TIPS FOR MAKING THE BEST OF YOUR
I most frequently eat my strawberries for breakfast, picking the handful or so that have ripened each day. I know you won’t believe me when I say that I actually think the light acidity of yogurt is preferable to cream with strawberries, but if the yogurt is really good and creamy – say Brown Cow Organic’s Vanilla, then it really does taste good.
Strawberries and Cream are however the British way, and in the form of jam, with clotted cream and scones, this in indeed a winning combination. The Italians on the other hand favour squeezing over a little lemon juice and then a sprinkling of sugar before leaving to macerate for no more than half an hour. Some acidity really does help bring out the flavour whilst cream can deaden the palate.
The following recipe for Strawberries with Syllabub manages to combine the two cultures. The cream is flavoured with lemon, both juice and zest, together with a good glug of sherry. It is the original topping for trifles, very British, and I’ve never yet come across anyone who didn’t love it. It also helps stretch a relative small quantity of strawberries – an ideal dessert for serving to large crowds.
Before moving on to the recipe just a couple more tips – strawberries taste best when eaten warm from the sun, if you can’t achieve this please at least try not to refrigerate them. A cool larder is better. If you are picking your own and you need them to keep for a day, pick them with a short length of stem still attached.
STRAWBERRIES WITH SYLLABUB
12 oz strawberries
½ pint double cream
4 oz caster sugar
finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
4 tbsps medium dry sherry
Put the creams, sugar, lemon rind, lemon juice and sherry into a mixing bowl. Beat well until the cream is thick.
Slice the strawberries into 6 serving glasses, reserving 3 for decoration.
Spoon the syllabub onto the strawberries and chill for several hours.
Top each glass with half a strawberry and serve with shortbread fingers – Lavender, Rose or Almond shortbread are my favoured flavourings for this.
WHOLE STRAWBERRY CONSERVE
Our tastings have looked also at the subject of strawberry jam – it’s a very serious business you know! I’m not a great jam lover, but there are just two flavours that my larder must contain – strawberry for scones and apricot for the occasional continental breakfast.
Making jam is the best way of preserving strawberries and if you have visited a pick-your-own you will almost certainly want to do this. It has to be admitted though that whilst jam suits strawberries, strawberries are not the ideal fruit for making jam – too little pectin. Don’t expect a firm set or, if you must have this, be prepared to add pectin. Always pick the fruit on a dry day and, for jam, they are better just slightly under-ripe. A conserve has whole fruit in it, but you’d be hard pressed to fit more than half a dozen of today’s whoppers in a jar. Commercially Wilkins and Sons Ltd have continued growing Little Scarlet (Fragaria virginiana) for their conserve. The plant was originally brought back to the UK from America, where it grew wild, by C J Wilkin in the 1900’s and it has been cultivated by the company every since. You can still buy their conserve, which is very nice if a bit too firmly set for my preference. My recipe however borrows from their idea of using whole small strawberries, wild or alpine, in a conserve made with standard sized strawberries. It is a good use for wild strawberries, which grow like a weed in my garden, but never yield enough to do much with.
Makes about 6 lb
2 kg strawberries + as many wild or alpine strawberries as you can muster (probably just a couple of handfuls, I use some of my Mara des Bois for this)
1.5 kg granulated sugar
The juice of 2 large lemons
A handful of redcurrants or gooseberries if you have them will help the set.
Put the whole small strawberries in a dish and sprinkle with sufficient of the sugar for them all to get a good coating. The sugar will begin to draw the juices out of the fruit, firming them up and helping them to stay whole in the preserve. Do this several hours ahead of making the jam if you can.
Wash the jars and then sterilise by first rinsing them with boiling water (wear rubber gloves whilst you do this) then place the empty but hot jars in an oven preheated to 120˚C.
Mash the 2 kg of ordinary strawberries, plus redcurrants or gooseberries if you are using them, with the remainder of the sugar in a preserving pan. Place over a gentle heat until all of the sugar has dissolved. Now add the whole strawberries, together with their juices and any un-dissolved sugar. Stir very gently until the rest of the sugar has dissolved but take care not to break up the whole strawberries.
Now add the lemon juice, turn up the heat and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Continue boiling until the temperature reaches 104˚C on a jam thermometer; this will take between 8 and 12 minutes. If you do not have a thermometer cook the jam for the full 12 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat, stir in a small knob of butter to help disperse any scum and leave for 5 minutes to allow the fruit to settle, otherwise all of the whole fruit will rise to the top. Pour into the hot, dry jars and seal immediately with new lids.