Wild strawberry time! This appears to be a bountiful berry year. The plants prefer poorer, more acidic soil in the wild fields where there is less competition from grasses. Conditions for growing strawberries have been excellent this year with plenty of early rain, then a nice spell of warm, sunny and humid. The wild berries are very large, the biggest I’ve seen them. And delicious.
When I was a child, I spent many patient hours in the hot sun, with deer flies and mosquitoes for company, picking wild strawberries for jam. It takes two quarts of berries for the recipe. That’s eight cups of tiny berries! My hands would be red by the time the bowl was full. Then all those berries had to be hulled, another tedious job. The end results were worth the effort. Wild strawberry jam is the best! Such a blending of piquant, rich, sweet flavors is not present in the more bland cultivated berries.
Strawberries are not really berries. The tasty red part is the enlarged center of the flower. The seed-like bits on the outside are the actual fruit. Wild strawberry, Fragaria virginiana, is a member of the Rose family and is native to North America. It grows in sun to partial shade, in dry, open areas. Strawberries tolerate mildly acidic soil.
The early settlers and pioneers of the plains encountered such a plethora of wild strawberries that the wheels of their wagons became stained red. I saw an original Conestoga wagon on display in a museum in Cooperstown, NY, with berry-stained wheels. The pioneer children would gather wild strawberries to add to the breakfast (and supper) griddle cakes.
Wild strawberries grow close to the ground, at a height of eight inches or less. Their fibrous perennial root systems send out long, tough, above-ground shoots called runners that take root on the far end and create new plants. A sizable patch of strawberries can form in this manner. There are areas in my fields covered with wild strawberries. Maybe I’ll relive a childhood experience and pick enough to make jam. Or not.