Historic Marshall Strawberries

 

Grow Oldies And Goodies For Fabulous Flavor

It’s not exactly news that heritage fruit and vegetables have been making a comeback, regionally and nationally. However, recently I’ve noticed a new level of passion for some of the old favorites, along with a hefty price tag. Here on Bainbridge Island, one of the most sought-after antique edibles is the Marshall strawberry. A century ago, largely because of this berry, Bainbridge Island was known as “the fruit basket of Puget Sound.” Many island acres were covered in berry fields, tended and harvested by Japanese, FIlipino, and Native American farmers.

In 1939, when King George IV and Queen Elizabeth made their tour of the British hinterlands, literal boatloads of Marshall strawberries sailed to Vancouver, bound for the royal luncheon table. When I first moved here, I met several people who remembered hand-packing over 800 crates of berries for that event. However, after WWII, the strawberry fields were largely abandoned and trees moved in. By the turn of this century, the reforested strawberry fields were covered with houses, and even on the remaining island farms, and those throughout the Northwest, the Marshalls were all but displaced by more uniform, shippable, and disease resistant varieties.

From Lost To Lustworthy

Today, Marshall strawberries are again highly sought after, considered by foodies to be the sweetest, most toothsome of their clan. Although Marshalls came to fame in the Pacific Northwest, they were bred in Massachusetts back in 1890. Carried across country by pioneers, they readily established in the maritime Northwest, where native strawberries also flourish. Much loved by locals, Marshalls proved very hard to transport, since the berries are so high in brix (natural sugars) that they decay all too quickly.

Until recently, only a handful of farmers and home gardeners (including me) continued to grow Marshalls in small quantities. Here on Bainbridge island, the local Historic Society grows a few plants, as do several island farmers. A food and farm education program for island school children grows some as well, but there are very few commercial sources for Marshalls, and most have very limited offerings (such as only one or two plants per customer) and boast several year waiting lists.

Food as Art?

Perhaps the most astonishing offer comes from an artist named Leah Gauthier, who decided to create a one-woman revival of the fabled Marshall strawberry. On her website (http://leahgauthier.bigcartel.com/) she offers hand raised Marshall berry plants grown from a start she obtained from the the USDA’s Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon (supposedly from the only remaining clone). Since at least a dozen islanders never stopped growing Marshalls, this seems a somewhat inflated claim, but whatever.

In 2004, a preservation group called RAFT (Renewing America’s Food Traditions) named the Marshall strawberry among most endangered foods in America. Gauthier, an art professor, started growing her single plant in 2007 and is now selling its offspring as a “limited edition” run. If you wish, you can purchase one of her 600 baby plants for $65 (including overnight shipping). Wow. Or you can let me know if you want to buy one of mine and we can dicker. A mere $50 per plant seems like a bargain, yes?

Strawberry Ice Cream For The Goddesses

Here’s what I just did with some of mine….

Marshall Strawberry Ice Cream

1 quart ripe strawberries (Marshall or any favorite type)
hulled and quartered
1/3 cup cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups heavy organic cream (I use Fresh Breeze)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
In a food processor, puree berries with 2 tablespoons sugar and the  salt. Add cream and vanilla and adjust sugar to taste. Chill mixture for at least an hour (overnight gives time for flavors to meld), then freeze in an ice cream maker. Serve at once, or pack into containers and freeze to desired consistency. Serves at least one.

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52 Responses to Historic Marshall Strawberries

  1. Dennis Van Buren says:

    In the early 1950’s ( I was 12), I would work for my uncle in the Canby Oregon area on his berry farm. They originally had 3 acres of strawberries.. 2 acres of Marshalls, 1 of Narcissas. They then grew a variety called Northwest then switched to Hoods. The Marshalls were the best, most flavorful of all but difficult to get to the fresh market.
    I now have a very small home on a very small lot in Woodburn Oregon, about 10 miles from the old family farm near Canby. I’d love to plant a few Marshalls if I could find them at a reasonable price just for my own use. Can you tell me where to get them??

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Dennis,

      I am not aware of any reasonably priced source, at least not yet. A few years back, several PNW mail order nurseries offered Marshalls for around $15/plant, with a limit of 2 per customer, and they had a 2 year wait list as I recall. I’d try the Corvallis USDA, since they were the source for the artist who is growing them for big bucks. She started in 2006 with one plant, as I did last year. Now she has 600 o sell and my plot holds about 2 dozen plants, with lots of runners. All you need is one!

