Japanese people love to talk about how attuned they are to the seasons, and those who know their food are very picky about consuming produce only in season, which is, of course, the definition of a macrobiotic diet.
Before the rise of chain supermarkets, refrigerated transportation, international trade and sophisticated hothouses, there was actually no alternative to a macrobiotic diet. You ate what was available, and what was available was what was in season. But nowadays, you can get anything you want any time of the year, though, generally speaking, produce tends to be cheaper when it’s in season.
Not so in the case of strawberries, which for all intents and purposes are mostly grown in hothouses. Right now is the natural strawberry season, and until the end of May you can still find fields and hothouses that will let you pick and eat strawberries (more vitamin C than oranges!) for a fee. But the science of growing strawberries indoors has become so exact that most people can’t tell the difference in taste any more between a field grown berry and a hothouse one. For that reason, strawberries are one of the few agricultural endeavors, along with melons, that are guaranteed money-makers. Considered the ultimate of luxuries as recently as the 1980s, they are now affordable to everyone, and no one doesn’t love strawberries.
Tochigi Prefecture is the strawberry capital of Japan, with the Tochi Otome (Tochi maiden) breed of strawberries holding the largest share in the country. The natural season for strawberries is April and May, but hothouse strawberries are available from November to May. Most strawberries are picked when they are slightly unripe and the area around the stem is still white. The reason is that the berries continue to ripen after picking, so that they are at the peak of their flavor by the time they hit the supermarket. If the berries are picked when they’re ripe, they’ll likely be spoiled (and moldy) by the time they are in stores. After being picked they are immediately chilled at around 7 degrees centigrade in order to firm them up so that they won’t bruise as easily.