothing.  Throughout that season, I bought berries from other berry farms, farmer's markets, organic markets, chain supermarkets, you name it.  They all tasted like nothing. I noticed a similar problem with cucumbers.  Now I'm trying to figure out if my memory is just deceptive, or if the strawberries in Ontario are better than the ones in Saskatchewan.  Anyone know about this?

My own experience with pick your own has been limited, but disappointing. I suspect that the same economics that apply to other producers apply to them, that the incentive to sell the romance of hand-harvesting and the ripe appearance, rather than the flavor, is overwhelming.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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  • 9 months later...

The mocking birds are nesting in my gardenia, the tomatoes are blooming, high today of 82 - and the most important harbinger of Spring in Florida - Plant City strawberries are at their prime!

3.29 a pound at Sedano's. Late season and dead ripe! I purchased 5 pounds.

gallery_39581_4325_246985.jpg

Milkshakes for lunch! Some sliced, sugared and frozen for ice cream:

gallery_39581_4325_174763.jpg

The rest, washed and in the fridge for eating out of hand:

gallery_39581_4325_399777.jpg

I didn't make it to the festival in Plant City, Florida, but I understand that they keep the best berries for themselves.

Today is the last day:

Strawberry Festival Website

I've never seen strawberries that looked, tasted or smelled like this until I moved to Florida. We grew some nice ones in Georgia, but nothing like these!

Edited by annecros (log)
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The mocking birds are nesting in my gardenia, the tomatoes are blooming, high today of 82 - and the most important harbinger of Spring in Florida - Plant City strawberries are at their prime!

3.29 a pound at Sedano's. Late season and dead ripe! I purchased 5 pounds.

gallery_39581_4325_246985.jpg

Milkshakes for lunch! Some sliced, sugared and frozen for ice cream:

gallery_39581_4325_174763.jpg

The rest, washed and in the fridge for eating out of hand:

gallery_39581_4325_399777.jpg

I didn't make it to the festival in Plant City, Florida, but I understand that they keep the best berries for themselves.

Today is the last day:

Strawberry Festival Website

I've never seen strawberries that looked, tasted or smelled like this until I move to Florida. We grew some nice ones in Georgia, but nothing like these!

I live near the strawberry headquarters of Somerset but I have never seen such BRIGHT fruit...almost had to put my sunglasses on!!

wow

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We'll be in S. Florida on Tuesday.  I'll have to look around for some from Plant City.  Would they be availble at Publix?

Yes. Publix is a regional company, and usually has an endcap full of them when in season. Look for Plant City on the label, or you might luck up on a tent and a truck from central Florida on the side of the road. Those are usually the freshest and the cheapest.

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I live near the strawberry headquarters of Somerset but I have never seen such BRIGHT fruit...almost had to put my sunglasses on!!

wow

Yes, they are quite gaudy, aren't they? In a good way. :biggrin:

They have all the taste and aroma that the look advertises. I thought I was going to perish from strawberry hunger on the drive home.

Edited by annecros (log)
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We'll be in S. Florida on Tuesday.  I'll have to look around for some from Plant City.  Would they be availble at Publix?

Yes - they're in Publix - frequently BOGO. They've been pretty good the last few weeks. Robyn

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The mocking birds are nesting in my gardenia, the tomatoes are blooming, high today of 82 - and the most important harbinger of Spring in Florida - Plant City strawberries are at their prime!

3.29 a pound at Sedano's. Late season and dead ripe! I purchased 5 pounds.

They look beautiful!

But can someone explain to me how Fla berries are $1.99 / lb in New Jersey?

I suspect that the berries in those pix are significantly riper & tastier than what we're seeing in NJ right now - I haven't seen berries that ripe, judging by appearance, in a couple of months - so maybe both are priced fairly for what they are.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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The mocking birds are nesting in my gardenia, the tomatoes are blooming, high today of 82 - and the most important harbinger of Spring in Florida - Plant City strawberries are at their prime!

3.29 a pound at Sedano's. Late season and dead ripe! I purchased 5 pounds.

They look beautiful!

But can someone explain to me how Fla berries are $1.99 / lb in New Jersey?

I suspect that the berries in those pix are significantly riper & tastier than what we're seeing in NJ right now - I haven't seen berries that ripe, judging by appearance, in a couple of months - so maybe both are priced fairly for what they are.

I don't know. Maybe precontracted buy before the latest freeze?

I could have gotten them cheaper roadside, but this was just an impulse buy I couldn't walk away from. Those roadside guys are notoriously unreliable. You would think they drink up the profit when they sell all their berries, or something...

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