If you were to ask me what my favourite strawberry is, I would say, without a doubt, fraises des bois (pronounced fray debwah). Translated as “strawberries of the woods”, and otherwise known as wild or alpine strawberries, fraises des bois are rambling little plants that produce the most amazing fruit.
Due to the whims of the big supermarkets, we seem to have developed an obsession with big fruit, equating size with flavour. In nature, however, the opposite is usually the case. Small fruits tend to be the most flavoursome, and it's certainly the case with fraises des bois.
The strawberries are tiny, just the size of an adult thumbnail or smaller. But wow, do they pack a punch. Just picking them releases an intoxicating strawberry fragrance and the flavour is something else – meltingly rich and intense like a large fruiting strawberry, only better. Fraises des bois are so good, that when my four year old boy Fergus saw me carrying a handful of them into the house this afternoon, he nearly tripped over his own feet with excitement.
And as if to prove that the best tasting fruits can be as common as mud, the plants themselves are a sheer doddle to grow. Give them a semi-shaded position protected from the afternoon sun, provide adequate moisture when its dry, and fraises des bois plants will delight in rambling through the garden, covering the ground as they continually send forth runners to colonise new areas. I started with a single runner, given to me by a friend and planted in the shade of a rose bush. Now the ground beneath the entire rose bed is carpeted with fraises des bois plants. They look pretty, flower repeatedly, are untroubled by pests and fruit prolifically – what more can you ask for.
The only downside that I can think of, is that the plants are quite hard to come by in the first place. You might be able to get hold of seed or potted plants from specialist nurseries, but your first port of call might be to check with a food growing friend to see if they grow the plant. If so, I'm sure they happily pot up few runners for you. Then you too can enjoy the flavour of what I consider to be the king of strawberries.
By: Justin Russell
First published: November 2011