March 21st is a day for all you Golden Staters to show your pride. It’s National California Strawberry Day!
I’m surprised we didn’t celebrate any strawberry-themed holidays during our yearlong food challenge in 2013, especially considering the widespread popularity of this fruit. Wild strawberries have been around for eons. The ancient Romans used them for medicinal purposes, no doubt to help heal gladiatorial wounds. The French developed a fondness for them in the 1300s, transplanting the wild berries from forests to their gardens; King Charles V had some 1,200 strawberry plants in his royal garden alone. Demand grew over the following two hundred years, as strawberries were seen as a kind of wonder cure for treating depression, in addition to a variety of physical ailments. The “modern” strawberry is native to Eastern North America, and was brought to Europe by explorers in the 1600s. Just think: if it weren’t for some brave adventurer who crossed the Atlantic – twice – the world might never know Strawberry Quik, and that would be a sad thing.
Strawberries are prized for their sweetness, fragrance, and complex flavors. They are made into jellies and jams, ice cream, yogurt, smoothies, pies, shortcake, perfumes, and cosmetics. Hint: those last two not edible. (Well, they probably are, but I’d stick with dipping them in chocolate or cherishing them with a glass of champagne myself).
California is the nation’s leading strawberry producer; in 2014, 2.3 billion pounds were harvested – about 88% of the country’s fresh and frozen berries. Which is pretty impressive! However…
The best strawberries in the world are grown right here in the Pacific Northwest. I suppose I’m biased, but our berries are much more succulent and juicy, and pack a lot more flavor than California strawberries. Unfortunately, our growing season is a lot shorter, limited pretty much to the month of June. But that’s okay – I don’t mean to hog the spotlight from our neighbors to the south.
I picked up some California strawberries in a nearby produce store and ate them plain. And I have to say, they weren’t too bad!