Or more precisely, do you remember when strawberries tasted like some place ?
These days strawberries are either as sweet as saccharine or, at this time of year, as pulpy as cardboard. When the picture above was taken, in New York City in May 0f 1998, strawberries still tasted like the place they came from. They had terroir. These strawberries tasted like New Jersey, they were local, they had a slight tang.
I have grown my own strawberries for 20 years in northern Ohio, where the soil is clay-rich and organically-deficient. Some of my berries grow as big and red as these, but they can have a sweet/sourness that makes your gums contract. No one really knows what causes sour strawberries, and the advice on ‘improving’ them is the usual pablum about testing for acidity, lots of light, and raised beds. I would like to point out to the Martha Stewarts of gardening that the strawberries we find while walking through the forests in Estonia grow in shade and poor soil, without bud-nipping or raised beds. They have a sweet/sour snap like a one-two jab to the taste buds. They are highly praised in the local open-air markets, where people prefer them over imported sugar bombs.
Your sweet strawberries are grown by a technique called “plasticulture.” Special genetically engineered plants that produce more fructose, glucose and sucrose are planted in holes in black plastic tarps in California, and fertilized with special chemicals that stimulate their genetic switches. One newer technique involves planting in black plastic mulch directly – forget the soil. Between crops the fields are fumigated with pesticides and herbicides and treated with nitrogen.
The U.S. produces 1.2 million tons of strawberries per year, one quarter of the world’s total.
Want to taste real strawberries like they used to be? Try the Kashubian varietals, a specialty of three provinces in Poland, grown nowhere else in the world.