The colorful and sweet strawberry has always been considered a tasty treat and held in high esteem by our taste buds. The strawberry plant belongs to the rose family. The plant grows close to the ground, and has a short woody stem. Strawberry leaves grow on the stem in groups of three. The plant has a shallow root system and small white flowers that have a pleasant odor. The greenish white fruits turn to a rich red color when they ripen. Many speculate how the luscious fruit came into being. It is known that the strawberry goes back as far as the Romans and perhaps even to the Greeks.
The strawberry plant was originally grown in Northern Europe, but wild species are also found in Russia, Chile, and North America. At one time wild strawberries grew everywhere from Canada to the Carolinas and westward beyond the Appalachian Mountains. The Native Americans and our pioneer ancestors descended upon the dewy wild strawberry meadows in the early summer morning.
Wild strawberries were reportedly a favorite food of Daniel Boone who walked miles out of his way to spend an hour in a ripe berry patch. Thomas Jefferson's letters and papers abound with references to wild strawberries and he collected many strawberry recipes and noted other culinary uses for strawberries in his writings.
A day of "strawberrying" before modern refrigeration meant a long day of picking followed by gorging on delicious strawberry treats - pies, tarts, shortcake and all the fresh ripe strawberries the family could consume. Berries that were not eaten were preserved as jam, jelly, sauce, strawberry vinegar and strawberry tonic, a medicinal drink. The remaining berries were dried on flat rocks for several days. These dried berries would be used throughout the fall and winter in breads, cakes, puddings and porridge.
The first American species of strawberry was cultivated in about 1835. Today, the strawberry is the leading small fruit crop in the U.S. It is farmed from Florida to Alaska, with the largest strawberry growing centers located in California and Florida.
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