Strawberries have been one of my favorite foods since I was a kid, so I jumped at the chance to go to a California Strawberry Commission-hosted event at Cotogna last night to learn more about California strawberries and the local farmers who grow them. Over strawberry-vodka cocktails and passed appetizers, including strawberry-topped pizza, strawberry gazpacho, strawberry-filled arancini, and smoked strawberries wrapped in proscuitto, a group of food writers and bloggers listened to presentations by the Commission, Salinas strawberry farmer Tom Jones, and a few cookbook authors, and collectively nerded out over fruit facts. Here are some of the most interesting things I learned:
1. Strawberries are members of the rose family.
2. California was responsible for 88 percent of U.S. strawberry production in 2011, and are the sixth most valuable crop produced in the state, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
3. Some organic farmers, like Jones, use these cool, vacuum-like devices to suck up bugs instead of using pesticides.
4. Since they're mostly water, if it rains heavily strawberries will absorb too much liquid and explode.
5. There are several different varieties of strawberries grown and sold, though they don't vary much in taste -- farmers grow different varieties due to their yield and how they interact with climate and soil conditions.
California strawberries are available year-round, but the bulk of the crops are harvested between April and November. We've got a few more months in the season -- and if you're looking for something to do with 'em, the Strawberry Commission has a bunch of recipes on their website.