Alekk M. Saanders
Monday, 13 November 2023, 13:18
There is nothing better... taking home a punnet of freshly picked wild strawberries collected from the edge of flower meadows and topping them with whipped cream... it fits Scandinavian, Finnish, Baltic and German traditions perfectly. And it is possible to pick wild strawberries in the autumn, right here in Malaga province.
Wild strawberries are slightly smaller, but much sweeter, and far more fragrant than the 'normal' strawberries sold all year round in grocery stores and supermarkets. In northern countries, wild strawberries are always a joy to find in little decorative clusters soaking up the sun in forest clearings in summer, though in Malaga's Axarquia region you can find the in the autumn, in the open ground on a wheat straw mulch.
Even though the name stresses 'wild', these fruits can be actually cultivated. So-called 'woodland strawberries' have been grown on cultivated lands in the middle of Axarquia, surrounded by mountains and olive, mango and avocado plantations for 50 years.
The idea to plant wild strawberries in the open air, just a few kilometres inland from the Costa del Sol occurred to a foreigner. The Frenchman Claude Arzagot moved to Malaga in 1972 to continue his berry activity that he had started in Bordeaux. He realised the subtropical and quite dry climate of the Axarquia perfectly allow the cultivation of wild strawberries outdoors in the open ground all year round, except hot summer months. Due to Malaga's exceptionally good climatic conditions, wild strawberries ripen here from October to June. There is no need to grow the fruits under plastic tunnels as practised in other parts of Europe.
Organic production covers an area of about five hectares. Cultivation begins every year with the sowing and raising of the strawberry plants (guaranteed to be non genetically modified) in order to preserve the origin of this plant. Thousands of strawberry plants are grown on site. It is important to replace the plants at the beginning of every season in order to produce only the best quality fruit. The ecosystem is maintained by the use of natural 'bio-stimulants' produced on the premises. Such herbal plants as comfrey, nettles and tansy contribute to activating the plant's natural defence system against pests and diseases and with the use of biological treatments using friendly predators to create a natural balance. In the end, the wild strawberry plants produce miniature, edible versions of the juicy red fruits.
Harvesting of the fruit is carried out by hand at the optimum time of day by a team of professionals who have long mastered this deceptively simple looking skill. They select only the strawberries that meet the criteria for quality to place them directly into the punnet. Otherwise they are left. Incidentally, it takes more than 700 strawberries to pick one kilo, and it takes between one and three hours of work. Olivier Bernard, a representative of Arzagot, told SUR in English that growing wild strawberries can be easily compared with black truffle cultivation.
Wild strawberry cultivation is a small business but successful. Almost all Malaga-grown wild strawberries go abroad - from New York to Paris. They are in great demand by the world's top chefs and especially by the top pastry chefs, as it is considered a high-quality fruit. It is reported that the King of Morocco consumes and demands these strawberries with a uniquely special aroma and flavour. Apparently, on the Costa del Sol wild strawberries are to be tasted only in Marbella thanks to one permanent client.
The local exquisite and delicate wild strawberry is nevertheless available in Vélez-Málaga, at the Trops shop, though... as a marmalade. Mermeladas Málaga, a company founded in the Axarquia, buys the local wild strawberries to make a marmalade - without adding colouring agents or preservatives (3% lemon juice as the only natural preservative). The price on the www.tiendatrops.com website is 6.30 euro. The collaboration of the local marmalade makers and the wild strawberry growers take the name of Malaga to several countries around the world.
Wild strawberries inspire many creative people. The Swedish Ingmar Bergman's most optimistic film from 1957 was named Wild Strawberries. Incidentally, the original Swedish title - Smultronstället (literally 'the wild strawberry patch') idiomatically signifies a hidden gem of a treasured place, often with personal or sentimental value.
Some 140 years ago, the British textile designer, William Morris, immortalised the wild strawberry in his famous 'Strawberry thief' pattern. The fabric was intended to be used for curtains or hung along walls, reflecting his medieval style of decoration. It is believed he was inspired by what he had seen one day in the grounds of his home at Kelmscott Manor - a hungry thrush swooping down to take a wild strawberry in its beak.
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