The Evolution of Strawberries in my life

Strawberries have always been my favorite fruit… and my third favorite food (behind chocolate and tacos)…but there has been an evolution of both strawberries and the way I enjoy them.

When I was a kid we got strawberries from “stands” that were next to the fields. My mother prepared them by slicing and sprinkling with sugar…and we had strawberry shortcake! In the early days I preferred the sponge cake, but somewhere along the way this switched to Pop-N-Fresh biscuits…always with freshly whipped cream…no canned stuff or miracle whip for the Martinez family. Absolutely my favorite. I remember a time in high school when I RAN home, so I would be the one to claim the left overs from the night before.

Gradually, over the years, I have changed how I eat strawberries…I still like them cut up, but I don’t sprinkle them with sugar like my mother did. I do occasionally still have “shortcake”…the freshly baked biscuit and whipped cream. But generally I simply eat them plain or on cereal or as a special treat with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup.

But strawberries changed….Driscoll claims not GMO, but “bred” for the giant strawberries we see now. Straight from their website: “Actually, flavor isn’t the word that we use internally—what we call it in our tests is ‘eating quality’ because it encompasses more than flavor. There’s texture, aroma and other qualities that we’re looking for.” and “When we walk the seedlings, we’re looking for attractive fruit, nice regular shapes, glossy, good color, and size. Both consumers and growers like a good size, so that’s a winner all around.

Yes, shape, size and flavor all trumped taste. What a travesty…that something we eat has flavor so far down the list of qualities.

There was a time, I’m thinking about fifteen years ago, when strawberry sales popped up on the corners in our community. A single, generally non-English speaking person, often a woman with some small children, was dropped off with a large stack of crates of strawberries, and picked up at the end of the day. Often with no shade, no bathroom and no extra water. Folks in my community started taking these necessities to the workers. I’m sure there were licensing issues, which is why it stopped. Somehow I doubt it was because the workers were mistreated.

Even though I love strawberries, for quite some time I quit eating them very often because the grocery store variety, while beautiful, all shaped the same and large, were essentially tasteless.

Enter the Hmong farmers. About ten years ago these industrious workers bought or leased small pieces of land around my area…generally two to five acres. And they grew strawberries. Small, non-modified, incredible strawberries. I was back on the strawberry train.

But in the last two years something sad has happened….most of these small farmers have started growing the larger berries. That don’t taste as good. So far there are two farms I know of that still produce the smaller, wonderful berries. Neither is very close to my house…one about thirty minutes away and one more like an hour away (which has the absolute tastiest…happily it’s on my way to the Bay Area, so I can stop…except now, during the SIP, when I’m not driving down at all). Weekly or so I make a trip to Loomis, to my favorite stand. And I buy an entire flat at the peak of the season to freeze for my winter smoothies and oatmeal. Fingers crossed these folks keep growing small.

And this year they added peaches to their stand…small, beautiful, amazingly tasty, just like the good old days, peaches.