They were there as long as I can remember (which is at least my teenage years) and for some reason I never really wondered what exactly they were because I took them for granted: some kind of small white tasty strawberries that grow as a groundcover in forgotten corners of the garden of my parents.
While the leaves quite stand out, You have to really look for the berries, because the plants form flowers and fruits hidden under the foilage, but if you look for them you find something interesting. Not the most prolific strawberry, nor the biggest one, but you don’t see white strawberries every day, and they have a unique taste, somewhere in between an apricot and a pineaple with a hint of currantberries and even strawberry. Very useful for example if mixed with other summer fruits for a dessert, and adding more flavor. than regular strawberries would.
There’s also something distinct about the plant itself. The leaves look different from both our cultivated and native wild strawberries, with rounded leaves and a different color. The flowers are small like our alpine strawberries, but the fruits are bigger and completely white, almost the size of a cherry, and have a more blocked form, with the seeds not on the surface but in small holes in the fruit. Adding to that the taste and aroma, and you have something unlike any of the regular strawberries.
So what’s their identity? Just a weird heirloom? White strawberries are not that common, and most of them are just cultivated versions of the alpine strawberry (like ‘white wonder’). There is a more regular white strawberry, called ‘pineberry’ (see picture from wikipedia right), that has entered the market recently, with indeed a taste similar to pine-apple if I can believe the descriptions, but alas, it looks quite different from mine, a more regularly shaped white strawberry with red seeds on the surface of the fruit. This is not my strawberry at all.
But apparently this new variety is not that new, there apparently are older types pineberries, older even than our common strawberries (Fragaria x annanasa), most of which are quite rare or have disapeared even by now, and they even are around here in Belgium according to this site. I translate the description for you:
origin: This variety originated as an accidental hybrid between Fragaria chiloensis and Fragaria virginiana, and should be one of the oldest strawberry varieties available. (De aardbei, Kronenberg et al, 1949) The variety was obtained in the Netherlands in 1750 and continued to spread in 1762 under the reign of Louis XV.
properties: pinkish white strawberry with special taste and smell. Low fertility.
The fruit is white, medium size and medium ripe time. The flesh is quite soft, juicy and full of flavor. The seeds are somewhat on top of the flesh, and colored reddish brow,. (Strawberry, Kronenberg et al, 1949)
Not that this description does sound completely like my strawberry, but strangely, the picture on the site (which I suppose to be a picture from the pineberries in ‘de tuin van toen’) does look a lot like mine! So there are old pineberries around in Belgium which are similar to mine! Which makes me suppose that I have the name of my little white mystery strawberry nonetheless, in spite of the difference with the new commercial variety: an old pineberry. And possibly even a clone from a plant that is more than a quarter millenium old. Not bad as the background-story for our cite little groundcover, is it?
Now I’m curious what (if anything) comes up from the seeds of this one. And I don’t think I’ll ever forget to harvest this hidden treasure…