Strawberry Short Take
The best strawberries are uncommonly sweet, juicy, big enough to savour. The worst are nothing but tasteless, mealy, off-season imposters. All power to the real royal reds just waiting to be eaten fresh, or dipped in icing sugar and chocolate.
What are some interesting ways in which strawberries have occupied our mouths and minds?
• A 19th Century British superstition says: take a minute before you eat your first strawberry of the year. It’s your wishing strawberry. Think carefully about what you desire most for the next twelve months, voice your wish, then bite.
• Do not ignore strawberry cravings during pregnancy, says one spiky, old myth. Eat the strawberries or your child will be born with a strawberry-shaped mark. A competing superstition says that pregnant women should not look at strawberries or their children will be born with strawberry markings. So: close your eyes and eat the strawberries?
• In Richard Folkard’s 1884 ‘Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics,’ we read that dreaming of strawberries is a good omen. Do so and you will have a ‘sweet-tempered’ spouse and ‘many children, all boys.’ 👀
• Are you newly in love? Hunt down a strawberry, says another superstition. Split it carefully in half, give one piece to your beloved, eat your berry bits together, and just wait for your love to blossom.
• Standard fare on Valentine’s platters, red-hearted strawberries have long been associated with love, lust, and goddesses from Aphrodite to Venus.
• In his 1597 ‘Herball,’ Gerard shows great faith in the mighty strawberry:
‘ * The leaves boiled and applied in manner of a poultice taketh away the burning heat in wounds: the decoction thereof strengtheneth the gums, fasteneth the teeth, and is good to be held in the mouth, both against the inflammation or burning heat thereof, and also of the almonds of the throat: they stay the overmuch flowing of the bloody flux, and other issues of blood.
* The distilled water drunk with white wine is good against the passion of the heart, reviving the spirits, and making the heart merry.
* The distilled water is reported to scour the face, to take away spots, and to make the face fair and smooth; and is likewise drunk with good success against the stone in the kidneys.
* The leaves are good to be put into lotions or washing waters, for the mouth and the privy parts…’
• In the June, 1889 ‘Medical Classics,’ the Editor offers a special strawberry-related footnote:
• Here in the 21st Century, strawberries are still lauded for their health benefits. In 2012, Elizabeth Devore and her team at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital published research based on 121,700 women they had been studying since 1976. Women who ate the equivalent of two or more strawberry or blueberry servings each week showed less memory deterioration as they aged.
• In July of this year, Michelle Tsang and her San Diego State University team – sponsored by the California Strawberry Commission – ran a clinical trial studying 35 healthy adults who ate 26 grams of freeze-dried strawberry powder daily for 8 weeks. By the end of the study, the strawberry-filled test group showed lower systolic blood pressure, increased total-antioxidant capacity, and somewhat improved cognitive processing speed.
Strawberries & Cream
• If you’ve spent any time watching Wimbledon tennis matches, you’ve seen the camera pan to bowl after bowl of delicious strawberries and cream. All those who indulge should tip their spoons to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey – a major figure in King Henry VIII’s court.
One evening, when ever-ravenous Tudor diners showed up at Cardinal Wolsey’s ‘King Palace,’ the chefs came out with a new fruit course: strawberries topped with – wait for it, Henry – heavy cream. Fast forward to 1877 and Wimbledon. The Tudor treat seemed like the perfect match for an afternoon of tennis, and the Victorian strawberry growing season lined up perfectly.
For the past 25 years, all of the Wimbledon strawberries have come from Hugh Lowe Farm in Kent. And just how many strawberries do spectators consume each year? More than 1.92 million.
Photos: Olivie Strauss