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DOMESTICATION OF THE STRAWBERRY

To see what might happen in the future with the little-known fruits described in the following chapters, consider the case of the strawberry.

All the cultivated strawberries we enjoy today are at least partly Andean. They are the offspring of a union between two American species brought independently to Europe: Fragaria chiloensis (native to Chile) * and F. virginiana (native to eastern North America). The first hybrid seems to have been an accident, arising in a garden near Amsterdam around 1750. The way it occurred has been described by Ruth Epstein, editor of The American Festival:

In 1712 a French naval captain named André Frezier was sent to South America to report Chilean coastal defenses, and when he came home, he bore armloads of the big-berried, pineapple-flavored Chilean strawberry plants. In his enthusiasm, he had selected only the most beautiful, the most vigorous, the most flower-filled plants to transport back to France. He had unwittingly selected only females. The plants transplanted happily enough—they bloomed profusely—but for 30 years they bore no fruit. And then, by chance and by mistake, some foundlings of the Virginia variety were set in amongst them. The South American spinsters mixed and mingled with Virginia's dandies and a union was consummated in the beds of France.

* Sadly, this species, which gave us the modern strawberry, is now becoming rare, dying out because farmers would rather plant its more vigorous hybrid “child.”

Fruits have particular merits for peasants and small farmers because they can be homegrown and provide both food and a cash crop. However, with today's transportation, refrigeration, and food processing, industries based on rare fruit are also becoming increasingly important. Exotic Andean fruits, for instance, are potentially profitable exports to affluent buyers in wealthy countries. Diets in North America and Europe are becoming extremely cosmopolitan, with increasing demand for exotic foods. Indeed, for two decades New Zealand has been sending its fruits to North America, Japan, and Europe, where they sell briskly at premium prices. Some—such as goldenberry,2 cherimoya, naranjilla, pepino, passionfruit, and tamarillo—are Andean natives described below. It is a measure of their delicious taste that consumers pay the enormous costs of fresh fruit that have been airfreighted from the other side of the globe.


2 Cape gooseberry.


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