Strawberries-art - 9/5/09
"Strawberrie Season" by Johnnae llyn Lewis, CE.
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Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
by Johnnae llyn Lewis, CE
My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn,
I saw good strawberries in your garden there.
I do beseech you send for some of them.
The Tragedy of Richard the Third.
III, iv, lines 31-33.
Any one who pays attention to local farmer's markets and seasonal farm stand produce knows that the very special fresh Strawberrie Season is almost upon us. Strawberries are one of those plants that are native to both the Old World and the New World. Wild strawberries ranged across ancient Europe, Asia, and North America. In the medieval period, the berries of the small native strawberry, (Fragaria vesca) of England, were gathered by hand from wild plants growing in the local woods and forests. The fruit might also be gathered from small beds established in kitchen gardens through the transplanting of entire plants. With better care, mulching, and fertilizer, these domesticated plants often flourished, and if the plants failed to thrive, housewives simply gathered more plants and replanted the beds. For several centuries various agricultural treatises would remind housewives that September was the time for this activity:
Wife into thy garden, & set me a plot,
with strawbery rootes, of the best to be got.
Such growing abrode, among thornes in ye wood
wel chosen & pyeked, proue excellent good.
Tusser, Thomas. Fiue hundreth points of good husbandry. London: 1573.
Besides the native wild strawberry, there were a number of varieties available for transplanting and experimentation in kitchen gardens. By the sixteenth century botanists were describing in detail and working with a white strawberry, (F. sylvestris alba), which was common to the mountains near Baden Switzerland and an everbearing strawberry, (F. sylvestris semperflorens), which flowered and fruited in the Alps throughout the growing season. This season often lasted from late spring into November. Also the Alps were the home of the wood strawberry (F. silvestris), which yielded small fruits with an intense taste; there was also a type called a musk strawberry (F. moschata), which was native to northern Europe and Siberia. Cultivation of it began in the sixteenth century. The work with these varieties was complicated by the fact that some of these varieties do not produce runners or adapt readily to domestication. Many also could not be crossed to produce hybrids. The picture soon grew even more complicated. Soon after 1600, the Virginia strawberry (F. virginiana) of North America was imported into Europe. Descriptions of these Virginian berries growing wild include passages such as: ". . . great fields and woods abounding with Strawberies much fairer and more sweete then ours, . . . "
Hamor, Ralph. A true discourse of the present estate of Virginia and the successe of the affaires there till the 18 of Iune. 1614. published 1615.
This strawberry was crossed with native European berries with some measured success. Early in eighteenth century, newly arrived Chilean strawberry plants (F. chiloensis), native to the Pacific beaches of North and South America were introduced. These Chilean imports were then crossed with the Virginia strawberry (F. virginiana) that had been growing in Europe for the past century. This all New World American hybrid proved superior in flavor and size and was then adopted all over Europe. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries numerous improved strawberry cultivars were developed that offered even better disease resistance and were better adapted to various soil types and climatic conditions. Modern strawberries (Fragaria X ananassa) are the result of this work. For those that would like to experiment with a combination of modern local berries and medieval or Elizabethan methods, here are some recipes:
Cxxiij - Strawberye. Take Strawberys, and waysshe hem in tyme of there in gode red wyne; than strayne thorwe a clothe, and do hem in a potte with gode Almaunde mylke, a-lay it with Amyndoun other with the flowre of Rys, and make it chargeaunt and lat it boyle, and do ther-in Roysonys of coraunce, Safroun, Pepir, Sugre grete plente, pouder Gyngere, Canel, Galyngale; poynte it with Vynegre, and a lytil whyte grece put ther-to; coloure it with Alkenade, and droppe it a-bowte, plante it with the graynys of Pome-garnad, and than serue it forth.
Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books. Edited by Thomas Austin. (England, 1430)
To make a tarte of strawberyes
To make a tarte of strawberyes. Take and strayne theym wyth the yolkes of foure egges, and a lyttle whyte breade grated, then season it up wyth suger and swete butter and so bake it.
A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye. (England, mid-16th c.)
To make conserue of Strawberies, With the vertue of the same. chapter. xxx.
Take Strawberies .i. quart clene picked and washed, set them on the fyre til they be soft, strain them put thereto two times as much suger in powder, as waight of the strawberies, let them seeth tyll the suger be incorporated wt ye straberis put it in a Glasse or earthen Pot well glased.
The vertue of the same. The conserue of Strawberies is good against a hot liuer, or burning of the stomack, and specially in the seruent heate of an ague.
Thus [also] make conserue of Damasins and Prunes.
Partridge, John, fl. 1566-1573. The Treasurie of Commodious Conceits, & Hidden Secrets. 1573.
To make a Tarte of Staweberries.
VVAsh your strawberies, and put them into your Tarte, and season them with suger, synamom and ginger, and put in a litle red wine into them.
To make a Tarte of Strawberies.
Take Strawberies and wash them in claret wine, thicke and temper them with rosewater, and season them with Sinamom, suger and ginger, and spread it on the Tart and endore the sides with butter, and cast on suger and biskets and serue them so. Dawson, Thomas.
The Good Husvvifes Ievvell. [Jewel]. 1587.
Tarte of Strawberies.
