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Strawberries -- Help

I'm looking for real strawberries, the kind I remember from my childhood. Ones that are small and juicy and sweet, like you would grow in your garden. Not the huge, firm, genetically modified ones that are built for travel, but not for taste. I've tried numerous farmer's markets, but even there the organic strawberries are still large huge without much juice or flavor. Does anybody know a good farmstand that is relatively close to San Francisco where the strawberries of my youth can be found?

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  1. Are you looking at varieties when sampling at farmers markets?

    It is difficult to recommend without knowing what you have tried and where.

    IMO, the Chandler variety is the sweetest. Seascapes are fine but don't match the Chandlers.

    Yrena Farms at the Saturday Ferry Plaza farmers market has the most varieties. In addition to the two mentioned they have Albion, Diamante , Camino Real and Aromas.

    The smaller strawberries I've had in the Bay Area haven't been very sweet.

    Here's an article discussing strawberry varieties and what is usually grown in California with their taste profile

    Not nearby, but have you ever been to Swanton's berry stand in Daveport on the Pacific Coast Highway? They have varieties there that don't bake it to the market.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rworange

      This is helpful. Thanks. I've tried Swanton and just picked some other up at the Fillmore farmers market this weekend (but I can't remember what they were). It is early in the season still, but it sounds like I might have to make a trip down to Santa Cruz and make a detour to pick up some strawberries. Thanks fo the help.

    2. I too have commented on the lackluster strawberries found at the Farmers Markets, but that's just a casual observation from grabbing a sample whenever they've been available. I have to also say, I share your memory for much smaller looking strawberries here in SF.

      1. RW is on the right track. Davenport, Pescadero, Phipps Ranch, maybe Pie Ranch, etc. is where I'd look for the old timey strawberries. Strawberries like the coast but I think the season there is very short. Maybe find out/guess where Duarte's gets theirs.

        Any way, I think I know what kind of strawberries you're talking about. In SoCal as a kid my Mom picked a pot full of strawberries every morning during summer and I've never had those kind of strawberries again. Small, super sweet, perfectly ripe. I think they got that way by foggy mornings and days around 75-ish.

        I think I'm going to write more about that.

        2 Replies
        1. re: ML8000

          Frankly after I moved up here I got sick of strawberries. Partly because they were expensive and/or bad. Before last year I hadn't really had strawberries in NorCal in 20 years. I started eating strawberries again and found out there's about a few weeks where even the big commercial Santa Maria ones are excellent, but there's no way to know when that starts and stops.

          This year I decided to eat the big inexpensive strawberries from the farmer's market to keep track of when the really good strawberries come out. At the Old Oakland FM last week I bought half a flat for $6 dollars and they weren't bad just not good. I think in early-mid July the strawberries will start to be very good but only for a few weeks.

          The other place I'm going to check once in a while is Monterey Market. I think they get their strawberries direct from the farms, or maybe not. They do however list where the berries are grown, organic or not, etc. You could buy one basket every week and figure it out. I might start a new thread about this.

          , NorCal use to be sick of strawberries.

          1. re: ML8000

            You're right, I grew up in Southern California as well. I can remember those amazing u-pick strawberries. I'll have to check out Swanton's next time I'm down that way, especially if they have kinds that don't make it to market. Those are likely the ones that don't travel well, and similar to the type that I am looking for. Thanks for all your suggestions.

          2. The strawberries sold by Lucero (Lodi) at local farmers markets are small, irregular, and very tasty. They are a ways from their peak as yet, but I've had some nice ones already this season. Lucero sells at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. but I usually get mine in Oakland at the Temescal market

            Last season I had even nicer small berries from Tomatero (Watsonville) at the Grand Lake farmers market. I have not been there for the past two weekend due to my work schedule, but as of two weeks ago they did not yet have strawberries. Last season they were also my favorite vendor for dry farmed Early Girl tomatoes.

            2 Replies
            1. re: lexdevil

              We've had excellent small, irregularly shaped strawberries as described by lexdevil above, on several occasions from one of the vendors at FPFM -- out front, left side IIRC. I think that might have been Lucero, but I really can't remember. They were far better than any of the commercial breeds, and tasted like the berries I used to get as a kid.

