In 2006, Jon Sederquist left his investment management job in Boston and, with his wife Patti and newborn son, returned to live on his family's Christmas tree farm in rural Litchfield County, Connecticut. There he created Deeply Rooted Farms, nurturing a lifelong passion for strawberries first ignited when he was a teenager working part-time at a neighbor's berry farm. Sederquist's plot of land, bordered by Revolutionary War-era stone walls, is one of few in New England that, thanks to diverse varieties and well-planned crop rotations, offer strawberries from the end of May all the way through the first frost of autumn.
What's the biggest difference between your strawberries and the fist-size ones I get at my supermarket?
Where do I start? Just about everything. Unlike supermarket berries, ours are grown for taste, not durability for shipping. They're also grown in real soil, not soil that's been fumigated and industrialized. This results in a great taste and sweetness. We grow super-firm Jewel strawberries; acidic Cavendish, which thrive in colder climates; Valley Sunset from Canada, which ripen in the summer; conical-shaped Albion; and plump, mildly sweet Allstars. Earliglow, an heirloom variety, is considered our best. It has a quintessentially strawberry flavor: super sweet and aromatic. It's lost popularity over the years because it's too small and fragile, but boy, is it good.
That's a lot of varieties. Can you tell them apart in a blind taste test or do they all taste like, well, strawberry?
The main strawberry traits I've come up with are texture, sweetness, and acidity. Then there's aroma. Each berry has a different "nose." L'Amour has a pleasant floral aroma that goes exceptionally well with chocolate. Jewels, while not typically as sweet as others, are like a full-bodied red wine combined with a rich, intense strawberry smell.
What are the best to use in pies?
I'm not a huge fan of baking strawberries if you don't have to. For me, it ruins that just-picked berry taste. I think they should be served fresh. When I "bake," I do what I call a fresh strawberry pie: cooked sauce and crust, with fresh strawberries sliced on top and served chilled. If you do plan on baking, though, acidic varieties, like Cavendish, which have a sour taste, are best. Adding sugar and cornstarch masks the sourness and results in a pie that's not too sweet.
So should I steer clear of making strawberry jam too?
Jams seem to preserve the freshness of the fruit better than baking the berry does. It really depends on how you do it, but our friends make a jam that's basically flash-cooked—not more than a few minutes or so on the stovetop. A lot of the freshness from the field stays in the berries. We've found that blending sweet Earliglows with firm Jewels makes a superior jam.