      • Patty Hieb says:

        My husband and I recently bought a home on Vashon Island that was one of the island’s original berry farms in the early 1900s. Marshall strawberries were included in what they grew and the family has lovingly kept them growing all these years. I understand from an island pomologist that the ones on our property are the only virus-free Marshall strawberries on Vashon. Who knew? We are very excited to be growing them. I am planning to sell them at Vashon’s Farmers Market on Saturdays this spring if anyone in the area is interested.
        Pattyahieb@gmail.com

  2. Mary Michaud says:

    I am happy to see the attention the Marshall is getting. It is indeed delicious. However…. there is not need to spend $30 per plant that one individual is try to get. Myself and a others here in the PNW do grow marshalls. I am happy to send a few plants for just postage when I have babies available. email: dancermm@comcast.net

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Awesome! Marshalls will never become a commercial crops, since they don’t ship well, but you can’t beat them for home grown berries!

    • Nancy Gebhardt says:

      I remember picking Marshall strawberries every year when I was a kid in Oregon and Washington. They were our favorite. My mom who is now 87 sure would like to taste them again, so I would love to get a few plants to grow.

      • Ann Lovejoy says:

        Check your local farmer’s market this summer; these lovely berries are making a come-back in the Pacific Northwest, at any rate.

    • Cyrus Darling says:

      Hi Mary,
      Like everybody , I remember the great strawberries I picked at my uncles when I was a kid. I talked to my cousin who said they were Northwest and Marshalls. I was exicited to see they still existed.They were the best. It was interesting to hear of the sugar content because my cousin said they would pick the berries and deliver them to the cannery that night. He said the same as everybody, that they don’t keep well. I am starting to grow a garden, and if you find a source please contact me. Thanks

    • ken holmes says:

      i grew up picking Marshals outside Olympia, Wa. in the early/mid-50’s. 25 cents a 6/pack carrier.

      those small berries did not fill up empty space quickly, but oh-h-h-oh the taste !!!

      my wife just came home from the market with some huge beautiful local strawberries(Lynden, Wa.). after eating 2, i as always remarked, “I wish they tasted like Marshals”.

      i decided to look them up, and found you. i would like to grow a few for personal use. i simply can not afford $65-$35 a plant. if possible to secure a few from you, i would be eternally grateful and would pass on to others my good fortune.

      everyone should enjoy the taste of a Marshal at least once in their life!!!

      thanks for reading this long-winded message.

      ken holmes
      2608 madrona
      Bellingham, Wa. 98225

      holmes

      • Ann Lovejoy says:

        Hi Ken,

        You are right, Marshall’s really are the best! I’m not in the business of selling strawberries, but in a season or two, I am sure you will be able to buy some, since so many people are eager to try them again. As soon as I know of a source, I will be sure to post it.

        Ann

  3. Susan O'Shea says:

    I’m dreaming of some weird configuration of events to convey the Bainbridge Marshall strawberries of my childhood into my mouth. It’s one of the reasons I’ve retired to BI. Sigh. I’m in a wheelchair or I’d sneak in the night to steal one.

    Thanks for all you do, and good wishes for great harvests in the future.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Susan,

      Where do you live? I’ll bring you some starts when they get well rooted….

      Ann

      • Jena says:

        Hello Ann!

        Any chance that I could purchase some Marshall strawberry plants from you in the Spring? I tried to get some from that artist woman but she took my $135 and never sent the plants – can you believe it?

        Take care,
        Jean O’Neil

        • Ann Lovejoy says:

          Hi Jean,

          I am so sorry that happened! My best advice is to find a local nursery that orders from Log house Plants (a wholesale nursery) and ask them to order some for you this spring. Also, you might contact the Better Business Bureau and/or the Attorney General for the state the artist gal operates in; they may be able to help you get restitution. Best of luck!

        • Sherri says:

          Jean, I ordered a plant 2 years ago and had given up on getting it. It arrived last week. So you may receive yours still.

  4. Leah says:

    Hi Ann and everyone,

    So happy to hear we share the love of Marshall. Just wanted to say that I’m a single mom of a toddler trying to keep this whole thing going on my own, so I can’t afford to come out of pocket. Most of the funds go to the post office for overnight shipping and the rest to pay for gardening supplies, web design and maintenance, and etc. All very expensive when working organically and by hand. Next stage of the project is moving towards helping to organize hubs with our new growers so that folks can seek locally (as you all are doing) for plants to avoid shipping fees. My dream is in a few years there will be lots and lots of plants available everywhere, so any home grower who wants a Marshall can have one reasonably. Meanwhile, I would LOVE to interview anyone who remembers Marshalls from back when to share your stories and maybe recipes. Please email me if you are willing.