Seson your Strawberyes with sugar, a very little Sinamon, a little ginger, and so cover them with a cover, and you must lay upon the cover a morsell of sweet Butter, Rosewater and Sugar, you may Ice the cover if you will, you must make your Ice with the white of an egge beaten, and Rosewater and Sugar.
A Book of Cookrye. (England, 1591)
A German recipe for a strawberry tart reads:
To make a strawberry tart
89 To make a strawberry tart. Make a pastry shell and let it become firm in the tart pan. Afterwards take strawberries and lay them around on top as close together as possible, after that sweeten them especially well. Next let it bake a short while, pour Malavosia over it and let it bake a while, then it is ready.
Das Kuchbuch der Sabina Welserin. (Germany, 16th century - V. Armstrong, trans.)
A later 17th century recipe, which still includes the spices, reads:
To make a Tart of Strawberries.
13 Wash your Strawberries, and put them into your Tart, season them with Sugar, Cinnamon, Ginger, and a little red Wine, then close it, and bake it half an hour, ice it, scrape on Sugar, and serve it.
Kent, Elizabeth Grey, Countess of. A Choice Manual of Rare and Select Secrets. 1653.
29. To make gelly ouf Straw-berries, Mulberies, Raspberries, or any such tender fruit.
Take your berries, and grinde them in an Alabaster Mortar, with foure ounces of Sugar, and a quarter pint of faire water, and as much Rose-water: and so boil it in a posnet with a little peece of Isinglasse, and so let it run through a fine cloth into your boxes, and so you may keepe it all the yeere.
Plat, Hugh. Delightes for Ladies. 1609.
One favorite method of eating strawberries today is to simply eat the fresh berries with cream or with sugar and cream. Thomas Dawson actually warns "beware of Cow cream and of Strawberies," but other authors seem to endorse the practice. The combination is mentioned in various texts, including Thomas Hill's famous gardening treatise where his advice reads:
The Berries in the Sommer tyme, eaten wyth Creame and Sugar, is accompted a greate refreshing to men, but more commended, beyng eaten wyth Wine and Sugar, for on suche wise, these maruellouslye coole and moisten Chollericke stomackes or suche beyng of a Cholericke complexion.
Hill, Thomas and Henry Dethick. The Gardeners Labyrinth. 1577
In poetry and art the strawberry was seen as that perfect fruit that could represent the Virgin. The flowers and red fruit represented both the blood of martyrdom and the white of purity. The three-fold leaves or trefoil of leaves represented the trinity. Of course the painter Hieronymus Bosch (1453?-1516) turned that imagery upside down. In his The Garden of Earthly Delights, Bosch depicts nude people of both sexes cavorting with giant strawberries.
In poetry, Spencer's Fairie Queene, contains a passage that reflects upon gathering wild strawberries in the woods:
One day as they all three together went
To the greene wood, to gather strawberies,
There chaunst to them a dangerous accident;
Fairie Queene, book vi. canto x. stanza 34
Foodwise, Sir Philippe Sidney describes a milk-white horse as having scattered red marks "as when a few strawberies are scattered into a dish of creame." [The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, written by Sir Philippe Sidnei. 1590] Again it's more support for the eating of strawberries with cream. Another poetic passage from the 1590's that speaks of strawberries and cream:
Or wilt thou drinke a cup of new-made Wine
Froathing at top, mixt with a dish of Creame;
And Straw-berries, or Bil-berries in their prime,
Bath'd in a melting Sugar-Candie streame:
Barnfield, Richard. The Affectionate Shepheard. 1594.
It seems fitting to end with this rather odd seventeenth century quotation on strawberries. The source is not any of the cookery books or herbals or even dietaries. It appears in the classic Izaak Walton work on angling.
The text there reads: ". . . we may say of angling, as Dr. Boteler said of strawberries, 'Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did!'" The saying is attributed to Dr. Boteler and found in The Compleat Angler by Izaak
Walton and Charles Cotton. 1655. 5th edition. 1676.
It can only be repeated that no better berry existed then or now.
A Book of Cookrye. (England, 1591).
Collett-Sandars, W. "Strawberries." The Gentleman's Magazine. CCXLV. 1879: v. 23, pt. 2. pp. 109-123. [online at Google Books.]
Darrow, George. The Strawberry: History, Breeding and Physiology. 1965. Full-text of the original book online at:
Fisher, Celia. The Medieval Flower Book. London: The British Library, 2007.
Das Kuchbuch der Sabina Welserin. Trans: V. Armstrong. (Germany, 16th century)
Plat, Hugh. Delightes for Ladies. 1609.
A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye. (England, mid-16th c.) http://www.uni-giessen.de/gloning/tx/bookecok.htm
Reich, Lee. "Strawberries." The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Ed. Gordon Campbell. Oxford University Press, 2003.
Spencer. Fairie Queene.
Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books. Edited by Thomas Austin. (England, 1430).
Butler or Boteler saying attributed to Dr. Boteler and found in numerous editions of The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton. 1655, including the 5th ed. 1676.
Hieronymus Bosch painting:
Use was made of EEBO-TCP and Doc's Medieval Cookery website <www.medievalcookery.com> in the preparation of this article.
Information on Michigan berries can be found at:
Michigan State University maintains the MSUE Strawberry Information Center at:
The University of Illinois maintains a similar site at:
Copyright 2009 by Johnna H. Holloway. <Johnna at mac.com>. Please don't reprint without permission from the author.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.