Strawberries are a growing topic in Temple

  • James Deasy, 9, of Long Island, New York, has a bite of strawberry shortcake.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • The Temple Town Hall was filled with residents looking to learn about the history of the strawberry plant – and eat some shortcake – on Sunday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Tom Davis and Lise Mahoney give a presentation on strawberries at the Temple Town Hall on Sunday.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Leo McCusker, 10, of Long Island, New York, takes a bite of strawberry shortcake.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Eli Hipp, 4, of Temple, examines a strawberry from his plate of shortcake.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, June 26, 2018 11:5AM

New Hampshire is on the forefront of the next stage of strawberries.

During a “Strawberry Social” thrown by the Temple Democrats on Sunday, University of New Hampshire faculty Thomas Davis and Lise Mahoney gave residents a rundown of how the strawberry, as we know it, came to be. And hopefully, where it’s going.

New Hampshire is a big consumer of strawberries, consuming upwards of 10 million pounds per year – but only producing about 1 million, said Mahoney.

“We have a lot more demand than we have production,” said Mahoney.

What we know as the strawberry – the commercial strawberry – is a hybrid cross of the Chilean strawberry, which looks much like the commercial strawberry, but is a pale whitish color, and a North American variety – and it happened by accident, explained Davis.

Though the two breeds are from the Americas, it was in Europe that they were first crossed, when both varieties were brought to a botanical garden in France. The Chilean strawberry came first, but never bore fruit, as there was nothing to fertilize the female plant, until the Virginia strawberry also made its way to the same garden.

The hybrid that resulted is what most of North Americans think of when they think of the strawberry. Though wild varieties still grow across the Northern belt of the world, including two varieties in New Hampshire, explained Davis.

But that version of the strawberry was never conceived for the growing organic market, and a grant received last year has put UNH on the track to develop a hybrid through intercrossing five different strawberry varieties over the next three years, hoping to bolster that market.

Since late last year, Mahoney and UNH researchers have been involved in an effort to develop a strawberry hybrid specifically designed for organic agriculture that can thrive in New England.

Since the strawberry was not developed for organic agriculture, it is very difficult for growers to purchase bare-root plants that haven’t had any chemical intervention to prevent disease or insect destruction, said Mahoney. The work being done at UNH could open new possibilities for organic strawberries.

Mahoney’s department is also working on developing new kinds of ornamental strawberries, which are grown more for the colors of their flowers than for the taste of the fruit.

“I’ve had the ornamentals before, and they taste lousy,” commented John Poltrack of New Ipswich, who was a member of the audience.

“We’re working on it,” assured Mahoney.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.