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.