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Every Tuesday at 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m., Tom Harte shares a few thoughts on food and shares recipes. A founder of “My Daddy’s Cheesecake,” a bakery/café in Cape Girardeau, a food columnist for The Southeast Missourian, and a cookbook author, he also blends his passion for food with his passion for classical music in his daily program, The Caffe Concerto.

A Harte Appetite: California Strawberries

flickr user Neil Conway (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

I like to visit Southern California in February...escaping Missouri's winter weather. But good weather isn't the only advantage attendant to being in California. I think the biggest advantage may be that the strawberry season there begins in January and is practically year-round.

Coastal California's unique setting makes it the perfect place to grow strawberries. In fact, the strawberry yield per acre there surpasses that of any other growing area. No wonder the state supplies more than 85% of the strawberries consumed in this country (about 1 billion pounds annually) enough to circle the globe about 15 times.

California's dominance in the field of strawberries is due largely to research done at the University of California where scientists were also instrumental in nurturing the state's wine industry to world-wide prominence. There also half a century ago pomologists began a strawberry breeding program. Even so, Californians are still relative newcomers to the business of growing strawberries for strawberries have been around for well over 2,000 years. They were growing wild in Italy as early as 234 B.C.

Being indigenous to the new world, as well as to the old, strawberries were already established in Virginia by the time the first Europeans arrived in 1588. Turns out it may have been the American Indians who were actually responsible for the invention of strawberry shortcake. They introduced the colonists to a bread make of crushed strawberries and cornmeal which some food historians claim was the precursor to the celebrated dessert.

In fact, the sorts of strawberries being cultivated today go back only a few hundred years. For centuries before that the only strawberries available were wild. Fortunately, thanks to the California strawberry industry we no longer have to traipse into the woods to satisfy our strawberry cravings.

Tom Harte is a retired faculty member from Southeast Missouri State University where he was an award-winning teacher, a nationally recognized debate coach, and chair of the department of Speech Communication and Theatre.
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