Strawberries: The British Summertime Treat
The strawberry fruit was mentioned in ancient Roman literature in reference to its medicinal use and the French began taking the strawberry from the forest to their gardens for harvest in the 14th century. Charles V, France's king from 1364 to 1380, had 1,200 strawberry plants in his royal garden. By the early 15th century western European monks were using the wild strawberry in their illuminated manuscripts.
References of cultivation of the strawberry became more common in 16th century as people began using it for its supposed medicinal properties and botanists began naming the different species. In England the demand for regular strawberry farming had increased by the mid-16th century. Instructions for growing and harvesting strawberries showed up in writing in 1578 and by the end of the 16th century three European species had been cited.
The popular combination of strawberries and cream was originally created by Thomas Wolsey in the court of King Henry VIII.
The strawberry season in the UK runs from the end of May through to July. If good weather continues from July you can expect to see British strawberries until the beginning of October.
To achieve maximum yields during this short season, farmers protect emerging berries from the muddy soil by spreading a layer of straw around each new plant - hence the name strawberry.
Choose berries that are firm, plump, unblemished and free of mould, that have a shiny, deep red colour and bright green caps attached. Once picked, strawberries do not ripen further so avoid those that are dull, have green or yellow patches. It is best to wash and handle strawberries with care, always bring to room temperature before serving.
Seven strawberries (80g) provides the recommended daily amount of vitamin C which is the equivalent of 141 cherries or 413 grapes. In addition to vitamin C, strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin K and manganese, as well as folic acid, potassium, riboflavin, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, copper, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Strawberries contain significant levels of phytonutrients and antioxidants which help to fight free radicals (which can damage cells and are thought to contribute to the formation of many kinds of cancer). These antioxidant properties are believed to be linked to what makes the strawberry bright red.