It’s obvious that lettuce comes in all sorts of different varieties. Most people know the difference between Romaine and Boston Bibb. But strawberries? In grocery stores, they pretty much all seem the same. That’s not true, though, on local farms. I spoke with local growers to get an idea of the differences and what they really like.
“I think we grow 14 varieties,” Andrew Spollett, of Bartlett’s Farm on Nantucket, told me. “Some of my favorite ones are Seascape; Jeriko is a really good one; Jewel - that’s a smaller strawberry, but it’s just really, really packed with flavor.”
Jewel bears for several weeks in June and early July, and the berries store well after they’re picked, so they’re popular with farm stands. The variety was developed in 1985 at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, where a lot of new cultivars come from.
Josh Waters of Hayshaker Farm in Truro likes another small variety, Sparkles, which is a June-bearing strawberry. June-bearing means what it sounds like: the plants produce berries in June. There’s another group of varieties called ever-bearing that produce fruit in June and again in August, but we’ll get to those in a minute.
What is Sparkles like?
“It’s a medium-size June bearing strawberry, red all the way through,” Waters said. “They’re really sweet tasting. My other [favorite] is a really small strawberry. It’s more of a wild strawberry. They’re way more tart than the rest, and they don’t seem to have a very high yield like the Sparkles give me.”
Wild strawberries grow all over the east coast from Newfoundland to Florida—they were first cultivated in the 17th century, and over time wild varieties from different parts of the world have been crossed to create the many cultivars we grow in gardens and on farms today.
Last year, Marie Weber of Checkerberry Farm in Orleans tried a new strawberry.
“I ordered Evie-2, which is an ever-bearing variety,” Weber said. “So I should get a good crop in June, and then another crop in August. With the ever-bearing varieties, for the first season you’re supposed to get a really big crop in the hot weather, and then in the second season you’re supposed to get a really big crop in the cooler weather.”
Ever-bearing strawberries don’t respond to daylight the same way June-bearing varieties do. June-bearing plants flower and fruit near the solstice, when we have the longest days, but ever-bearing varieties put out flowers regardless of day length, which means they can produce fruit as long as the weather’s warm. Because this uses up so much of the plants’ energy, you’re supposed to pull out everbearing strawberries every three years and replace the patch with new plants.
“If you were to have a June-bearing variety, you get a longer cycle, like five years, but with the ever-bearing variety you get a bigger crop in a shorter amount of time. So it probably works out to the same amount,” Waters said.
Marie says she’s happy with the flavor and size of the Evie-2 berries she’s growing—they’re sweet and big, which makes them easy for her to pick for farmers’ markets and CSA customers. But Jeff Andrews of Tony Andrews Farm in Falmouth has a different set of criteria. He runs a U-pick field.
“This year we have HoneyEye and All-Star, which is a June bearing berry,” Andrews said. “We used to have a later-producing berry, like mid-way Early Dawns. But it’s too hot, and you’ll notice not enough people will come to pick, when it’s late July. They’re at the beach.”
In addition, people associate strawberry season with June, so it’s important for Jeff to have berries when his customers expect them. But the number of varieties out there is good news for those of us who like to eat strawberries—with fruit in June and again in late summer, we can enjoy them all season long. There are, after all, so many good ways to eat a strawberry.
“I like to just eat them plain,” Waters said. “That’s my favorite, just plain strawberries. Or if you dip them in chocolate, that’s pretty good. I like strawberry shortcake, too.”
This week's Local Food Report is a rebroadcast. It first aired in June 2014.