Ark of Taste
Fragaria x ananassa nothosubsp. ananassa
Discovered in Massachusetts about 125 years ago by Marshall Ewell, the Marshall strawberry was considered “the finest eating strawberry in America,” according to James Beard, “exceedingly handsome, splendidly flavored, pleasantly sprightly, aromatic and juicy.”
The Marshall strawberry is small to medium in size and bumpy, with a dark red heart and delicate skin. The fruit is so soft, in fact, that it leaves a trail of juice when harvested and moved from the fields. The delicacy of the fruit means it cannot be shipped and sold a few weeks after being harvested. Its flavor is exceptionally bold, and the sugar content is so naturally high that Marshalls only last a few hours after ripening…not days. It ripens annually in late May and June usually lasting 2 to 3 weeks.
The fragile Marshall requires specific climate and soil conditions. It found its ideal growing conditions in the Pacific Northwest, where it became the foundation on which the region’s berry industry was built. Due to its qualities it has been mostly grown for commercial processing, especially in Oregon and Washington states. These two states produced the world’s largest volume of frozen strawberries. However, in the 1940s the Marshall was nearly wiped out by crop diseases imported from other countries. It was phased out of production in the 1960s when it occupied only 4,000 acres of Oregon and Washington’s strawberry market.
The Marshall was included on the list of “most endangered foods” in Gary Paul Nabhan’s Renewing America’s Food Traditions, 2008. It is no longer considered critically endangered due to the availability through the Germplasm Repository and producers like Nicola Maxwell (Oregon) and Leah Gauthier (Maine) who have made them available to local gardeners, but is still quite rare.
According to Dr.Kim Hummer, of the Germplasm Repository, the Marshall is one of the more frequently requested plants that they distribute across the country. They have also provided a number of nursery growers with runners of this clone, hoping that they will include it for their sales. While, the Marshall is not likely to become commercially produced again because of the lack of firmness and its high susceptibility to viruses and diseases, it remains a highly valued treasure of the home gardener.
The Image by Newton, Amanda Almira, Available: U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville