California strawberries deserve some credit - The Packer

California strawberries deserve some credit

05/25/2012 08:49:00 AM
Chuck Robinson

Chuck Robinson, Assistant Copy Chief"Glass half full” has become a catchphrase of sorts in our household.

It’s sometimes followed by, “Could be worse. Has been worse.”

It is a sardonic version of “Count your blessings.” I don’t think we appreciate what we have often enough.

I wish some reporters on National Public Radio would heed that advice.

I listened to two segments on strawberries on mid-May.

One was titled “The Secret Life Of California’s World-Class Strawberries.”

That segment was fairly evenhanded. They said California produces 80% of the strawberries marketed in the U.S., and the accomplishment was a “miracle of agricultural technology.”

Were they being sarcastic?

No, it’s just a fact. Pat the industry on the back for its “success in producing more strawberries, for a lower cost, than anywhere else in the world.”

It is a marvel.

The article wove around to discussing methyl bromide, and the industry could have been in for it. What’s it say about me that I expected someone about to land a haymarker and was relieved when it was only a nudge?

Just to answer two of the commenters on the online version of the story: Yes, the berries are tasty after being shipped 3,000 miles, and, lady, your garden-grown alpine strawberries are so tiny it would take an hour of picking to fill a cup.

We’ve got ‘em, we grow them, and we love snacking on them in the garden, but for strawberry shortcake for the family I am serving Driscoll’s, Well-Pict or Naturipe.

Bigger not better?

A side article followed the first, and it was a sharper attack on our strawberry-growing bretheren.

“I bet you know this feeling: You bring home a box of perfect, plump, ruby-red strawberries from the supermarket, then you bite into one and you taste absolutely nothing. Close your eyes and you might not even know it’s a strawberry at all,” said host Melissa Block.

No, I don’t know that feeling, Miss Block.

She was talking to Marvin Pritts, berry crop specialist and horticulture professor at Cornell University.

He went along with her thesis.

“We’ve seen that size has increased. We’ve seen that yield has increased. We’ve seen that firmness has increased. But we’ve seen that sugar content and flavor has somewhat decreased,” Pritts said.

Flavor has decreased? Compared to what? A bowl of decomposed berry goo? That is what we’d have if breeders did not attend to shelf-life and shipability.

At least he said the red color was completely natural, but then he added the sumptuous red color can be deceiving. A strawberry can look tastier than it tastes.

“It’s too bad that supermarkets don’t let you sample before you buy, because that would really change the whole complexion of our supermarkets,” Pritts said.

Bring it on, professor boy.

Retailers, get out there with your army of vinyl-gloved grandmothers armed with plates of cut strawberries and toothpicks.

Stock up, because we consumers love strawberries, and you will sell a lot of clamshells of them.

The host and professor knocked the modern supermarket strawberry for being so large, which Pritts attributed to breeding for easier harvest. I agree sometimes berries are just too big.

With the host’s encouragement, Pritts beat the drum for locally grown berries.

“If I have a choice I buy the strawberries that are grown closest to where I live, because I know that those are the ones that are probably going to be picked the closest to being fully ripe.

“Then I look for strawberries that have a nice shape, that are red all the way through, all the way around. Because I know, again, those are close to ripeness,” he said.

The local growers, I bet, will take advantage of the berries bred by the larger industry players for disease resistance, firmness and flavor.

They don’t have the wherewithal to come up with other varieties. Don’t expect even a nod of acknowledgement, though.

I know I will be eating more locally grown produce in coming months. Even so, I suspect we will still have punnets of salad greens and bags of broccoli from the club store in the ’fridge.

I will be glad when my home garden crop fails to go up to the supermarket for a bag of onions. And Missouri jonathans can’t fill all my lunchtime apple needs.

This glass is far more than half full, having such a miracle of agricultural technology readily available in stores nearby. We shouldn’t be complaining.

It could be worse, has been worse, and we should count our blessings.

crobinson@thepacker.com

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Kelli ferris    
North Carolina  |  April, 07, 2013 at 04:31 PM

I have purchased California berries, locally grown north Carolina conventional and organic, farmers market and You Pick berries. I have purchased modern variety plants at the nursery and grown them myself. For the most part, all berries have all been uniformly attractive but are all lacking in flavor. I get the shipping challenge and the need for good shelf life, but can't the growers catering to local consumers meet the challenge? My grandmother grew June bearing, intensely flavored, medium size berries in WA state in matted rows next to raspberries with no rot or mildew. Everybody used to have similar berries in their home gardens and now they are nearly impossible to find. The only glimmer of commercial hope was the Brown Sugar branded berry available for a few seasons at Harris Teeter stores. Surely there's a plant geneticist out there somewhere who can fix this. I'll gladly pay more if you promise that it will smell and taste like a strawberry. And when they figure that out, they can start righting the wrongs in the commercial blueberry world with an infusion of huckleberry genetics.

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