Newest Review: ... (eight strawberries equivalent to an orange), as well as folate and potassium. Strawberries are also high in fibre and manganese. Also in t... more
Super sexy sweet strawberries.
Member Name: Stewwydablue
Advantages: Tasty, easy to grow, a real treat.
Disadvantages: It's easy to spot if you've been picking them by the red stains
I blame the time of year for this review - there's not much growing in the garden, and most of the fresh fruit and veg in the supermarkets has been flown thousands of miles from warmer climes and doesn't taste of anything much. One of the worst things to buy out of season are strawberries - Egyptian, Tunisian and Spanish imports in the middle of an English winter are like having a Christmas dinner in July. It shouldn't be done in my opinion, English grown strawberries picked in season are unbeatable for taste and are a luxury that are worth waiting for.
Luxuries don't have to be inaccessible to the common man though; I grow my own "strawbz" (Latin = Fragaria ananassa) for next to no cost and reap the rewards every June and July by being able to step 10 feet away from my back door and pick and eat whatever delicious strawberries my daughters haven't already ravished. As spring is only weeks away, my thoughts are once more turning to filling my back yard with as much fruit and veg as possible, and strawberries are high up on my "must grow to eat" list. They are pretty easy to grow, and hopefully this review will inspire you to grow some for yourself.
It is thought that strawberries have been growing in England since the last ice age, although these were the wild woodland form, smaller than the cultivated types we know and love today. I grow two main types in my back yard, bog standard cultivated varieties like Cambridge Favourite and Honeoye and the smaller, wilder, intense alpine strawberries. The Cambridge Favourites and Honeoyes get mostly used for jams and cooking, and the alpine strawberries are used as a "pick your own" treat whenever we're outside as a family doing the gardening or the girls are playing out.
There are many farms in the UK that offer a "pick your own" service; there's one near me and I've been going for more than 25 years to the same place and now feel sentimental about the fact that every summer I can now take my own children to enjoy picking strawberries, wade through mud and avoid slugs, just as I was taken by my parents as a five year old. If you do take your children strawberry picking, top tip - take a pack of baby wipes with you to remove the guilty tell tale signs of red mouths and fingers (before you pay and leave) that betray the fact your kids have been helping themselves on the way round!
I strongly recommend to you to take the opportunity to spend an hour one sunny day this year to go and pick your own, rather than buying them from a supermarket. You'll be supporting your local farmers and also you'll benefit from discovering the difference in taste - it'll knock your socks off.
Growing your own
They can be grown from seed, but for a quicker fix, I'd suggest buying a few second year plug plants and planting them directly out in your garden - you don't need a garden the size of the Eden Project bio-domes, I grow strawberries in an old shoe basket, plastic storage boxes and hanging baskets that I found behind our garage when we bought the house.
You may be thinking "what does second year mean?". In the first year of it's growth, a strawberry plant won't produce many flowers (the flowers turn into strawberries) and any that do appear should be picked off to allow the plant to become stronger and healthier. However, in the plant's second and third years, you will have a nice healthy plant that produces a heavy crop of mother nature's sweets, the strawberry. Strawberry plants tend to reduce their crop yield after about three years, so I don't keep any plants that are more than three years old.
This may sound expensive, having to buy a new collection of strawberry plants every three years. YOU DON'T HAVE TO!! After you've initially bought your plants, they will send out "runners" during the growing season, which, if pegged on to the soil (use a twig or wooden clothes peg either side of where the small new leaves grow off the stalk of the runner) will develop their own root system after about a month and can then be cut off from the mother plant and replanted elsewhere. A continual supply of plants for free! You'll save a fortune this way rather than buying a handful of watery, tasteless strawberries in a plastic box or buying new plants every time you fancy some.
They are best kept in soil rich with compost and with good drainage in a sunny position - the more sun they get, the more fruit they will bear. It's important that the strawberry plants are well drained, the rot quite easily if in boggy conditions. Slugs and birds love strawberries too, so you can protect them with netting and the odd strategically placed beer trap. Plants in hanging baskets will confound the slugs, but not the birds so use a net or make a bird scarer out of old CDs hanging on a piece of string nearby.
If you don't know, a beer trap is the nemesis of slugs. Fill a large saucer with lager and push down into the soil so that the lip of the saucer is level with the soil, leave this over night and the next morning you will see some very happy slugs in the saucer. These can be fed to chickens and birds, or re-housed, hopefully a long way away from your precious plants. I wouldn't recommend you go all "Hugh kills-and-eats-it-all" and make slug fritters though, what's the point?
At the end of the growing season, I snip off any dead leaves to expose the crown of the plant to the last of the year's full sun - this will help the plant keep a store of energy as it lies dormant over winter. During the winter I cover the plants with crumpled newspaper, bubble wrap or an agricultural fleece if really cold conditions are forecast, but in normal winter conditions my plants survive quite well without the need for pampering.
The fun part - eating them
Best served straight after picking - straight in the mouth or with cream/sugar. If you are looking to make them last a bit longer, making them into jam is an excellent way of preserving strawberries. Here's how I do it:
Wash and hull your strawbz, weigh and place into a heavy duty pan. Use a potato masher to lightly mush them up a bit and release the juice. If you want smaller bits of the fruit in your jam, chop them in half instead of mashing as whole fruits. Add to this two-thirds of the strawberries' weight of jam sugar - it has to be jam sugar as this contains pectin which will make your strawberries set. Strawberries are low in pectin, so unless you add it you'll just have a runny mess. You can use normal sugar and instead supply the pectin from apple peels, but this is fiddly and you'll be left with a load of peeled apples. A couple of table spoons of lemon juice will provide a good preservative in the form of citric acid and help your jam last longer. Then, put onto a high heat and wait till the mixture starts to bubble. Scrape off the floating scum, then turn down and allow to bubble away slowly for a good three quarters of an hour.
Get your jars ready by washing and sterilising them (you can use a dishwasher to sterilise or put them in a low oven for ten minutes immediately prior to filling them up with the jam) and when the jam is ready, pour it in carefully - it'll be nuclear hot. When the jam is right up to the top, screw the lid on straight away and allow to cool. If you're using those lids with the poppy up and down button thing in the middle, keep pressing the button down until it no longer springs back up. That's how I do it, and my jam lasts for about a year in a dark cupboard (unopened) and about a month in the fridge (when opened), and I haven't been killed off by botulism or any other nasty diseases.
For safety's sake though, don't attempt any type of bottling / jam making without reading up on the safety aspects first, please don't just follow my advice blindly.
With my alpine strawberries, I don't have enough to make jam with, so I've put a "free for all" order on them in our garden - my daughters can help themselves to any that they see. They're a lot smaller than cultivated strawberries, about the size of a pea, but the strawberry taste is highly concentrated in these mini treats and are a delicacy. You can preserve them by drying, but unless you have a fit for purpose food dehydrator, why bother with all that fiddling around on radiators and wire racks when you can just accept them as a rare treat from Mother Nature and enjoy them straight from the bush.
Strawberries contain a decent amount of vitamin C and antioxidants, not that you'd need an excuse to eat them, just be careful how much cream or sugar you have them with!
One of nature's gifts to us, strawberries are very tasty, loved by all and easy to grow yourself. The taste of an English summer in a juicy red fruit.
Summary: Try and grow some, it's easy!
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