Celebrating the history of the strawberry

Michigan’s strawberry season is just around the corner in June.

Strawberry season is almost upon us. Due to its bright color, easy snacking abilities and bold sweetness that adds to so many recipes, it is one of the most popular fruits of the summertime. In fact, according to University of Illinois Extension, roughly 94 percent of households in the U.S. consume strawberries, and more than half of U.S. kids chose strawberries as their favorite fruit. But have you ever stopped to wonder how this delicious fruit got on your plate?

Today’s cultivated strawberries came from an accidental cross between two wild strawberry varieties in France around the 1700s. In Ancient Rome, wild strawberries were seen as more than just a simple snack, but as a symbol for the goddess of love, Venus, due to its heart shape and red color. Medieval stonemasons would actually carve strawberries into their altars and pillars of cathedrals to symbolize “perfection and righteousness.” One of the oldest varieties of strawberries in France was known as “la princesse royale” or royal princess. The symbolism of strawberries is almost as sweet as their taste.

Due to this fruit’s delicate nature, it takes extreme care when shipping, which is why they are more expensive when they are not in season locally. With today’s present technology, growers have been able to produce more resilient hybrids using genetic science. Dr. Jim Hancock, a professor of horticulture at Michigan State University, is one example of a strawberry breeder working to find varieties that can withstand different growing conditions and delay perishability.

Michigan State University Extension supports his work to keep this delicious fruit on our plates and luckily for us, June is just around the corner. For more information on selecting, preserving and using strawberries in recipes, visit MSU Extension’s Michigan Fresh website.

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