              1. re: lexdevil

                This is exactly what you want. Lucero strawberries.
                They also sell at all three Berkeley markets.
                The variety is seascape, but theirs are particularly fragrant and high acid to balance the sweetness.
                Ask for second year field strawberries. Strawberries produce with high yields for 2 years, but the second year the berries are smaller and more concentrated in flavor.

              2. Not certain of the variety, but Lucero Farms in the back of the FPFM has what I think you are looking for, small, some might say runty, berries with a long stem attached. Properly stored they keep a week. Incidentally, later in the season they also have the best prices on tomatoes, squashes and melons.

                2 Replies
                1. re: little big al

                  Are you sure it was Lucero? I've never seen anything but seascapes at that stand. They have gotten progressively better over the years, but for me I'd still take a Swanton Chandler over a Seascape. Dirty Girl sometimes sells small berries like you describe but they are sour and flavorless and you pay big $$$ for them.

                  1. re: rworange

                    I just bought some little, sweet ones from Lucero on Sat. Delicious. And, yes, I'm sure it was Lucero...

                2. I go back and forth between Swanton and Lucero. Swanton sometimes has second-crop berries that are smaller and to my taste better, but I'm looking for complexity of aroma and flavor more than juice and sweetness (though those are essential too).

                  The season's just getting gong this year. The early ones were as usual not very sweet or juicy.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Yeah, the season seems to be late this year.

                    As RW stated, there are many varieties of strawberries. Recently, they'e started breeding the flavor back in to berries that were hybridized for appearance and durability.

                    Albion seems to have taken over Watsonville in the last couple of years. I think they taste pretty good. Camarosa and Ventana have been the main varieties that come out of Sant Maria and San Diego -- they tend to be big, pretty berries, and with a good flavor.

                    I think the strawberries most people remember from their childhoods in California are Chandlers, which are delicious but don't ship well. They're now mostly grown in the Fresno area for the jam market, but you can sometimes find them at farmstands.

                    Some people like Seascapes. I think they taste like dirt.

                    As RW mentioned, if you want to get some insight into strawberry varietals, check out Yrena Farms -- they usually have several varieties. It drives me crazy that they don't label them, and most people just pick up a random basket that looks good, which might not even be the same as the berry they sampled. But if you ask, they'll point out the different varieties and let you sample them. In particular, the older man in the cowboy hat can be quite friendly if you start asking about the various varietals -- one Tuesday at Ferry Plaza he whipped out a huge pocket knife and started cutting up various strawberries for me.


                  2. I lived for years in the Oxnard/Camarillo area, where vibrantly delicious strawberries were ubiquitous. I moved to the bay area ten years ago, and for a long time couldn't find a berry that matched that memory. Finally I found them.

                    It's a farm stand that's easy to find, but it's down here just south of Morgan Hill. If you're willing to make the trip, it's just off the 101 between Morgan Hill and Gilroy. The exit is "Masten", and you take it going west, towards the ocean. Just a scant quarter of a mile or less off the freeway is the Chiala Farms booth on your right. I find these berries more intensely flavorful and tender-ripe than any I've bought at farmers markets or other farm booths. The small berries are hidden at the bottom, underneath the big showy ones, so small berry fans and big berry fans will each get their pick. They are picked in the field directly behind the booth, as you will see. It's $5 for a three-pack, and I never buy more because they're of a tender, fragile variety that won't keep for more than four or five days in the fridge. They open at 10 a.m. on Saturdays, and I'm not sure just when they open on Sundays.

                    1. Chao Farm had some of the best strawberries I've had in a long time today at the Point Richmond Farmers market. The only other place I see them selling is at the SJ Tuesday farmers market.

                      They were smaller than usual and the sign said 'picked this morning'. They picked them at peak ripeness and they were so fragrant. I mixed some with some plain yogurt and the juciness and sweetness were enough. I didn't need any sweetner.

                      Don't know the variety since they were busy and the guy waiting on my didn't have a lot of English. Only $2 a basket with lesser prices as you bought more.