Hautbois are small, deep-red coloured strawberries.
They are sweet, fragrant and juicy, with concentrated flavour and somewhat of a musky taste.
The plant is a hardy perennial, able to withstand some frost. It grows up to 45 cm (18 inches) tall and spreads via runners, providing ground cover. It is not overly productive, though, in terms of fruit.
Two cultivars have been developed: Capron and Profumata di Tortona.
Hautbois Strawberries were cultivated from the 1400s to the 1600s in France and Germany, but interest in them waned with the arrival of new strawberry species from the New World.
They are native to an area ranging from southern Europe through to Siberia.
They were brought to the eastern coast of North America by settlers in the 1600s.
Hautbois strawberries were sold as a street food in mid-19th century London: “Gooseberries or pottles of strawberries were popular on steamer excursions downriver to Greenwich on a summer Sunday too: ‘the working-people’s Sunday dessert’, they were sometimes called. The seller’s cry for strawberries was, mysteriously, ‘Hoboys!’ and was a sign summer had arrived.” — Flanders, Judith. The Victorian City. London: Atlantic Books. 2012. Page 286.
Literature & Lore
In the novel “Emma” by Jane Austen, the character of Mrs Elton says while strawberry-picking that the “hautboy [is] infinitely superior—no comparison—the others hardly eatable.”
“Hautbois” means “upper woods”.