Last month my dad drove in from Louisiana with a special surprise for me–a flat of Louisiana strawberries! I call them “small batch” strawberries, because they mostly come from family farms that have been growing strawberries for generations. Unlike the jumbo berries you buy in the produce department at H-E-B and Kroger that are super sweet, but somehow flavorless, Louisiana berries are delicately sweet and dewy. Just as terroir (climate, soil, topography) affects the taste of a wine, the mild fall and winter and the rich organic content of the Tangipahoa and Livingston Parish soil make all the difference to the taste of a strawberry.
My berries came from Landry-Poche Berry Farm in Holden, Louisiana. The farm’s Rhonda Poche (who goes by the email handle “Strawberry Lady”) says they purchase several varieties as bare root plants from nurseries in California and Canada, and then plant them in October. The southeast Louisiana soil and climate do their magic, and by March the season is underway. The relatively short harvest lasts through early May, and the precious fruit is incorporated into everything from pies to muffins to ice cream. Craft beer brewer Abita, which is headquartered in the area, uses juice from Louisiana berries each spring to make its Strawberry Lager, part of its Harvest Series that is available widely. A popular local tradition is the making of homemade strawberry wine, a practice that traces back to the area’s significant southern Italian heritage. Amato’s Winery bottles and sells their version commercially.
Italians immigrated to the area in the 1860’s, settling around the town of Independence. There, many of them took up strawberry farming. Not so long ago you could still see the “old timers” selling their strawberries from roadside stands in front of their fields–white dress shirt, dark slacks, a straw fedora, and a sea of ruby berries packed in small plastic crates lining the tables behind them.
For me, these are berries that taste like memories. I can’t wait until next spring!
Note: Ponchatoula, Louisiana holds its Strawberry Festival annually in April.
Landry-Poche Berry Farm
29955 Richardson Drive Holden, LA 70744