In memoriam: the British strawberry

Related Topics
Make the most of the strawberries at Wimbledon this week. Even if they cost you 18 pence each - as they did last year - they will at least be English. The native strawberry is about to become a threatened minority.

In 1996 only half the strawberries consumed here were home-grown. The amount of land given over to strawberry cultivation is in decline. On the past decade's trends it will not be long before watery foreign imports outnumber the indigenous. In fact, home-grown varieties of strawberry were replaced long ago: three-quarters of all the strawberries sold here are now the single type known as the Elsanta, developed in Holland 15 years ago.

Elsanta is the supermarket dream fruit: bright appearance, long shelf- life and glossy, firm skin. It can be transported long distances without bruising. Its huge berry makes it quick and cheap to pick. It also has a number of drawbacks. Time for a jeremiad on the dynamics of modern consumerism.

First, this kind of fruit encourages the supermarkets in their strategy of centralised warehousing systems which means that, even if the berries are grown locally, they must travel miles to a regional warehouse and then back to the supermarket. Trips of 100 miles are not uncommon.

But more than that, the majority of our strawbs now come from the south of Spain which means a 1,000-mile journey by lorry, adding further to road traffic, the fastest-growing source of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.

This is not to mention the berries which arrive from Kenya, Zimbabwe, Australia and even, across 13,000 miles, from New Zealand - air transport using 37 times more fuel than carriage by road.

That is not even the most grievous environmental cost. To kill off soil and leaf disease, most growers have abandoned techniques like integrated pest management or crop rotation and resorted to the use of the chemical methyl bromide which greatly increases the rate at which the ozone layer is destroyed. Firms such as Sainsbury's are researching alternatives, but none have yet been found. Pesticide residues, albeit at approved levels, were found in 88 per cent of berries sampled recently by SAFE, the Sustainable Agriculture Food and Environment Alliance.

Then there is the question of jobs. Chemical-dependent cultivation is less labour-intensive than the old ways. Greengrocers close in the face of competition from the supermarkets as demand declines for the locally grown fruit which is more likely to be found in the corner shop.

Some of my complaint is just aesthetic. The attraction of any seasonal delicacy is diminished when it is available the year round. (This month, incidentally, is the time for eating peas from the pod. And we are coming up to a good time for wild salmon: when the posh demand from Henley, Ascot and Wimbledon is over, there are good quantities on the market for about another month at more reasonable prices.) But the main thing is the taste of these woody, watery abominations which masquerade as the delight of which a friend of Izaak Walton once said: "Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did."

It does not have to be thus. There are 60 or more strains of strawberry under cultivation in Europe, and in this country - even if the musky hautboy berry which Jane Austen pronounced as "infinitely superior" has vanished - in some pick-your-own farms, renowned older varieties such as Cambridge Late Pine and Sir Joseph Paxton survive amid others such as Cambridge Rival and Cambridge Favourite. In private gardens it is still possible to find the delicious Royal Sovereign or Honeoye, Tenira, Kouril and Aromel which are all too much trouble for large-scale production. Aficionados can seek out organic growers who are concentrating on good old varieties such as Cambridge Vigour and Hapill which give off the most tremendous smell and taste as strawberries used to.

It would be good to think that consumer pressure is forcing a reappraisal by the supermarkets. Alas, not. Indeed, they are moving in the opposite direction. God might not have been able to make a better berry, but the genetic engineers are already working on the project of the perfect strawberry all year round: a case of strawberry yields for ever. And global warming will doubtless mean that we will be able to grow huge quantities of it. Enjoy!

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions