Monday, June 20, 2011

How to Make your Urine Smell of Violets

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
They're fiddly to pick - I guess it would take most of the day to pick enough for a jar of jam - but sun-warmed wild strawberries Fragaria vesca have a wonderful flavour and aroma that's superior to the taste of most chiller-cabinet cultivated strawberries from the supermarket. According to the herbalist John Gerard, writing in 1597, ripe strawberries "quench thirst, and take away, if they be often used, the rednesse and heate of the face" - just the thing, then, if you're baking in the sun watching the tennis at Wimbledon. On the other hand, if it's raining, he also recommended water distilled from the plant mixed with white wine for "reviving the spirits, and making the heart merry" which I suspect had more to do with the wine than with the plant. Writing nearly 180 years later, the botanist and physician William Withering was clearly a strawberry devotee: "The berries either eaten alone, or with sugar, or with milk, are universally esteemed a most delicious fruit. They are grateful, cooling, subacid, juicy, and have a delightful smell. Taken in large quantities they seldom disagree. They promote perspiration, impart a violet smell to the urine, and dissolve the tartarous incrustacions of the teeth." The British native wild strawberry played no part in the parentage of the cultivated strawberry - which is a hybrid of North and South American species that you can read about here - and by the time that he wrote this, in 1776, Withering may well have been eating the much larger fruits of the New World species, which by then had become popular.

8 comments:

  1. I just read your older blog about the genesis of the modern strawberry. How fascinating - and how sad that all those other exotically-flavoured strawberries were lost. Makes you wonder how much is being lost today in places like the Amazon rainforest and Borneo that we will never get the chance to know about.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Phil

    Some of the 'original' flavours from the wild species survive in the cultivated forms. I've been working as a strawberry breeder at East Malling, Kent for 11 years now and only today experienced pineapple, banana, pepper, melon and stilton (!) flavours within the our seedling population. We have a number of 'aromatic' selections in our germplasm collection but they have yet to find acceptance with the major retailers. If you ever want any material or info then drop me a line.

    Adam

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Adam, Thanks for the information! That's amazing! Back in the late 1980s I briefly worked on a strawberry breeding project related to ripening characteristics and we assembled a substantial collection then but never paid much attention to flavour. The project foundered for financial reasons very quickly but I found them to be a fascinating crop. I used to keep a few of the collection in my garden, including one with fruits that we held almost vertically on a stout stem. All the best, Phil

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi ferenland, it seems that some of the flavours that I thought were lost have survived - see correspondence with Adam!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Some years ago I dined on a steak which had a peppery strawberry sauce accompaniment. I assumed at the time the pepper had been added.....perhaps not.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Well, well..a strawberry stall near public utilities in India would be a good idea! I had collected and eaten a lot of wild strawberries in the Himalayas last year, and they had a wonderful flavour.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi Adrian, I have heard that black pepper added to strawberries intensifies the strawberry flavour but have never tried it.... but now you've reminded me I will!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'd love to taste the Himalayan strawberries lotusleaf...

    ReplyDelete