Strawberries from Baguio/Mt. Province are here en masse!!! Run out to the markets and load up! Local berries started appearing just before Christmas but in the past few days a berry flood has begun. This should peak over the next couple of weeks then they will pretty much dry up for the rest of the year unless you venture to Baguio to get them.
Modern day cultivated berries had their beginings as wild woodland berries or “fraises de bois” as they are known in France. They thrived in cooler climes that had moist Spring seasons. For a couple of days in late Spring, these plants bear pungent and sweet fruit that are often smaller than the fingernail on your pinky. You can still purchase “fraises de dois” at Parisian markets if the timing is right and they are simply superb. But better still is to pick the wild berries yourself. As a teenager, my brother-in-law would bring me to these wooded roadsides in Long Island, New York and we would crouch down and slowly harvest the most intensely flavored and sweet berries you have ever tasted. An hour’s work would yield perhaps two palms full of berries but to me it was time well spent. I later went on to harvest berries from farms but nothing beats the wild ones in my book.
Cultivated berries were first developed in the 19th century when a Virginian berry was crossed with a Chilean berry and several varieties have developed since. Rich in vitamins B and C, they are considered a relatively low calorie fruit. You can even eat them in Phase II of the South Beach Diet if you are on it.
The berries we grow in the Mountain province hark back to the American period when homesick Americans introduced all kinds of produce that would remind them of home. Strawberries adapted reasonably well and for the last 60+ years have been a standard tourist come-on in Baguio markets. I find that the berries peak in abundance in January or during the coolest months when temperatures in the farms upland hit roughly 50 degrees fahrenheit. The quantity and quality of berries seems highly dependent on the weather and amount of water in the growth stages of the plant. Some years they are really good and others just acceptable.
This year is a mediocre vintage in my opinion. But I love berries so much I don’t care. At just P100 for three small packages, these are a buy, buy, buy!!!. I buy six or nine packages, pick the best berries to eat dipped in chocolate or with cream while the less appealing looking berries are used for sauces, shakes, etc. My daughter and most kids I know seem to love the berries as well, so stock up and get those vitamins pumped into the kids. With berries, when it rains, it pours. Use them over sliced pound cake with thick or whipped cream, in tarts, drizzled with balsamic vinegar (the good stuff) or just sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Buy berries that look firm and have a bright color. The redder the better I think though my research suggests that there are many hues of berries that can be sweet and not red. Mold in the pack is a sign of age. Remove the berries from the plastic wrap and store loosely in a container (single layer) in the refrigerator. Wash and hull only before eating. If you wash the berries ahead of time they will spoil faster. After a day of two the berries don’t look so hot but they will still taste good. Throw them into the blender with milk and a banana for a yummy smoothie. Berries are in season now, head out to the markets and get some.