Plump, juicy and bursting with sweetness, strawberries are really synonymous with British summertime. But this year they’ve been spotted on shelves earlier than ever; Waitrose has been stocking berries grown and harvested in the UK from the start of March.
Strawberries are notoriously difficult to grow in the chillier months as they require at least eight hours of full sun each day. Most winter fruit in this country is imported, but Waitrose insists the latest crop of berries is British through and through. And as the UK market booms to £325 million a year, it says selling them so early will soon become routine.
According to food consortium British Summer Fruits, 25 years ago the strawberry season lasted just six weeks, while today it’s around nine months long.
So what’s behind this boom in British fruit in the colder months? For a start, winters are getting milder, while technological advances mean it’s now possible to simulate the light and heat required for natural growth, even in the north of England and Scotland.
The secret, explains Waitrose’s soft fruit buyer Nicki Baggott, is in the growing conditions. The Lusa variety (£3.50 for a 260g punnet) is supplied by two family farms near Preston in Lancashire.
The sea breeze provides just the amount of freshness required to enhance the berries’ sweetness, while growing them in the chillier northern counties gives farmers full control over their ripening.