On any given morning at the farmer’s market, you are likely to see a line at Harry’s Berries. And there was a particularly long one last week in Santa Monica, after the New York Times ran a piece about the legendary farm.
A favorite among chefs, finicky home cooks and strawberry aficionados alike, these berries have what is considered by many a cult following.
“We really regret the lines,” said Molly Gean, who runs the business with her husband Rick Gean. “But there’s really nothing we can do about it. The demand for our berries has exceeded the supply for at least a decade now.”
Harry’s Berries, a family farm, which was started in 1967 in Oxnard, California by Harry Iwamoto, is now run by his daughter and son in law, Molly and Rick Gean. The farm has not used methyl bromide fumigation or any other synthetic chemicals since 1998 and they pride themselves as being a smaller farm with eye for naturally great berries. Unlike the larger trend, Harry’s Berries veered away from the large commercial sales of strawberries, which require varietals that can withstand long truck rides and an extended shelf life at supermarkets across America. Instead they grow specialty strawberries – made for picking and eating in short order, far too delicate to ship. The flavors of all the varieties vary – they have nuance and personality and according to Molly Gean, those nuances are what set them apart.
According to Gean they are always trying new varieties. The bulk of their business is with the Gaviotas (she says it’s 90% of their sales) but there are many others. Right now, the most popular are gaviota’s, viva patricia’s, viva elisa’s and seascape’s – all with distinct personalities and flavor portraits. And those flavor portraits are what make them popular among chefs.
Here at the New School of Cooking, Executive Chef Briana Bielucke refers to them as “The Gucci of strawberries.”
Chef Lisa Walker, a Beverly Hills based private chef, has been a Harry’s Berries fan for years. She knows the nuances of the berry varieties well, and she is also no stranger to waiting in line at the stand. “I personally love seascape,” she said. “It has a beautiful bright red color throughout the berry. The flavor is sweet, but floral with some acid,” she added noting that they are vibrant in desserts with fats like cream or butter. But she’s not a seascape purist. “I also love to combine the berry varieties for a simple shortcake and cream. Gorgeous flavor.”
And what differentiates one strawberry from another. “They are really like children. All different,” she said laughing.
The Gaviota variety is very low acid and is a super sweet strawberry. Gaviotas are hard to beat eaten fresh, right out of the basket because they are so incredibly sweet she noted.
And the Seascape variety has more acid, so has a stronger, more complex sweet-tart flavor. Seascapes are great in sweetened desserts like shortcake or pie because the acid enhances the berry flavor and balances the sugar. “And the list goes on from there,” she said. And not all are successful. “I don’t really want to bring it up, but we recently tried the Verity and they have been a real disappointment. They aren’t doing well at all.”
Pastry Chef and Owner Genevieve Gergis of Bestia claims that it is amazing what Harry’s Berries is doing with different strawberry varietals. “She makes strawberries that can totally change a dessert.”
They are currently purchasing both the viva elisa and the viva patricia at Bestia. “It’s amazing to me that we have these choices, and that we don’t just have to pick one strawberry and alter the desert to fit that strawberry flavor,” she said. “You can make a dessert and finish it with the right strawberry that fits the undertone.” She also said Molly Gean is the only one who has been able develop strawberries that way. “It makes the product worth the cost versus a lower cost from someone else,” she added. She recently picked the viva elisa, because it has the tartness of the seascape, but has more floral undertones that work very well for the cream in the panna cotta, and it adds flavor in a natural way.
For Gean, the specialty varieties are the future of the market. “We are all pushing to grow and develop something that is unique and special. something that will be memorable.”
When asked about a special dessert recipe from the farm, Molly Gean immediately mentioned the strawberry pie. “It’s amazing and people love it,” she said. We have included the recipe below (which the NYT didn’t – don’t forget to share and send this secret recipe direct from Harries Berries with your friends and family).
Harry's Berries Strawberry PiePrint Recipe
- 3 Pints Strawberries, Washed and Hulled
- 1 Cup Sugar
- 1/8 Teaspoon Salt
- 1/4 Cup Cornstarch
- 1/4 Cup Water
- 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
- 1 Cup Heavy Cream
- 3 Tablespoons Sugar
- 1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla
- 1 (9 inch) baked pie shell
In a blender or food processor puree 1 cup of strawberries. Reserve the remaining strawberries whole for the pie filling.
In a medium saucepan, combine the pureed strawberries, 1 cup sugar and salt.
In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in the water then add to strawberry mixture.
Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened, clear red in color and comes to a full rolling boil (about 5 minutes).
Remove from heat and whisk in the lemon juice.
Cool for 10 ‐ 15 minutes.
Pat the remaining strawberries dry with paper towels (this is very important ‐ glaze will not stick to wet fruit).
Set aside a strawberry for garnish.
Gently toss the rest of the berries in the slightly cooled glaze.
Spoon the mixture into the baked pie shell.
Refrigerate 2 ‐ 4 hours.
Just before serving, whip the cream with 3 Tbsp. sugar and vanilla.
Spoon dollops of whipped cream around edges of pie.
Finish with a dollop in the middle and garnish with a berry on top.