A Pan-Hemispheric Berry

The strawberry is one of those (faux) fruits that humans in the northern hemisphere have been eating for a long, long time. It makes sense since it’s indigenous to just about everywhere north of the equator and south of the arctic circle, from eastern China all the way around to the California coast. Some linguists believe that the word “strawberry” itself has been in use for some 6,000 years, since it supposedly arises from two Indo-European roots: “berry” which means “bright” or “shiny”, and “straw” which means “scattered” or “strewn” (possibly referring to the fact that the strawberry plant spreads via runners).

True or not, it’s all but certain that the people who invented the word for strawberry didn’t have access to the same plump, sweet and succulent berries we enjoy today. Eurasian strawberries were by all accounts small, tart and pithy until rather recently. It took a trip to the New World, and the discovery of several new varieties, before cultivators were able to produce (faux) fruit fit for a shortcake.

Modern strawberries are a true multicultural effort, containing genes from locales as disparate as Chile, France and Mongolia. That’s not to say strawberries are now the same everywhere (New World strawberries are known for their “pineapple” notes vis-à-vis their “grape”-tasting European cousins), but there’s no question that we wouldn’t have the shortcakes we have today were it not for the combined efforts of strawberry lovers across the northern hemisphere.

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