In the small community of Purén found in central southern Chile, completely white strawberries have been growing for centuries.However, this is not all, as this strange pale fruit, cultivated between the Cordigliera and the Pacific, gave rise to all the world’s strawberries. Large modern strawberries actually have a relatively recent history, dating back to the nineteenth century, whereas the fruit that was documented before the discovery of the New World—by Pliny, Virgil, and Ovid—are these tiny Fragaria vesca or forest strawberries.
In 1614 the Spanish missionary Alfonso Ovalle discovered large strawberries in the Chilean countryside near the city of Concepcion, which were then classified as Fragaria chiloensis, known commonly as Chilean strawberries. In 1712 Francois Frezier, an engineer in the service of Louis XIV, brought some specimens to Europe, and only five plants survived the six-month sea voyage. Modern strawberries were born in Brest, France, in 1766, from a cross between the Fragaria virginiana of the eastern United States and the white chiloensis.
This first hybrid, called Fragaria ananassa, was then crossed and crossed again to create the large red varieties grown today. The Chilean white strawberry is rotund with a small point and pale flesh, sometimes just barely tinged pink, but more often ivory with points of rose or red. It is cultivated around Purén, particularly in the Manzanal, an area removed from the Cordigliera Nahualbuta that faces the sea.
The fields are steep and cut away from the forest. Twenty-five farmers work some fourteen hectares of poor clay terrain without tractors, irrigation or fertilizer.The harvest begins at the end of November and continues until mid- January. Here, white strawberries are eaten during Christmas and New Year’s like mandarin oranges in Europe and North America.
Puren Municipality, Province of Malleco, Region IX (La Araucania)
tel. +56 99699187/45793344