    Many thanks! Leah Gauthier

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Leah,

      Well, terrific! I’ll put you in touch with our local historian, who is a Marshall maven. Good luck!

    • Linda says:

      I grew up on a Strawberry Farm in Rochester WA. (from the 1940’s to 1964) The largest one out of all of them in the area. Marshalls, were by far, everyone’s favorite berry for flavor. Because of commercial issues in shipping, we eventually switched to the larger, firmer, Northwest variety and some Hoods. My dad had Parkinson’s Disease and was forced into having to give up the business. I was able to help them for about 2 years until I married and moved out of state. Oh, how I miss the flavor of the Marshall. Would love to try them again. At 71 and with health issues, not sure if that will come to fruition, but I can dream. There is nothing, like the Marshall flavor.

      • Ann Lovejoy says:

        Hope you find some soon; Log House Plants is growing them, so check the website for a retailer near you and ask them to order you some plants. Good luck!

        • Linda says:

          Thank you, Ann! I will see if I can get some through one of our Nurseries in the area. It appears several are able to purchase wholesale through Log House Plants. Again, thank you!

  5. Paul Staunton says:

    Hi and Greetings from Florida!!
    I am building (have built) a Strawberry tower from plastic milk crates with one strawberry plant per side. I use companion plants (marigolds, herbs, etc.) to keep the bugs away and the tower keeps the berries up out of the wet ground. I have 10 varieties coming from Burpee’s and 10 coming from Sakuma Brother’s. That gives me 20 varieties (June Bearing, Ever-Bearing and Alpine). I have just one or two plants of each variety.

    I have read about the Marshal Strawberry on various websites, and I would love to add this one to my growing collection. I love the story behind this gem!

    We are leaving for a 2 week vacation and won’t be back home until Sept 25, 2013.
    Is there someone who can sell us one (or two) of their Marshal plants to be mailed towards the end of the month? Obviously, I would be happy to pay the shipping costs and whatever costs you feel is reasonable.

    Many thanks and be safe
    Paul Staunton (pstaunton58@gmail.com)
    West Palm Beach, FL

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Paul,

      Sorry, I don’t sell Marshalls, but given the recent renewed national interest in them, I’m guessing that they will be back on the market pretty soon. Good luck!

      Ann

  6. Doug Larson says:

    I would love to buy Marshall strawberrys. I picked them on my uncles farm in silverton hills oregon.
    Would like to grow them in my garden
    Doug

  7. John Baillargeon says:

    During WWII, my Mother and Father turned their Seattle formal floral garden into a vegetable and fruit garden One area of about 50 x 50 feet was set aside for Marshall
    strawberry plants. 4″x4″ posts were sunk and over this entire bed was a old fishnet.
    My parents used to entertain many officers who were passing through town on the way to some theater of war.
    One young Lt. Commander had been stationed on a destroyer in the South Pacific. He said that he had dreamed about fresh strawberries all the time. He then asked my Mother if he could go into the strawberry patch and eat some. There he was, in dress white uniform sitting between rows blissfully eating these marvelous berries.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Great story! We use fishnet on our raised strawberry bed, to keep deer out. It worked pretty well until we forgot to mend it after the winter, and found a young deer standing inside the netting on the raised bed (about 4 feet above the ground), happily mowing down the strawberries. Argh!

  8. Selwyn Ramsay says:

    My son, Greg, built an ice cream store a year ago and makes his own ice cream. I have strong memories of the tastes of chocolate malts and strawberry ice creams that I loved then (70-80 years ago: 1930’s to 50’s), but can no longer find nor replicate. My daughter, Bonnie, told me that there was a strawberry called Marshall that was popular then, but is no longer used, and that it might have the flavor I remember. She sent me your blog. Is its flavor unique, and do you think it is what I seek?

    Sel

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Could be: the Marshall’s really do have a remarkable flavor, and fortunately, Log House Plants is now growing them so retail garden nurseries can stock them. They are delicate and don’t ship well, but make fantastic ice cream, so give them a try and see if they bring back memories!

  9. merrydancer says:

    I have had many folks request marshall strawberry starts in the past two years and I had quite a long waiting list for awhile but… I think I will have a some extra plants to send the end of April after sending to all the folks currently on the waiting list.

    I am still sending 3 plants per request for only the cost of priority shipping.. $5.95 (sm box, flat rate). I am very happy to see renewed interest in this delicious berry. Mary. Email: dancermm@comcast.net

  10. Cristóbal says:

    Is it possible to obtain a plant or seeds from this Strawberry from overseas?

