Strawberry fair

If it’s December in New Zealand, it’s strawberry season! Backyards, balconies, decks … all sorts of corners and growing containers are put into service. The Vege Grower has covered his raised bed with soft netting to keep the birds out (although has relented with the fig tree and allowed some branches to grow through the netting ‘so we share with the birds’) and we’ve already had a few feeds off the plants.

If you don’t grow them yourself there are still berry farms, sadly reducing in number, where you can go to pick your own, always fun with children!

When I was in Japan, early in spring there, this year, my eye was caught by some of the ‘different’ strawberries on sale – white and pink, as well as the more usual red.

These white strawberries (front) were for sale in the Takashiyama department store in Tokyo. The price on the sticker equates to $NZ38 – for seven strawberries! Photo: Sandra Simpson

According to this 2017 article, the most expensive white strawberry is White Jewel (Shiroi Houseki), bred by Yasuhito Teshima and put on the market in 2013. But even with its specialised breeding that eliminates the protein that makes ripe strawberries red, the fruit also needs to be grown correctly for it to remain completely white with reduced exposure to light being key. But Yasuhito Teshima says that even after years of trial and error, it’s pretty much still a lottery with only 10% of his strawberries turning out white, and only a few of those being perfectly pale.

Here’s a 2017 video featuring Mr Teshima talking about his strawberries (subtitled).

Gift giving is the social oil of Japan and, with space in homes generally at a premium, the best sort of gift to receive is a consumable – which is where rare and unusual fruit comes into its own.

Nara Strawberry Lab is a co-operative of young growers. This pack offers red, pink and white fruit. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Setting off for our hanami (picnic under the flowering cherry trees) meant a stop at Shinjuku’s Takashiyama department store and the amazing – and extensive – basement food hall. I was intrigued by the sight of fruit and cream sandwiches, so much so that we bought a strawberry one to try. It wasn’t terrible!

Sweet sandwiches – strawberries and cream or mandarins and cream. The strawberry sandwich is about $NZ6 for two halves. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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