Great Northern Berry

The strawberry is one of those (faux) fruits that humans in the Northern Hemisphere have been eating for a long, long time. 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, a combination of two Indo-European root words “berry” (which means “bright” or “shiny”), and “straw” (which means “scattered” or “strewn”, a possible reference 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 commercial growers could produce (faux) fruit fit for the supermarket. Modern commercial strawberries combine genes from Chilean, French and Mongolian forebears, among others.

Still there remains plenty of variation among mass-produced cultivars. 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 berries we have today were it not for the combined efforts of strawberry lovers across the Northern Hemisphere.

7 thoughts on “Great Northern Berry”

  1. Not 100% positive what you’re getting at with this post Joe, but it’s also worth pointing out the “mock strawberry”

    As a pretty avid forager in Missouri we come across these guys all the time. The texture is pleasant but they’re entirely flavorless and they share many of the same macro characteristics as true strawberries.

    Eating them out of hand is disappointing, but they make a decent filler for rhubarb pies and make a decent, if flavorless, pancake syrup when you’re our hiking (Add lemon or sorrel)

    1. Hehe…me neither! Perhaps just that it’s taken pretty much a hemisphere of disparate genes to assemble the thing we know as a store-bought strawberry.

      I have seen those faux ones and eaten them also…blechh.

      Thanks for the comment!

      – Jim

      1. Interesting, we know mock strawberry in Latvia too, but it has been never considered edible – just a decorative plant (my grandmother has them in garden, and even as a child I never tried to eat these berries).
        What did you mean by “tart Eurasian strawberries” in your post, Joe? If you refer to wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca), then I disagree about tartness, because these berries are incredibly flavorful and sweet when ripe. They are just small, and picking enough berries to make jam or to eat them with whipped cream takes forever. That’s why this berry is most often enjoyed directly from stem, in meadows or forests where it’s growing. In Western Europe many people even don’t know that they are edible, my friend who lives in France told about locals trying to convince her that wild strawberries are poisonous 🙂 Are they growing in USA too, and are people picking them?

        1. I’m generalizing of course, Antuanete! There are probably hundreds of varieties of wild strawberries. Tracing the commercial evolution of the strawberry in three paragraphs requires, shall we say, a bit of reduction! 😉


          – Joe

  2. I grew up in Maryland where, occasionally, we’d come across those tiny little strawberries when walking through open fields. They were found in patches here and there, so I think the birds were the farmers…if you know what I mean. We never questioned how they got there as kids and just ate the shiny red ones. They were so sweet and we kids loved their tiny size. I called them Barbie Strawberries! They never quite made it to the Barbie Tea Parties I imagined as I always ate them as I picked them. I’d say they are fantasy sized just for kids!

  3. Every year wild strawberry plants spring up all over our garden, yielding hundreds of tiny, pea-sized strawberries. They might not be as plump and juicy as their cultivated relatives, but they’re sweet and delicious. Rather like a fresh freeze-dried strawberry.

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