Scientists working on breeding less fragile Oregon strawberries

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Oregon strawberries are prized for their sweet flavor and red color inside and out. Since they are so fragile they are grown primarily for processing. Scientists are working to develop heartier varieties of Oregon strawberrires.Oregon strawberries — everyone gets excited when they come into season because they are so fragrant and have amazing flavor.

Those in the know say we are in for an early harvest thanks to the warm spring weather we experienced. But, alas, the season is short. It generally lasts through the month of June. But Oregon State University and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service are putting their heads together to see how the Oregon strawberry season can be extended.

Oregon strawberries are unique in that they are picked absolutely ripe on the vine, which gives them the legendary fragrance and flavor and red, red coloring inside and out. They have a very short shelf life and because of their fragility, Oregon strawberries are mainly grown for processing. However an increased demand for local berries has prompted some growers to consider selling them to the fresh market. According to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, a decade ago only seven percent of the strawberries harvested in Oregon were for the fresh market. Last year 16 percent of the volume harvested was for the fresh market, responsible for 33 percent of the value of the crop. The emphasis on production of fresh strawberries has been driven by demand and price. In 2012, the price paid to the grower for berries destined for processing was 58 cents per pound. For fresh, it was $1.30 per pound.

Bernadine Strik, extension berry crops specialist with Oregon State University’s Department of Horticulture, said she would be surprised if the trend toward fresh strawberries didn’t continue simply because Oregon’s population growth is expected to increase greatly. She said fresh production is often tied to population growth. With consumer consciousness of location production and the quality of berries Oregon grows, she sees a lot of potential for the fresh berry percentage to go up.

She also thinks we will see different, less fragile strawberries introduced in Oregon fields, many of them from California, which can provide fruit from May until October. Because of Oregon’s climate of warm days in the summer and cool nights, these California varieties will pack great flavor and good color when picked vine ripe.

OSU and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service have developed a cooperative breeding program that is working to develop fresh market strawberry varieties that combine the best of what Oregon strawberries offer — taste, color and processing qualities — with high yield and what Strik calls “high picking efficiency.”

Oregon strawberry growers, whether they produce strawberries for processing or fresh market, generally support the idea of bringing more fresh strawberries to market.

“That means helping growers understand what they need to do in order to grow Oregon strawberries that will get to the consumers in a less fragile shape,” said Laura Burton, trade manager with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “We hope to work with the Oregon Strawberry Commission on some grant-funded activities that might include educational workshops for growers on what types of berries to grow for fresh, how to handle them, the value of cooling them quickly out of the field and other important factors. This is being driven by the huge consumer demand for fresh berries.”

The new berries might be available from Oregon farmers next season. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime get your fair share and then some of Oregon’s sweet strawberries at farmers’ markets and u-pick fields. Check our classified pages for the Farm Fresh listings.

I selected several recipes for your enjoyment. The freezer jam is a must to make; use it to make the Strawberry Oatmeal Bars. The Dessert Crostino of Fresh Ricotta, Strawberries and Aged Balsamic Vinegar is a sophisticated way to enjoy the lovely berries.

Bon Appetit! Eat something wonderful!

Strawberry Freezer Jam

Makes 5 to 6 half pint jars

2 cups crushed strawberries or blackberries (about 1 quart berries)

4 cups sugar

1 package powdered pectin

1 cup water

To prepare fruit sort and wash fully ripe berries. Drain. Remove caps and stems then crush berries.

To make jam, place prepared berries in a large mixing bowl. Add sugar, mix well and let stand for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Dissolve pectin in water and boil for 1 minute. Add pectin solution to berry and sugar mixture; stir for 2 minutes. Pour jam into freezer containers or canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch space at the top. Cover containers and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours or until jam has set.

To store, store uncooked jams in freezer or refrigerator. They can be held up to 3 weeks in a refrigerator or up to year in the freezer. If kept at room temperature, they will mold or ferment in a short time. Once a container is opened, jam should be stored in the refrigerator and used within a few days.

Note: if jam is too firm, stir to soften. If it tends to separate, stir to blend. If it too soft, bring it to a boil. It will thicken on cooling.

Oregon Strawberry Commission

Strawberry Oatmeal Bars

Makes 24 servings

1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cup oats

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 10- to 12-ounce jar strawberry preserves or freshly made strawberry jam

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9x13 inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Mix together butter, flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder and salt. Press half the oat mixture into the prepared baking pan. Spread with strawberry preserves. Sprinkle the other half of the oat mixture over the top and pat lightly. Bake until light brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely, then cut into squares.

Dessert Crostino of Fresh Ricotta, Strawberries and Aged Balsamic Vinegar

Makes 4 servings

1 pint fresh strawberries, cleaned and hulled

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar, plus additional to drizzle

3 fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade

6 thinly sliced pieces of neutral-flavored bread, lightly toasted under the broiler

1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese

Fresh ground black pepper

Chop the strawberries into 1/4-inch dice and add them to a glass or ceramic bowl. Add sugar, balsamic vinegar and basil leaves. Gently toss to combine and set aside to macerate for 15 to 20 minutes.

Lightly brush the toasted crostini slices with the macerating liquid to sweeten. Spread 1 tablespoon of ricotta on each toast and then top with 1 tablespoon of macerated strawberries. Drizzle each crostini with remaining liquid and sprinkle with just a pinch of fresh ground black pepper.

Serve immediately.

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281 ext. 100 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..