I’ve heard of dog breeders and cat breeders. There’s even an Indie rock band called The Breeders. But breeding berries? Who knew?!
That was my initial reaction when meeting Dr. Philip Stewart, Driscoll’s principal scientist and strawberry breeder. I had been invited up to visit the company’s research farm at the Cassin Ranch in Watsonville, Calif., to learn what goes into growing the perfect berries.
Now, this really excited me. See, I’m always telling my clients to watch their sugar and to keep their food low on the Glycemic Index. Berries – all berries: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are very low on the GI. Munch away!
They provided us with an absolutely gorgeous breakfast, including a trifle bowl of berries, granola and yogurt; giant, succulent strawberries that were almost too pretty to eat, and wonderfully soft and not-too-sweet berry scones (perfect with my cup of tea!). Yes, I splurged – get over it!
After breakfast, we were treated to a lecture and tour of the grounds. Dr. Phil, as I called him (okay, I evidently wasn’t the first) is obviously passionate about what goes on here. He explained that in California alone, they grow over 25,000 varieties of strawberries, but only 1% will get to the next step. Most of these berries will have only one or two plants. They look for everything from acidity and aromatics to color, sweetness and size – not to mention shelf life. The breeds that go to the next step might be perfected for up to 10 years. That’s longer than most wineries work on their products! There are about 12-15 varieties sold at any one time.
I noticed there were a lot of bees flying around. It seems they have hives all over the farms for pollination. Driscoll’s grows both organic and conventional berries, but Steve Garrett, who grows exclusively for Driscoll’s, told me they try to apply as many organic methods to their conventional berries as they can. There’s no genetic modification, either.
Then we got to the fun part – taste testing! Dr. Phil put out nine clamshells of strawberries. All had a different number written on top. These were just a few of the strawberries that were close to being grown for sale. It was astonishing! We took bites of every one and were amazed at the differences in taste, texture and color. Even the calyxes (the little green leaves) were different sizes. There was a definite difference. One I tried smelled almost floral. Another was very crunchy – not “strawberry-ish” at all.
“This is how we test a lot of our berries,” Dr. Phil explained. “It’s a group collective and everyone who works here tastes and gives their opinion.”
Strawberries aren’t the only breeding crop they have there. We were led to a huge raspberry field where there were little white bags over the tops of the plants to identify them. Driscoll’s supplies about 85%-90% of the raspberry market in the U.S. They put as much into their raspberry breeding as their strawberries.
But as Dr. Phil specialized in strawberries, he generously gave us all sample boxes of the test berries. I got 1235246. Why? It’s one of Dr. Phil’s favorites – t hat’s all I needed to know.
Here’s the recipe for the Berry Scones, taken from the Driscoll’s site. If I splurged, so can you! By the way, there are a ton of healthy berry recipes on their site, www.Driscolls.com. Enjoy!
Triple Berry Oatmeal SconesNutrition Facts:
Calories: 290 Carbohydrates: 45g Fat: 9g Fiber: 2g
Chol: 24mg Protein: 6g Sodium: 457mg
Like a cross between a biscuit and a muffin, these tasty wedges are perfect for breakfast on the run or a leisurely brunch. Try them warm with honey and butter.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Makes 8 scones
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
¾ cups regular or quick cooking oats 9not instant)
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
3 tbsp sugar, divided
1 tsp grated lemon or orange zest (optional)
6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 pkg (6 oz) Driscolls Raspberries, Blackberries or Blueberries or 1 ½ cups coarsely chopped Strawberries
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or coat with cooking spray.
3. Combine flour, oats, baking powder, salt, baking soda, 2 tablespoons sugar, and zest, in a large bowl. Stir to mix.
4. Add butter and beat with an electric mixer just until crumbly.
5. Gradually beat in buttermilk.
6. Fold in berries with a spoon or flexible spatula.
7. Place dough on a well-floured work surface and knead gently 8-10 times.
8. Pat into an 8-inch circle about 3/4 inch thick. With a floured spatula or sharp knife, cut 8 even wedges.
9. Transfer to prepared baking sheet, leaving space between wedges. Sprinkle the last tbsp of sugar over the wedges.
10. Bake 18 to 20 minutes until light golden brown.
11. Remove and cool on wire racks.
Rona Lewis is an LA-based fitness and lifestyle coach, cookbook author and motivational speaker. The first in her cookbook series, Does This Cookbook Make Me Look Fat? Healthy Recipes Even HE Will Eat!, is available at www.ronalewis.com. Her second book, Does This Cookbook Make Me Look Fat? Vol. 2 Healthy Recipes For Entertaining, will be out this Spring.
How do you plan on enjoying strawberries this season? Share your favorite recipes with us below!