    I would love to obtain and compare them to our native strawberry (chilean white strawberry) which also has a great reputation of being very tasty with a great aroma, so you could combine them and have an even better strawberry.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Cristobal,

      I don’t know of any seed source overseas but suspect if there is one, you might find it through the Brits, perhaps through Kew Gardens or the Royal Horticulture Society. Good luck!

  11. Patty S. says:

    Ann, just came across your wonderful blog! I have a Marshall story, too, but from Orange County, Calif. Growing up in Huntington Beach in the 1960’s, we had acres and acres of strawberry fields here, mostly owned by Japanese growers. I used to pick strawberries in the beginning of summer as a summer job, and it was the hardest job I ever did in my life! A good lesson for a 13 yo kid. One of the fields I picked grew the Marshall strawberry. I remember, because they were very fragile, and we had to be very careful filling the baskets only 1/2 full. I used to eat so many I would get a stomachache (amongst other not so pleasant side effects from eating too much fruit, but it was so worth it!) I would love to find a retailer down in San Diego county if I could, to buy the Marshall! Or, even drive up to Roger’s Gardens or the Plant Depot up in Orange County, if they carry the Marshall? Wow, what incredible memories they bring back.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Check the Log House Plants website for a retail nursery near you; I think Roger’s does buy from Log House. They can order you some, and you have a treat ahead of you!

      • Patty S. says:

        Thanks, Ann. Sadly, I tried both Roger’s Gardens and Plant Depot, and neither retailer has an account with Log House Plants. I hope one of their other retailers might be able to ship to me, but that would mean calling a rather long list of retailers, so I’ve emailed Log House Plants to see if they can assist me. I am staying hopeful!!

        • Ann Lovejoy says:

          Check the Log House Plants website for retailers near you; nobody nearer? Hope so, and good luck!

  12. Ron Caldwell says:

    Check the USDA site in Oregon which has plants from the original Marshall clones.
    They usually will send out 2 but be aware that they are fragile and will need to be potted for the first 6 months to a year. I don’t know about the genetic backdrop for what the Log Cabin outfit sells or what various people up in Washington State have found growing on their property but Strawberry plants are very friendly and easily cross with other varieties so if you want to be sure and get a true Marshall clone then start with the USDA clones.

  13. John S. Brewer says:

    Wow I thought maybe my fond memories of these awesome berries had grown beyond reality. I am 75 now and can still taste their fabulous flavor and feel them melting on my tongue. There are a few varieties that have a so so berry flavor. Most of those have been bred for trans-portability and shelf life. I love a crunchy apple bu a strawberry should all but dissolve in your mouth. Marshals were a commercial berry. They were however raised for local canneries and were processed very fast. They didn’t need shelf life. I hope I die before i forget how great the first few berries in the morning tasted or their sweet smell as the day warmed. Of course some of the older boys delighted in throwing berries at the girls they thought were cute. I couldnt waste a berry doing that. I felt guilty for eating so many thru the day. The people that hadthe berry farm we picked at were more like family than bosses. I learned early on if i messed up to bad I got “Grandma Morgans” switch. When I was little she struck fear in my heart. As a young adult I fished with them. They were the salt of the earth. We fished on the Colombia River for spring Chinook. Another Pacific Northwest gourmet food. I never will forget walking down from the highway and smelling the Morgans coffee brewing. I dont know how but no matter what time I showed up its was brewing. Ok i get to rambling when it comes to things I hold dear. Im thrilled to see Im not alone in my love of this berry.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      What a lovely, evocative story, thanks for sharing your sweet recollections and I hope you find a nursery that carries the Marshalls. They really are as good as you remember!

    • Deanna Waters says:

      John Brewer, that is a great memory! I have 3 old tin cans with golden insides that say “Marshall Strawberries 5lbs” on the lid. I bet they came from the same canneries you mention.
      I, too, hope you find more Marshalls to taste again!

  14. Clyde Carden says:

    I moved with my family from California in the early 60’s. We lived in Boring Oregon across from a field of marshall strawberries. Picking those strawberries was my first job. There is no smell from berry fields like there was from that field anymore!!!
    I’m grown now and have a farm that I’d just love to start growing the berries that I’ll never forget. Could you help me???

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Ask your local nursery to order some from Log House Plants (or put you on a waiting list). They are worth waiting for!

