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Strawberries | The First Fruit of Summer

Strawberries | The First Fruit of Summer
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The sweetest harbingers of early summer will soon be on display: signs for strawberry socials on church lawns and berry festivals on village greens, and pick-your-own posters near farm stands. After months of dried cranberries and shipped-from-afar citrus, we celebrate this first wave of local fruit (rhubarb being, after all, a vegetable).

It has always been so, it seems. The Algonquins named June’s full moon the “Strawberry Moon,” in celebration of the harvest. Native Americans enjoyed a diet rich in wild strawberries, and their technique of burning woodland parcels for cornfields also created a habitat where the fruit could flourish.

But this has always been a short-lived crop, threatened by late freezes, hailstorms, and, worst of all, Botrytis, a lethal fungus. Today’s most popular local berry vari eties–‘Darselect’, ‘Cavendish’, and ‘Earliglow’, among others–are bred for hardiness, disease resistance, yield, and size, sure, but also flavor. Meanwhile, the supersized berries sold year-round in supermarkets are often bland, pale, and pulpy on the inside. They rarely have the flavor of local berries.

Don’t miss an opportunity to enjoy a sun-warmed pint of berries, eaten whole, or dipped in sugar if you like. Their peak of fragrant ripeness arrives in early June into July, although more farmers are also experimenting with so-called “day-neutral” berries, which can produce fruit well into the fall. But June remains the heart of strawberry season.

Updated Thursday, April 26th, 2012
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