Throughout the month of March it was pretty exciting to see the rainy weather continue, though the rain didn’t bring complete joy to the local farmers and those of us who love local berry crops. The strawberry fields took a hard hit from the rough weather – most of the fruit on the plants were damaged and the flowers knocked off. Strawberry plants like to drink their fair share of water, but most of the growers use drip tape and get the water directly to the root systems. Now that this beautiful weather is upon us, April is setting up to be a sensational local strawberry month!
There is an abundance of strawberries in almost any grocery store you walk into this time of year, so what makes the strawberries at Bi-Rite Markets so special? The answer is simple: the farmers who grow them. We are fortunate to work closely with about 12 different local farms that will be harvesting extra sweet, juicy strawberries from April until October – the types of strawberries you usually find only at farmers’ markets and restaurants. Most of the strawberries that are sold at supermarket chains are harvested before they peak in flavor so that they are sturdier and can travel long distances, but farms like Tomatero Organic Farm and Live Earth Farm in Watsonville harvest their berries when the fruit has its most delicate texture, offering the ultimate sweetness. It’s true that perfectly ripe berries might have the tendency to breakdown quicker than under-ripe berries, but these strawberries are delivered to Bi-Rite within 24 hrs of harvest so our guests can get them home in the looking – and tasting – beautiful.
The most common strawberry grown in California is the Albion variety; commercial growers love them because the plants produce large, firm fruit and when harvested a bit early they still have the high sugar content. Bluehouse Farm in Pescadero also grows Albion strawberries, but the combination of the perfect coastal climate, healthy, rich soil, and farmers that touch their plants every day leads to extra sweet flavor and a big juicy berry that melts in your mouth. One of the benefits of working with a bunch of different growers in the Bay Area is that it allows us get a fresh delivery almost every day of the week and to taste how the same variety of strawberries grown in diverse climates and soil can differ slightly in texture and flavor.Swanton Berry Farm, located in Davenport, is a leader in workers’ rights; Swanton started growing organic strawberries in 1987 and has been growing high quality strawberries ever since. One of the things that makes Swanton unique is that they mainly grow the Chandler variety, an exceptionally flavored berry with a delicate and soft texture, not typically seen on the commercial market because they are so delicate. Most of the farmers we work with have a specialty variety or two that they bring us so that we treat our guests. Oak Hill Farm in Sonoma grows everyone’s favorites, the Mara De Bois Strawberry. This variety is small and tantalizing with a bright sweet flavor that seems to change from one berry to the next. This berry usually doesn’t hit the Bi-Rite shelves until mid-summer.
And don’t forget the Creamery! Every year we eagerly await strawberries to come into season so that the Creamery can begin its production of Balsamic Strawberry ice cream. We only make this flavor when strawberries are in full season and coming to us from our local growers such as Swanton Berry Farm and Live Earth Farms. We roast our strawberries at a low temperature with sugar and organic balsamic vinegar to reduce the water content and to intensify the flavor of the berries. We then add the berries to our organic ice cream base and turn it into this eagerly anticipated flavor. Balsamic Strawberry pairs perfectly with Ricanelas, Basil or Chocolate – look for Balsamic Strawberry returning around April 15! It may just be the beginning of local strawberry season but the flavors are already sensational! Stop by the Markets to taste the freshest, highest-quality strawberries of the season.