La fraise: The strange history of France's strawberry family

With strawberry season now upon us we look at the story of a family that bore the fruits name and wwere instrumental in the creation of the modern-day variety in France

One family has a particularly interesting link to strawberries in France

Did you know that the “fraise” gave its name to a Frenchman in the 10th century, only for one of his descendants to live up to that name by introducing a new species of the fruit into France 800 years later?

In 916, Charles III (Charles the Simple) bestowed the name “Fraise” upon the family of Julius de Berry, a citizen of Antwerp, as a reward for a gift he made of a platter of ripe woodland strawberries. The family name changed as a result of a sojourn in Scotland, where it became “Frazer” – and then “Frézier” upon its reappearance in France.

In 1712, one of Julius de Berry’s descendants, Amédée-François Frézier, was charged by Louis XIV with a voyage to the Spanish territories of South America.

Frézier was a military engineer, mathematician, spy and explorer, whose principal mission was to spy on the fortifications and commercial transactions of the colonies.

He landed in Concepción, Chile, in June 1712 after five months at sea, where he posed as a simple traveller. Among the items Frézier returned to France with in 1714 were an account of his voyage – published in England as A voyage to the South-Sea, and along the coasts of Chili and Peru, in the years 1712, 1713 and 1714 – and several strawberry plants of the Fragaria chiloensis variety.

Frézier wrote of the Chilean ‘beach’ strawberries, “they there cultivate entire fields of a type of strawberry differing from ours by their rounder leaves, being fleshier and having strong runners.

“Its fruit are usually as large as a whole walnut, and sometimes as a small egg. They are of a whitish-red colour and a little less delicate to the taste than our woodland strawberries.”

Most modern French strawberries are descended from Frézier’s Chilean variety, which was subsequently crossed with other varieties by growers in Plougastel, in Brittany, which at one time produced a quarter of France’s entire annual strawberry yield.

In that way, Frézier earned his family name some centuries after it was first bestowed.