Ark of Taste
Fragraria x Ananassa v.Fairfax
Widely regarded as the best tasting strawberry produced in the United States during the first half of the 20th century, the Fairfax was juicy, mildly subacid, with a luscious mouth-filling sweetness. The low acid made them ideal freezing berries. But the quality that made them the favorite at the produce stand and market was their sweetness. Donald Hyde Scott in Strawberry Varieties in the United States (1979) said, that they possessed “Excellent dessert quality.” More recent commentators were more effusive, saying, “their fresh eating and dessert quality is unsurpassed.” It is a highly productive cultivar as almost every flower generates a fruit.
Believed to be a cross between the Royal Sovereign and Howard 17 strawberries made by George Darrow at the Glenn Dale, Maryland USDA small fruits breeding station, the Fairfax was selected for development in 1925, and over three years the qualities of the berry were fine tuned. In 1928 it was released and quickly won consumers over with its superlative taste. Grown in the upper South, New Jersey, and the Pacific Northwest, the Fairfax was a favorite until the final quarter of the 20th century.
The Fairfax is a variety not suitable for monocropping. The most popular web source discussing strawberries, Strawberryplants.org, explains that the plants are not as fully disease resistant as some of the modern cultivars are. If you are a farmer planting acres upon acres of strawberries, reducing the risk of infection by pathogenic fungus or other opportunistic entity is a must. While this concern is much smaller for gardeners and enthusiasts, big players drive development of new strawberry breeds, and everyone else usually adopts the varieties they do over time. Another drawback is a soft texture of the strawberries, that makes them more prone to bruising and damage while in shipment. Berries that don’t ship well don’t sell well at grocery stores. So, with the changing demands of commerce, Fairfax strawberry plants fell out of favor with growers in favor of more robust, but often less flavorful, cultivars.
For a quarter of a century, from roughly 1985 to 2011 the variety was unavailable from any commercial source in the United States for planting. It was revived in 2011 by Mike Wellik of Alpine Strawberry Plants in Delaware to meet the insistent demand of older gardeners for the Fairfax. The restoration was enabled by the germ plasm preserved at the Corvalis station of the USDA.
However, the plants have been available in limited quantities for only two years. Those persons who are now growing the Fairfax are doing so for produce markets and high end restaurants.