In the UK it is currently strawberry season (from end May to July) and although the season is relatively short, strawberries feature heavily in the British eating and drinking calendar – from strawberries and cream at Wimbledon to strawberry jam making; from strawberry teas to strawberry cider!
Famous UK jam and marmalade manufacturers, Wilkin & Sons of Tiptree, are well known globally for their famous Tiptree jams – I have travelled to far flung places and seen pots of Tiptree Little Scarlet Strawberry jam served at breakfast. They have been jam & marmalade manufacturers, fruit and arable farmers since 1885. I live not far from Tiptree and Wilkins have purchased farms in my village since 1920 to grow strawberries and other fruits for their range of jams, curds and ketchups. The farms have produced a mixture of fruit crops over the years: large strawberries (as shown in my photo), little scarlets, gooseberries, red & blackcurrants, plums, greengage, damsons & morello cherries – all picked by local village people and seasonal helpers and transported the 3 miles or so to the jam factory at Tiptree. The factory is a great place to visit – it has an interesting museum, a gift shop/food shop and a restaurant/tea room.
Why is the Tollesbury/Tiptree area ideal for strawberry farming? Tollesbury claims, along with Great Wakering, to have the lowest rainfall in Britain, has more than 1600 hours of annual sunshine and regularly claims England’s top temperature (along with Southend) at least once a week during the summer months. Thunderstorms occur on average 15 – 18 days a year, which can often cause damage to the fruit crops – although sometimes they are just lightning storms and the rain doesn’t materialise – I have experienced severe thunderstorms in Tiptree which have bypassed Tollesbury 10 minute drive away!
Technically, strawberries are not actually fruits because their seeds are on the outside and the fruits are not produced by seeds. Strawberry plants are actually members of the rose (rosaceae) family. Each strawberry has on average 200 seeds.
The modern garden strawberry popular in Europe was actually introduced into Europe by a French engineer in 1714, who, on a trip to Chile and Peru, was so impressed by the size of the strawberries in that region, that he brought back plants to cultivate in France. Historically, strawberries were always considered an aphrodisiac and were often often served at a wedding breakfast with soured cream!
Nutritionally, strawberries are an excellent source of vitamins C and K, as well as providing a good amount of fibre, folic acid and potassium. Strawberry leaves can be eaten raw, cooked or used to make tea. Once picked though, unlike bananas, they do not ripen any further – so any strawberries that are dull, or have green or yellow patches are probably best avoided.
Medically, they have been used to help with digestive ailments, teeth whitening and skin irritations. Unfortunately, they are a common allergen – especially if you are already allergic to birch pollen, as you are more than likely to develop an allergy to strawberries. I do suffer from hay fever caused by birch pollen but thankfully, strawberries haven’t given me a reaction ( although raw tomatoes do!)
My favourite strawberry recipe is : Strawberries dipped in dark chocolate. My favourite strawberry sandwich idea: slice of wholemeal bread generously spread with soft cheese (Philadelphia style) topped with chunky strawberry jam. Strawberries & Cream lunchbox style. My favourite strawberry based drink: Iced Strawberry Cider…. cheers!
Do you love strawberries? Do share your favourite strawberry dishes!
All photos are by Linda Hobden