Magazine article The Spectator

God's Best Berry

Magazine article The Spectator

God's Best Berry

Article excerpt

Food for thought

If gooseberries are so named (according to one, not wholly convincing, account) because they were traditionally eaten in summer with a young goose, what about strawberries? One's first thought may be that their name refers to the straw in which the plants are bedded, but this can't be right because strawberries were originally so called for the wild variety, long before the cultivated fruits were introduced to this country. After diligent research I can offer two possible explanations: that 'straw' refers to the particles of straw, or seeds, which are dotted over the surface of the fruit, or that, as the archaic form of 'strew', it describes the way in which the wild fruit may appear scattered over the ground.

Paul Johnson told us last month (`And another thing', 11 May) that it was Cardinal Wolsey who first married strawberries with cream at his palace at Hampton Court. But these must have been wild strawberries, because the large varieties that we know today did not appear in England until at least a century later, brought from North America, possibly via France. It was around Wolsey's time that Dr Butler wrote of the strawberry - quoted by Izaak Walton and many times since - `Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.'

Fond as I am of wild strawberries, I think I would rather have one of the best English cultivars. Years ago a gardener told me that the only variety worth growing was Royal Sovereign, and I did follow his advice for a while, producing some perfect specimens at this time of year. A friend who died in June last year said he was determined to hang on - and he did until he had tasted the first English strawberries of the season. There could scarcely be a finer tribute to what is, certainly for these coming weeks of high summer, our national fruit. Of course, some of us may have been eating European strawberries since early spring, but they're not the same, are they? To mark the season, Thursday of this week has been designated British Strawberry Day.

Opinions are strongly held on how to eat strawberries, between those who mash before adding cream and those who don't mash. I put myself in the latter category, preferring them with creme fraiche or clotted cream, unless the fresh 'pouring' cream is very rich and unpasteurised. …

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