  15. Darrell Westover says:

    Thanks to the generosity of merry dancer and the Corvallis USDA , I have Marshal strawberries!! Currently I have about 45 plants in flower. They send out a ton of runners and will gladly give out some runners free if you can come to Maple Valley, WA. I am 86 years old , so I don’t ship plants and I don’t think runners would survive the mail. So what do I do next, Ann

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Darrell
      I think I’d get in touch with the local Master Gardeners or Historical Society or independent plant nursery and invite folks to share your bounty. Good work!

      • Kathleen Marshall says:

        Darrel, my name is Kathleen Marshall. I am a teacher docent at the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum. We are constantly sharing the Marshall strawberry story here in the museum with our visitors. We do MANY school tours and the children are very interested in the berries. I had purchased 20 plants when they chose not to grow them at the community garden here on the island. Sadly the deer discovered my raised garden bed and had strawberry plant salad for dinner or lunch on me. I would be most happy to work with you on bringing plants to the museum to raise or sell or share. My husband could pick them up for me as he is in Seattle and the Eastside daily.

        • Ann Lovejoy says:

          Hi there, I do not have extra plants but I saw quite a few escapees at the Historical Museum last week. Might be a good task for volunteers?

    • Shannon says:

      Hi Darryl,
      I’d love to make the trip to maple valley to collect a few runners! I’m a fairly new Bainbridge island resident and would love to be able to grow them here. If you’re still able to share some, please let me know when would be a good time to drive out to you. Thank you for your generosity!

    • Diane Blanchard says:

      Dearest Darrell,
      I am going to come to Maple Valley in a week or two. Around July 2nd. I must have a Marshall strawberry. I grew up on them and I’ve never seen them again. Please contact me asap. I will have the lost deliver payment to you at once. Please don’t forget me. Diane Blachard
      My cell number is 623-256-1695

  16. Margaret Ferris says:

    I read the wonderful story on Olympic berries. I would love to buy some plants for my yard with grandkids. Where could I find them?
    Thank you, Margaret Ferris

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Check with your local independent nursery and ask if they can order you some. Good luck!

    • Diane Blanchard says:

      Margaret, The Seattle Times came put with a story about the Historic Vashion Island Olympic BlackBerries in their Pacific Northwest Magazine.
      I am also looking for them. If you email me, I will let you know where I find them ok.
      If you find them, email me too alright? My email address is goingranny@gmail.com
      I am in search of Marshall Strawberry Starts and Olympic BlackBerries. Thank you

  17. Patty Hieb says:

    Hi there Marshall strawberry lovers and childhood pickers!
    I wrote a note on Ann’s blog here a few years ago after buying what used to be an old Marshall farm on Vashon island. A Croatian family started the farm in the early 1900s. Over the decades the Marshalls in the NW seemed to have nearly died out. The little girl who grew up on the farm came back years later to retire on the property and was sad that Marshalls were no longer available. She obtained some seeds from a government repository (that no longer has seeds nor plants) and she grew Marshalls again but kept them to herself. When later buying her property, islanders from the local fruit club inundated me with plant requests. And they along with island farmers suggested that I sell them at the Vashon farmers market to replenish the variety. So even though I had other things to do, I felt a bit of an obligation to steward the plants. It was suggested that I sell them in 4″ pots for $5 which I have been doing now each April and May for the last 4 years. Crazy Marshall mania has struck people all up and down the West Coast to drive here and buy them. Also, the Ark of Taste has them listed as one of the top 20 best foods. It didn’t help that my name was included in the recent Seattle Times article about Olympic berries (which I also have). I have requests from all around the world for both berry plants. Note: Although I am happy to sell Marshall strawberry plants every spring, I am not a nursery, nor do I have enough Olympic berry plants to share. And although that article was lovely and a story that the author thought interesting to share (which it is), my experience is that the Olympic berries are very much like blackberries. I would eat my loganberries, raspberries or marionberries hands down over Olympic berries. Also, our delicious blackberries here in the NW are much bigger and juicier. But for interested folks in Marshall strawberry plants, contact me next Spring as I will be selling them for probably another year at the Vashon farmers market in April and May. I thought I had finally saturated the area in the last few years, but I still get email requests from folks who want to come and buy some. They are tasty and I am happy to do it. ~ Patty Hieb pattyahieb@gmail.com

    PS. Because of the Seattle Times article on the Olympic berry, I have received over 400 emails requesting them. Again, I do not have extra plants, am not taking cuttings nor rooting them for folks. I do have another life beyond berries. 🙂 So please don’t email me requesting Olympic berry plants. Try some loganberries, marionberries or have a hot date with some blackberries next month. Delicious!

    Thanks Ann, for the conversation!

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