“Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to strawberry fields,” crooned The Beatles.
You are mistaken if you think strawberry picking is possible only in distant foreign lands, or at best in Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra.
Thanks to Karnataka-based companies, like Wholesome Farms and The Bangalore Berry Company, one can now go strawberry picking in Bengaluru, as winter gives way to spring in February and March. Last month, I visited The Bangalore Berry Company's Malur farm, situated 61 kms from central Bengaluru. I discovered a variety of strawberries, learnt about cultivating them and tasted juicy, farm-fresh fruits.
Chaitanya Mandavilli, one of the co-founders, says, “There is a popular meme on the internet. Strawberries look like they should taste a lot better than they actually do. We are here to change that.”
In India, most of us would have only tried the most popular commercial variety, Winter Dawn. A large number of commercial farmers prefer this variety that produces the sturdiest fruits. They often harvest their berries before they are ripe so that the fruit can travel long distances without being bruised. As a result, most of the strawberries in the Indian market are tasteless, and sometimes tart.
The farm started with the intention of giving families a wholesome experience with farm-fresh fruits that taste great.
Sweet sensation and Beauty
Currently, their Malur farm has gone from growing three types of strawberries to 10 varieties, like Sweet Sensation, Beauty, Brilliance, and Nabila.
Due to seed control laws, there is a restriction on importing strawberry seeds. They import mother plants from America, Europe and Italy. These come into India in the form of frozen bare roots which are sown in the winter. This mother plant then generates strawberry runners to yield fruits which are ready by spring.
Strawberries taste best when freshly plucked and consumed immediately. When you go around the fields, you might be tempted to pick the bigger berries. Avoid doing so, because they might taste bland due to higher water content. Look for the small, slightly dry ones with leathery skin. Since their water has evaporated, only the sugary sweetness remains, and they are packed with flavour.
The taste of strawberries is subjective to people’s flavour preferences. At the farm, there is no such thing as the most popular variety. My favourite was the Italian Nabila. These conical berries are plump, crunchy, luscious with a deep glossy red colour. They also had a slightly tart taste, on account of their high Vitamin C content.
Sunflowers and marigold
Strawberry picking attracts young children and their families. In the interest of food safety, the farm is chemical and pesticide-free. The founders claim the fruit can be eaten straight off the plants without washing them.
This year, they have expanded to five other farms and have grown three and a half lakh plants. Instead of synthetic pesticides, they adopted an innovative approach. Turns out pests make a beeline for vibrant yellow flowers, and each farm is bordered with beautiful sunflowers and marigold. These spots are perfect for family photo albums and Instagram reels.
The farms are accessible to seniors and those with special needs. There is a separate wheelchair-friendly section in the Malur farm.
On the menu
While there is no savoury food at the farm yet, there are some sweet treats, like strawberries dipped in dark chocolate, strawberries with fresh cream and strawberry-studded brownies.
The founders also collaborate with small women-led businesses, such as Jarganic and Mountain Bee Kombucha to make strawberry-infused products which can be bought by visitors at the farms.
Plan a trip
The entry cost is ₹ 200 per person, and children below 5 can visit for free. The farms are open all week from 9 AM to 5 PM, and there is no specific time limit on how long one can stay. Allocate one or two hours for strawberry picking, then rest for some time, while enjoying a small picnic with your family.
If you plan to take strawberries home, the price is ₹ 500 per kg. While it could sound expensive, organic strawberries cost ₹ 800 - 1000 per kg in premium grocery stores.
Book via WhatsApp on 76800 23779, Instagram @thebangaloreberrycompany, or their website thebangaloreberrycompany.com.
Deepthi Bavirisetty is a corporate lawyer by training and a keen watcher of food and culture trends in Bengaluru.