Strawberries in winter? Welcome to franken-season

Producers and supermarkets are weakening our link with the natural world

Related Topics

In the claustrophobic depths of winter, when it has been raining for days on end and the light melts away in mid-afternoon, it is hard to remember how summer feels. It seems impossible to imagine that thing most associated with the British summer – the smell and taste of the first strawberry of the season, ripened and warmed in sunshine.

But from next year, according to Sainsbury’s and Wellings Nursery in Essex, we will have to imagine no longer. British strawberries will be on supermarket shelves in December, so we can eat them with our Christmas pudding and turkey. So we can not only enjoy them as we watch Andy Murray at Wimbledon, but also as we vote for him on the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year.

How? Because researchers have been able to grow strawberries in mid-winter using a combination of blue and red LED lighting, which tricks the plants into thinking it’s spring. Such lights artificially extend the hours of daylight in the nursery’s greenhouses, and plants that would have died back in autumn carry on producing fruit through the winter. The goal, says Peter Czarnobaj, product technologist of soft fruit at Sainsbury’s, is “to offer our customers a British strawberry all year round”. The result will be 30 tonnes of extra fruit, worth £100,000, ripening for our shelves – that’s going to need a lot of cream.

As much as I try to wring every last drop of light and warmth out of the year for my fruit and vegetable growing (as I write, there are some broad bean plants fighting for life as they shelter from the rain and gales under a cold frame), the idea of British strawberries in winter appals me, and it is not just because those weaned under glass or a polytunnel (in either summer or winter) are a bland, mushy imitation of those that are ripened under the sun.

It also shows how producers and supermarkets are furthering our disassociation from the seasons and eroding our ability to enjoy food that grows naturally in different months of the year. By pandering to an ever-tasteless (in more ways than one) palate, the food industry is not celebrating British produce but helping to kill it off. Giving consumers British strawberries at all times weakens our link with the changing year, turning us even further away from seasonal, less popular fruits like damsons, quinces and plums that are naturally ripe and juicy in winter. Sainsbury’s is striving for the “goal” of the year-round strawberry, but production in apples native to Britain – like Cox’s Orange Pippin – has halved since 1985. Again, this is because producers and supermarkets want to pander to consumers’ tastes, allowing less distinctively-flavoured apples like Golden Delicious (a mis-named variety if ever there was one) to dominate supermarket fruit sections.

I accept that British summers are often wet and cold, meaning many of the strawberries available in supermarkets are already grown under glass or plastic. Does the winter-grown strawberry really make any difference, then? In a way, it does not – but the point is that both would not produce the incomparable taste of a sun-ripened strawberry.

I accept that, as the outgoing National Farmers Union president Peter Kendall said in his new year’s message, the British food industry needs support. But wouldn’t it be more sustainable for food and farming to focus efforts on production of seasonal crops? As the expression goes, we should sip, rather than gulp, our pleasures. We may have to wait months for the taste of a true, sun-ripened British strawberry, but it is well worth the wait.

Learning to cook? One pledge worth sticking to

One day into 2014, and I wonder how many new year’s resolutions have already been cast aside? If I were to look at my list of supposed commitments from 20 years ago, I am sure it would be the same as the one I should have written this year, with losing weight at the top.

There seems to be no point in making a list at all, because the year will only end in  failure. So instead, this time, rather than vowing to give things up, perhaps we could all pledge to take up something new? Missing out on things seems so negative; adding to our own box of tricks is far more positive.

For me, I am, after 40 years of  relying on those I live with to cook for me, and inspired by a pasta-maker I got for Christmas, going to learn how to do it myself. Damson ravioli, anyone?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Manager

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced marketeer is req...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager - Enterprise, M2M & IOT Hardware

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager - Enterprise, M2M & IOT Hardware

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Food Production / Operations Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a large and well ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Now they’re using Game of Thrones to sell Shakespeare. And there’s nothing wrong with that

David Lister
Ukip MEP Janice Atkinson (left) with party leader Nigel Farage  

Hey, Nigel Farage and Kerry Smith – my family are East Enders too and never use that word

Victoria Richards
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas