The Kashubian strawberry, locally known as Kaszëbskô Malëna, is said to have been initially brought to the region in the mid-19th century, quite possibly by a teacher working at a local village school. The plant is a cross of two different forest berries originating on the other side of the ocean and might have been brought as a botanical novelty or for study purposes. Still, this was not its moment of glory.
The school burnt down, and the surviving berry was growing forgotten until, in 1919, Wilhelm Warmowski, a widower wanting to win the heart of Rozalia, finds them and brings a few shrubs to her garden as a token of his affection. There we have it! That must be it, you may think. And you would be… wrong. Rozalia accepted the gift, but the berry grew in the garden without much attention.
Snow White and the seven shrubs
The story could have ended here if it weren’t for Helena Gruchała. The soil in that part of (again independent) Poland was “fifth class.” Poverty was the daily bread of Kashubians, who did what they could to make ends meet. Helena Gruchała was no different.
Make sure to add the experience of tasting a Kashubian Strawberry in peak season to your bucket list. It deserves it!
One Sunday afternoon in 1919, strolling home from church, she was in search of new plants of forest berries that she could plant in her garden to later sell their fruit. On her way, she had to pass by Rozalia’s garden. Her daughter pointed to the berries she was carrying and mentioned they had similar ones growing in Rozalia’s garden but that they were much bigger.
It sparkled Helena’s interest. When she was shown the neglected plants, she asked for a few for herself. She couldn’t have known that what she was carrying back home was, in fact, a whole new chapter of Kashubian history and a Holy Grail to turn around the region’s position.
Kashubian Strawberry Fields Forever
Helena looked after her new addition to the garden very well. Her green fingers soon allowed the plants to thrive, and, in return for all the care and attention, they bestowed her with their fragrant fruit of deep red color. Helena was still not convinced whether the time she spent growing these weird berries was worth the trouble; nevertheless, she packed the berries and hopped on a train to Gdańsk.
She didn’t even make it to the market when a fellow passenger asked her for the price she put on the strawberries she was carrying. He purchased them, and… that’s when the strawberry business hit home.
From this moment on, Helena devoted all her efforts to cultivating the plant, so much so that she became known as the local misfit. This did not discourage her; in the end, she became a true success. In just a few years, seven pitiful shrubs turned into a plantation 3.5 hectares strong and with a workforce of 30 employees.
Soon the locals followed in her footsteps and allowed strawberries to change their lives for the better. Over a century later, the fruit has become a symbol of the region, nearly as much as the Kashubian Alphabet or the Kashubian embroidery. It thrives over acres of land, especially in the area of Kartuzy.
But what makes Kashubian strawberries so unique? The simple answer is: location. Thanks to the microclimate present in the Kashubian Lake District, these wonderful berries have conditions for growth exceptional on the European scale. The slopes of the moraines, the soil, and relatively cool nights and often scorching hot days give the berries their distinct aroma and unique flavor.
Kashubian strawberries are also exceptionally sweet. Difficult natural conditions require a very traditional, mostly manual way of growing the fruit. Hence every basket of the red treasure represents months of hard work of Kashubian farmers. And don’t just take my word for it! In 2009 the Kashubian Strawberry was awarded the European certificate of Protected Geographical Indication and is now protected produce considered to be of the highest quality and unique within the Europan Union community.
And that’s the story of how a series of mundane events can change the course of history and the lives of a community. Next time your neighbor decides to cultivate an unknown plant, give them a hand – they might be on to something, and you may have an opportunity to make your mark in history. Oh. And make sure to add the experience of tasting a Kashubian Strawberry in peak season to your bucket list. It deserves it!