Kitchen Garden: Everbearing strawberries touted as the best

Big, bland and boring. That’s the typical modern strawberry. Firm-fleshed for easy shipping, it offers little excitement. No wonder people dip it in chocolate. Compare it to a home-grown berry and it will be disappointing. Sample a tiny wild strawberry, smaller than a pea, or the slightly larger alpine strawberry which gardeners can grow from seed, and the contrast is heartbreaking. But it’s rare to harvest more than a cupful of these beauties.

The French have no such dilemma. They feast heartily on a modern variety called Mara des Bois whose taste is nearly as sublime as that of an alpine, but more than a tantalizing amuse-bouche. Its soft, delicate fruits are a normal small-to-medium size. It was bred by Jacques Marionet in 1991 from four older varieties with the goal of achieving complex, intense flavor. Its season in France is late August and on into fall. A friend who hikes in the Alps in September rhapsodizes about its appearance in market towns.

The first time we ever grew Mara des Bois, in 2008, we were in strawberry heaven. A bed planted in our small home greenhouse in mid-fall yielded healthy plants that started to produce early in spring. Since this is an everbearing variety, it is designed to bloom and fruit all season, weather permitting. There’s a bit of a catch. The plants, though sun-loving, are stressed by intense heat, humidity, wind or stagnant air. But one taste absolves them of this princess-like behavior.

This year I planted them outdoors, just like any strawberry, and I count on our cool coastal summer to make them feel at home.

Mara des Bois were nearly unheard of in the United States when we put in our first crop. The best (and possibly the only) source of plants was a forward-looking company called Wicked Wilds in Solana Beach, Calif., so we had them shipped from there. But this year, there they were at Surry Gardens, in Surry, Maine. Three cheers for local!

The first flowers have appeared, and I am about to pick off the very first ones, so that the ones to come in each cluster will get more of the plants’ energy. I’m going to pay a lot of attention to them. The first fruits may be on the small side, but with a concentrated flavor. Treated well, they will increase in vigor over the years, and since they make runners, I will be able to expand the growing area over time. And no doubt I will.


Barbara Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.”

Barbara Damrosch

Barbara Damrosch

Barbara Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Gardener’s Cookbook.”

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