Sweet, textural, fleeting, delicate, teasing to the nose and the tongue, sensual...No one serves up champagne and apples in romantic scenes, and a banana dipped in chocolate just doesn't take us to the same place. Does any other fruit, nay--any other food at all-- carry the same tantalizing juxtapositions of love and lust, innocence and decadence, sweetness and daring, as that small, bumpy red berry with the come-hither curves and flirty green cap we familiarly call strawberry?
There are numerous varieties, something for every palate and time frame, from early producers for those seeking instant gratification to strawberries that bear fruit until nearly Fall for those who can't get enough of a good thing. We love them at our house--strawberry jam, sorbet, ice cream, sliced & sweetened over pound cake or nibbled fresh, their red flesh yielding with just a hint of coquettish hesitation.
And so, my beloved declared this the year of the strawberry on our little would-be homestead. She wants to experiment with two ways of growing them--in soil and hydroponically, but we're going vertical. Yep...up and down, eye to eye, reach for the sky. We have 200 plants on order, four different varieties--Earliglow, Tristar, Honeoye and Mara de Bois. We know this first year the yield will be small, but hopefully we'll get enough to taste test and savor.
Ah....but wait...there's more! To be accurate, we're planting two hundred and TWO strawberry plants! And two? you're asking yourself, puzzled (okay, maybe not so much, but humor me). Why and TWO?
Well, let me tell you about the Marshall Strawberry. I'm quoting here: "The Marshall strawberry -- once deemed by James Beard, the father of American gastronomy, as the tastiest berry ever grown -- was on Slow Foods' most endangered foods list just 5 short years ago." I first read about the Marshall on the Beekman 1802 blog. I was fascinated by the story of a strawberry we nearly lost, and enraptured at the idea of playing some small part in keeping this rare, reputedly extraordinary strawberry alive. I went to this site to learn more, and began making my case to Linda. She agreed, perhaps a little reluctantly at first, but then at the last moment, I reconsidered. This tiny treasure isn't exactly a dime a dozen. One of 'em takes a whole lotta dimes! Perhaps another year, I thought.
But the Marshall story tucked itself into my brain. Followers of this blog know we're small farm supporters. We choose organic and heirloom vegetables and fruits when we can. We understand the need to honor and preserve our agricultural history at a time when pollinators are disappearing and the forces of Monsanto are waging war against us. And hey, we rescue cats, dogs, chickens, fish...it's not that big a leap to strawberries, I suppose. When Linda declared her desire to be a strawberry farmer and we ordered our two hundred plants, Marshall called out to me again. How could we, in good conscience, grow all those strawberries but not choose to help save an heirloom, not help protect and foster it, not play some strawberry-seed-sized part in its renaissance? And so, without further ado, I give you:
These two arrived today; they arrived wearing sweet mesh bags and silver tags stamped with # 200 and # 201. They won't be joining their compatriots in Berry Towers; we will love them and pet them and name them George (sorry, Bugs Bunny reference--who here remembers that?)...But seriously, this year they'll be potted, pampered and protected. While we hope to savor a few sweet gems, we'll mostly pinch off the blossoms to help them grow bigger and stronger, and put out more runners for the future. Our true reward this year will be knowing we played a tiny role in saving the Marshall, preserving a fragment of agricultural heritage and purity, having the slightest hand in keeping this once endangered fruit from extinction. You know what? I can live with that!
There were 600 plants available this year. The Marshall website has a nifty map that allows you to track where in the country these strawberries are going (we'll be on it as "Catskill Mtn Mamas" in NY when the map is next updated). If the Marshall story whispers your name, you can check out the options for ordering here. We'll keep you posted on our plants' progress, complete with photos, of course!
And hey, if growing a Marshall isn't the right thing for you now, that's okay. Leah Gauthier is making a difference in a big way, one strawberry at a time, but each of us has the power. In the last few years, heirloom vegetables &fruits, and their seeds, have become so much easier to find. Grow a Brandywine or Cherokee Purple tomato or two. Support the local farmer who is growing heirlooms. Extinct is forever; it's scary stuff to think about it, but there's hope. We can all make a difference; we just have to want it a little bit...