The Ontario strawberry season is being extended right through the winter, so you can enjoy fresh berries on the same day they are picked.
It’s date night. And it’s all about making an impression.
You’re eating in, and as a special treat, you meticulously prepare chocolate-dipped strawberries for dessert. You sweeten the deal by pairing them with a sparkling wine. Nice touch.
But as soon as your date takes the first bite of her strawberry, the thrill is gone. Because beneath that sweet-looking red exterior is a bland tasting, imported U.S.-grown berry.
It was picked as many as 10 days earlier, and spent hundreds of miles sitting in a truck from California or Florida.
Given such conditions, it’s no wonder every June consumers are bursting with anticipation for luscious, field-grown Ontario strawberries, at pick-your-own farms or markets.
The season can’t start too soon. Through the years, plant researchers at the University of Guelph and elsewhere have worked to develop hardier, quality varieties with great flavour and a longer growing season.
These varieties are called day-neutral strawberries, so named because they flower throughout the growing season — unlike some traditional strawberry plants, which flower only once a season, during May and June.
And lately, the Ontario strawberry season is being extended right through the winter, thanks to production in Canada’s greenhouse capital, Leamington, Ont.
And there’s no mistaking them for U.S. imports.
“The flavour literally explodes in your mouth,” Jordan says.
Even during winter months, Date Night berries are fresh, local and about twice as sweet as their American counterparts. On what’s called the Brix scale, which measures sweetness on a range from one to 20, Date Night Berries check in at 10 to 12 units. That reading compares well to imported berries at six to seven units.
The Kniaziew’s berries are grown in a unique manner as well, with elevated growing gutters and an umbrella canopy. Humidification and cooling protection systems help extend the growing season, and LED lights give production a boost.
Then, when the time’s right, they are gingerly picked by hand at harvest.
“We treat every berry like a newborn,” Jordan says.
In fact, in many cases, the Zing! strawberries served on date night have even been picked the same day. At the most, they’re three days from their harvest date. Compare that to winter berries from the U.S., which typically spend more than a week in a truck. They’re bred mainly for transportability, not taste.
Recently, other Ontario greenhouse growers have started following Orangeline’s lead, meaning the winter berry market here is bound to expand.
For being pioneers and blazing the winter strawberry trail, Date Night Berries have received an Ontario Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.