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A Day at Driscoll’s Berries Research Farm: I’ll Have a Box of 1235246, Please!

A Day at Driscoll’s Berries Research Farm: I’ll Have a Box of 1235246, Please!
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I’ve heard of dog breeders and cat breeders. There’s even an Indie rock band called The Breeders. But breeding berries?!? Who knew?!

That was my initial reaction when meeting Dr. Philip Stewart, Driscoll’s principal scientist and strawberry breeder. I had been invited up to visit Driscoll’s research farm at the Cassin Ranch in Watsonville, California, to learn what goes into growing the perfect berries. This before heading up to the Pebble Beach Food And Wine Festival, where Driscoll’s was a sponsor. (more about that later)

Now, this really excited me. See, I’m always telling my clients to watch their sugar and to keep their food low on the Glycemic Index. Berries-all berries: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries (all which Driscoll’s grows) are very low on the GI. Munch away!

They provided us with an absolutely gorgeous breakfast, including a trifle bowl of berries, granola and yogurt; giant, succulent strawberries that were almost too pretty to eat, and wonderfully soft and not-too-sweet berry scones (perfect with my cup of tea!). Yes, I splurged-get over it!

After breakfast, we were treated to a lecture and tour of the grounds. Dr. Phil, as I called him (OK, I evidently wasn’t the first) is obviously passionate about what goes on here. He explained that in California alone, they grow over 25,000 varieties of strawberries, but only 1% will get to the next step. Most of these berries will have only one or two plants. They look for everything from acidity and aromatics to color, sweetness and size-not to mention shelf life. The breeds that go to the next step might be perfected for up to 10 years. That’s longer than most wineries work on their products! There are about 12-15 varieties sold at any one time.

I noticed there were a lot of bees flying around. It seems they have hives all over the farms for pollination. Driscoll’s grows both organic and conventional berries, but Steve Garrett, who grows exclusively for Driscoll’s, told me they try to apply as many organic methods to their conventional berries as they can. There’s no genetic modification, either.

Then we got to the fun part—taste testing! Dr. Phil put out nine clamshells of strawberries. All had a different number written on top. These were just a few of the strawberries that were close to being grown for sale. It was astonishing! We took bites of every one and were amazed at the differences in taste, texture and color. Even the calyxes (the little green leaves) were different sizes. There was a definite difference. One I tried smelled almost floral. Another was very crunchy-not “strawberry-ish” at all.

“This is how we test a lot of our berries,” Dr. Phil explained. “It’s a group collective and everyone who works here tastes and gives their opinion.”

Strawberries aren’t the only breeding crop they have there. We were led to a huge raspberry field where there were little white bags over the tops of the plants to identify them. Driscoll’s supplies about 85-90% of the raspberry market in the US. They put as much into their raspberry breeding as their strawberries.

But as Dr. Phil specialized in strawberries, he generously gave us all sample boxes of the test berries. I got 1235246. Why? It’s one of Dr. Phil’s favorites. That’s all I needed to know….

Here’s the recipe for the Berry Scones, taken from the Driscoll’s site. If I splurged, so can you! By the way, there are a TON of healthy berry recipes on their site, www.Driscolls.com. Enjoy!

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