Dietribes: Strawberries

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A truly international fruit, the modern strawberries we feast upon today come from an accidental hybrid of North and South American species by way of Europe in the 18th century, although many varieties of the plant were enjoyed as far back as ancient Greece and Rome. Here are some facts and figures relating to this most beloved berry:

1. William Butler (1535-1618) once said, "Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did." Apparently many people agree, because Americans eat 3.4 pounds of fresh strawberries a year, plus another 1.8 pounds frozen. California produces 75% of the nation's strawberry supply, yielding 21 tons of strawberries per acre among the 23,000 acres of strawberries planted in California each year. Strawberry fields, indeed, forever.

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3. Fans of this delectable fruit are in good company. France's King Louis XI held a poetry competition to compose the best ode to the Strawberry. The winner:

"Quand de juin s'éveille le mois / Allez voir les fraises des bois / Qui rougissent dans la verdure / Plus rouge que le vif corail / Balançant comme un éventail / Leurs feuilles a triple découpure."

["When the month of June comes in, go and see the wood strawberries blushing red among the greenery, redder than bright coral, their three-lobed leaves spreading like a fan."] June is an excellent time to consume strawberries, although in the U.S., May is National Strawberry Month.

4. The French are big fans of the strawberry, even attempting to trademark its scent. (The company who attempted failed, but did manage to trademark the scent of freshly cut grass.) Farther back, Thérésa Tallien, a powerful figure during the French Revolution (nicknamed Our Lady of Thermidor), used to take baths full of strawberries "“ allegedly 22 pounds of them "“ for the beautification of her skin.

5. Strawberries figure prominently in literature and in lore. In Othello, Desdemona's handkerchief is decorated with images of the fruit. Despite being considered a symbol of Venus because of its heart shape and red color, strawberries are sometimes seen negatively, as in the case of Anne Boleyn, who is rumored to have sported a strawberry-shaped birthmark on her neck that some claimed proved she was a witch.

6. Used medicinally in the past (including its leaves and roots), the strawberry has been said to soften skin, whiten teeth, and alleviate symptoms of infections, gout, diseases of the blood, fainting and melancholy, probably because (as we now know) strawberries contain antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and a hearty dose of Vitamin C.

If you think you are the master of strawberry-related facts, try our vintage quiz.

Dietribes will appear every Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.