The Best Strawberries in the World

You know a product is good when it costs at least twice as much as the competition, and yet people are lining up to purchase it. That is the case with strawberries from Harry’s Berries.

Harry's Berries strawberries with fresh cream

Harry’s Berries strawberries with fresh cream

I’ll often pass by Harry’s when I’m at the Farmer’s Market, heading instead for the less expensive berries. And while in peak season there may be the odd berry here or there that tastes as good as Harry’s, you’re taking your chances. Then I wonder why I don’t buy the best berries every time — they’re certainly worth the extra $5 to $10 dollars per three pack. And I regularly — and happily — drop $10 on four ounces of sea urchin that are practically gone before I even open the package.

What is it that makes such a difference between a great strawberry and, say, the package of strawberries I buy on sale at Sprouts market — which are neither bad nor great? They both come from plants, they both grow in the dirt. Further, both come from the fertile farmlands of Oxnard, 20 miles to our north, known for producing the country’s best strawberries. I imagine the farmhands at Harry’s pouring bags of sugar around the base of each plant. Or perhaps they pamper them, the way Kobe farmers do their prized cows. Maybe the farmhands treat them to nightly ranchero serenades and water them with Sauternes.

My wine drinking friends will appreciate the reference of Sauternes. For in Harry’s Berries are a unique level of flavor I have not experienced in other fruit, much the way the “noble rot,” botrytis, contributes an utterly indescribable depth of flavor to Sauternes that you will not find in another wine. (Especially if paired with foie gras, though that is a subject for another post…)

Folks queuing up at Harry's Berries at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market

Folks queuing up at Harry’s Berries at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market

Like many of life’s great things, Harry’s Berries began with humble roots — Japanese garderner Harry Iwamoto began the farm in 1967. When Harry passed away, his children took over running the farm. And now their children have taken up the family trade. And perhaps that helps explain why the berries are so good — generations of family, kneeling in the earth and tilling the ground with love and tradition. You gotta figure the terroir knows.

If you’re in Southern California, you can find Harry’s Berries only at farmer’s markets in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Pasadena, Hollywood, Venice and Santa Barbara, among others. Don’t mind the sticker shock, you’ll have no regrets. If you’re not in Southern California, pour yourself a glass of Sauternes and dream.

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13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. pal-O
    May 31, 2013 @ 03:04:41

    Started laying the walls for our terraced strawberry garden today in the last corner of the backyard. Hopefully they will cascade over the Tennessee field cobblestone wall with their deep pink flowers bearing red berries which supposedly will hang like clustered grapes. Our other white flowered single strawberries are flowering madly in the other corner and I think this is the beginning of a beautiful, edible future. Now if we can make them taste like Harry’s . . . time will tell and I will always know where they come from and what isn’t on them. Photos soon my friend.

    Reply

    • scolgin
      May 31, 2013 @ 16:09:51

      Strawberry envy. My attempts have been pretty disappointing in this rugged Topanga soil. (You may remember the little wild strawberries that grew like weeds all over the backyard of our West L.A. home.)

      Reply

      • pal-O
        Jun 01, 2013 @ 12:41:51

        Heading out today to get more stones to finish the terrace wall and get the berries in. Speaking of berries, looks like our thornless blackberries are going to be a bumper crop this year. On the hunt to try Sauternes. Any suggestions? Unseasonably cool this morning with a nice breeze for June in FLA. It can’t last but just a few more days, maybe a few more hours, or until I finish this grab my coffee and enjoy it sitting outside. I do remember the LA house and still have those great photos. Flynn reaching up from his crawl on the floor to touch your guitar is one of my favorites!

  2. Mom
    May 31, 2013 @ 03:27:42

    So interesting on so many levels. The high point in my opinion of my long gone friend Jack’s [math teacher and football coach at Taft High School where my kids went and before that at my high school] Easter brunch was the berries his brother in law brought from Oxnard. I have to think they were the same as they were extraordinary.
    The other issue is Sauternes which when I mentioned that word to some rather knowledgeable California wine drinkers, guffawed and made terrible faces recalling the ‘old’ Sauternes sold in this country as low brow cooking wines. I tried to make a case for French Sauternes but may have fallen on deaf ears. More for us.

    Reply

    • scolgin
      May 31, 2013 @ 16:11:51

      Oxnard is known for the best berries. And Harry’s are the best of the best. I can’t imagine a knowledgeable wine drinker would make a face at a Sauternes. Maybe they envision themselves as more knowledgeable than they actually are? Trader Joe’s just started carrying a nice small bottle Sauternes for around $19, I think.

      Reply

  3. Michelle
    May 31, 2013 @ 03:51:02

    I’ll have some of those. With Sauternes, s’il vous plaît. 🙂 I like your terroir theory, but I think that it’s mostly a matter of variety and weather. Here, the smaller the cultivar the better. The large ones with the white and often hollow centers (what I call “California berries” … forgive me!!) don’t cut it and I’ve been really distressed to see them appearing at our farmers’ markets. Whatever the secret is, looks like Harry’s grandkids know it.

    Reply

    • scolgin
      May 31, 2013 @ 16:08:16

      We’re not very fond of those big hollow ones out here, either. I call them “grocery store berries.” We actually get about 7 or 8 different varieties, and like you, I like the small ones best (Gaviota, Camarosa, Seascape…) At our old house, I’d actually landscaped with the tiny wild alpine berries, and those are my favorite.

      Reply

  4. Marie -Michelle Hewett
    May 31, 2013 @ 17:05:17

    the best I have eaten are called guariguettes, from the farmers markets in France. Not big, not too small, but the taste is probably like Harry’s berries, scrumptious. However, due to the inordinate amount of rain this year, all crops are delayed by weeks if not months….

    Reply

  5. Marie -Michelle Hewett
    May 31, 2013 @ 17:35:09

    oops typo, no u so gariguettes, plain and tasty!

    Reply

  6. Jessamine in PDX
    Jun 01, 2013 @ 17:07:52

    For Oregonians, it’s the Hood strawberries that are the pinnacle. They are like jewels — so red and so sweet. Growing up in Alaska, I just assumed all strawberries were like the “grocery store strawberries” (which like Michelle I still call California berries). It was a revelation when I had my first strawberry in Portland. My goal now is to have a nice patch in my backyard to satisfy my cravings!

    Reply

  7. April
    Jun 02, 2013 @ 05:20:15

    I won’t go near Harry’s berries because they’re not organic. I agree with you about supermarket strawberries though… horrible and nearly always moldy (esp. raspberries & blackberries… sheesh!). Strawberries make it onto Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen” fruits & veg to avoid and always buy organic. I also just read an incredibly interesting article in the NY Times Sunday Review about how by increasing the “sweetness” in foods we’ve actually removed the essential compounds that help humans fight disease. Check it out: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/opinion/sunday/breeding-the-nutrition-out-of-our-food.html?_r=0

    Lastly, even with Topanga soil, if you do raised beds the strawberries absolutely flourish! I’m now thinking about Sauternes….yum. I’m sure I was French in a past life 😉

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Jun 02, 2013 @ 13:34:24

      The whole “organic” thing is a bit deceptive. The government makes it exceptionally onerous and expensive for small farms to get certified, and many of the large farms are able to exploit various loopholes. So that in many cases, small non-organic farms are coming to market with produce that is cleaner and less impactful on the environment than large “organic” farms. Harry’s has been pesticide/chemical free since 1998.

      Reply

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