Juan Estrada, 53 years old, has been growing strawberries for 23 years, the age of his only son, according to him.
A Quillabambino, he met his wife in the Valley and decided to leave his land of coffee and cocoa to dedicate himself to his wife’s family’s strawberry plots in Yucay.
With time and scarce water, the Yucay land was replaced by plots in the Upper Urubamba. There he continued to apply all the farming knowledge he had acquired, incorporating methods rarely used in the Valley at that time, such as the elaboration of a special pesticide, alfalfa, milk and grass fermented for 45 days.
He tells me about the cultivation process and handling, and I realize how much patience and delicacy is needed. He says that the strawberry is like a baby, that it needs a lot of attention from the nutrients that are offered to the soil to the cleanliness that the plants need.
I arrived at a time when it is still early for the plants to produce fruit, but I could see that it requires a lot of care. Juan has arranged them according to harvest times. And to one side, in a corner, there is a small pit with a mixture of compost that he himself prepares to fertilize the soil.
The strawberries are characterized by a very mild fragrance and subtle flavor, pale pink in color, and perhaps unattractive in appearance (especially compared to the huge bright red strawberries that grow in Cusco), were it not for how valuable they are growing in this area and how the drink that is traditionally prepared with them as the main ingredient is so closely linked to the culture here. The frutillada that is prepared, to cut costs, with strawberries, or ayrampo for coloring, or any other ingredient, will never taste the same.
I observe how he stores the fruits in medium-sized containers. He mixes 3Kg of strawberries with 400g of sugar. These mixes I review are from the month of April, and upon tasting it, I clearly identify that it already contains alcohol. Each container of this size is sold to chicherías for S./ 20 (USD 6).
Juan faces the challenges of so many producers in the region, to produce a crop with a lot of effort, and receive in return a payment that does not seem to justify it. But he continues to bet on it because he recognizes the value of this product, and the importance of preserving this activity for an authentic frutillada.
I left very grateful, with an invitation for the month of October, where he told me that I will be able to see the strawberries bloom, and I will be able to taste and feel the wonderful aroma they have.
Local importance of the product:
Frutillada is the main drink of Urubamba, it was brought from Yucay by families who migrated because of water scarcity.
Frutillada has become the most valued product in the valley.
Frutillada can be consumed any day in any of the several local chicherías that we can identify because they have red flags on the end.
But although it is available throughout the year, the special dates for drinking this drink are November 9, which is the Feast of Urubamba (and the strawberry season) and now the upcoming Feast of the Lord of Torrechayoc.
Yucay makes a celebration of the frutillada, at the time when the fruit is harvested.