How to tame your strawberries

One can never have enough strawberries. They must be generously sprinkled with sugar and lavishly smothered in cream. Hopefully, as new research seems to promise, the strawberries themselves counterbalance any detrimental effects.

Fragaria vesca, commonly called wild strawberry or woodland strawberry, is a plant that grows naturally throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Other names include Alpine Strawberry, Fraises des Bois, and European Strawberry. In contrast, the garden strawberry, Fragaria x ananassa, is a hybrid species cultivated worldwide for its fruit, recognized by its unmistakable aroma, bright or dark red colour, luscious texture, and sublime sweetness.

The garden strawberry was first grown in Brittany, France, in the 1750s via a cross of Fragaria virginiana from eastern North America and Fragaria chiloensis, brought from Chile by the French military engineer, mathematician, spy and explorer Amédée-François Frézier in 1714. So it must have been the wild kind that Shakespeare meant when, in his play Richard III, Gloucester tells the Bishop of Ely: “My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn, I saw good strawberries in your garden there. I do beseech you, send for some of them.”

Shakespeare knew his onions. St Etheldreda’s Church is the former private chapel of the Bishops of Ely. It still stands in London and is the only surviving building from the reign of Edward I (1239–1307) though it was badly damaged during World War II. Etheldreda, a seventh-century queen and nun, was the saint in whose name Ely Cathedral was founded. The gardens of St Etheldreda’s Church were said to produce the finest strawberries in London and a Strawberry Fayre is still held there every June.

Scientists at the University of Warwick have been studying the beneficial effects of strawberries on cardiovascular health, particularly how they prevent the development of heart disease and diabetes. It seems that strawberries activate a protein in our bodies which increases antioxidant and other protective activities and decreases blood lipids and cholesterol. All the more reason to eat lots of them – although perhaps without the cream, damn it!

“Wild Strawberries” is a poem in A Light in the Attic (1981) by American poet, illustrator, screenwriter, and songwriter Shel Silverstein. Tame or not, strawberries are heaven on earth.

“Are Wild Strawberries really wild?
Will they scratch an adult, will they snap at a child?
Should you pet them, or let them run free where they roam?
Could they ever relax in a steam heated home?
Can they be trained to not growl at the guests?
Will a litterbox work or would they leave a mess?
Can we make them a Cowberry, herding the cows,
Or maybe a Muleberry pulling the plows,
Or maybe a Huntberry chasing the grouse,
Or maybe a Watchberry guarding the house,
And though they may curl up at your feet oh so sweetly,
Can you ever feel that you trust them completely?
Or should we make a pet out of something less scary,
Like the Domestic Prune, or the Imported Cherry,
Anyhow, you’ve been warned and I will not be blamed
If your Wild Strawberry cannot be tamed.”

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