Strawberry Summers

Although the strawberry is a Western fruit and fairly recently introduced into the country, it has come to play a part in Philippine life.

Baguio and summers mean strawberries to most Filipinos. It is the favorite purchase in the public market, and one of the city’s most successful agricultural products.

"Between New Year and Easter ... the berries are plentiful and cheap. The Baguio strawberry season starts in November when the rains stop, peaks in February and declines around April when the afternoon showers begin." —Cafe by the Ruins: Memories and Recipes by Lia Llamado, Adelaida Lim, Feliz Perez (2008). Photo © Neal Oshima.

First introduced at the La Trinidad Valley College of Agriculture, strawberries adapted successfully to the cool, dry weather. “In 1928,” we read in The Baguio Strawberry Cookbook (1991), “the Bureau of Plant Industry established the Baguio Experiment Station on Ferguson Road, where American strawberry varieties were introduced. Around the 1960s, Japanese hybrids were brought to Baguio and these are now the more popular ones because they are longer lasting, sweeter and more pest-resistant. Most research on strawberry growing has been done at the Benguet University’s College of Agriculture.

“Today, strawberries are grown principally in La Trinidad Valley, Mt. Santo Tomas and in some farms along the Benguet part of the Halsema mountain trail. The Baguio market is the main outlet … though large quantities are bought by food manufacturers directly from farmers. Whatever is not sold of the day’s harvest is made into preserves and jams.”

The strawberry is a low, erect, perennial stocky herb 15 to 30 cm. high. It spreads widely by producing runners. The leaves are thick and light green, the flowers white. The red globular fruit is familar to all the world, its flesh ranging from subacid to sweet, mild to excellent in flavor.

Strawberries are eaten fresh, with sugar, or with cream and sugar. They are processed into jams, pies, cakes, ice cream, juice, and candy, both by large companies and by small entrepreneurs like the Good Shepherd sisters, who have an excellent recipe for strawberry jam.

The Baguio Strawberry Cookbook by Adelaida Lim and Nancy Pobanz does not only contain articles about the plant, the market, the farms and the growers, but demonstrates the range of dishes with which Filipinos have celebrated the strawberry. There are salads, sauces, tarts, drinks, salad dressings, cakes, pies, sorbets, breads, biscuits, and even cosmetic creams and lotions.

The strawberry has been found growing wild on Mt. Banahaw. This fact, and the names it has acquired in the Igorot language (atakbang, dotdating, kubkubut), make it a good example of an immigrant that came to visit … and stayed.

—excerpted from Fruits of the Philippines (Bookmark, Inc., 1997)

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