The small wild berries I have eaten in the past were almost tasteless. Seldom does anyone eat them anymore, but they are sometimes planted as ground cover or as decorative pot plants.
Wild strawberries grow in abundance in this area. In the spring my yard is full of those small red berries. They grow better in shaded areas. The fruits are about the size of a small marble.
Our grandparents called them Fraise des Bois – meaning strawberries of the woods. The tiny fruit produces a crop from early spring until fall. In addition to being smaller and less tasty than the garden strawberries, the plants are different in that they reproduce from seeds, whereas the garden variety does so by stems called runners.
Grandmother’s strawberries were the best. I do not know if it was because of the variety of the fruit that she planted or the loving care she took of the plants. Beginning in the fall she would prepare the garden soil for the new plants. She would separate the runners (she called them bourjons) from the old plants. The mother plant would usually be discarded. The new plants were spaced about a foot apart on each row and straw was placed around the plants. I guess that is why they are called strawberries. My grandmother would only call them by their proper French name –fraise (pronounced frez, with the e like in the word edge).
Early in the spring she would start picking the fruit. Those were washed and eaten fresh. But when there was an abundance of strawberries some were used for preserves, pies, ice cream, and her favorite masse-pain cake. Masse-pain was a flat sheet cake on which she sliced fresh fraise and a little cream, similar to the strawberry shortcake.
Strawberries may also be propagated by seeds which are small round black things located under the crown of the fruit. The small seed looking things we see on the fruit are not really seeds and can’t be used to sprout new plants. The use of runners is the preferred method for growing plants in the garden. The tiny black seeds are generally used by scientists to improve or develop new varieties.
If it had not been for those small wild berries we would not be eating the delicious fruits we enjoy today. The first garden strawberries were developed in northern France in the early 1700’s when small but sweet native American berries were crossbred with larger ones brought in from Chile and Argentina by Frenchman Amedee Frezier. Ironically, the Frezier (and Frazer) family surname was derived from the small but native European wild strawberry many centuries ago.
From France, our ancestors brought them to our area for us to enjoy. Our berries are so sweet that we have two cities in the state competing for the title of Strawberry Capital of the World – Hammond and Ponchatoula.
Scientists have been experimenting with larger varieties, usually seen in superstores, but larger does not mean sweeter. I don’t think that there will ever be better tasting strawberries than the ones our ancestors enjoyed.
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