The Secret Cevennes - articles by Samantha David
I've been mulling over the question of strawberries for some time now. We all know they're a hundred times larger now than when we were kids because they're all genetically engineered, but is that also why you can no longer hull a strawberry? I used to love filling the little holes up with cream...
On the subject of which, we've been experimenting with crème fraîche and mascarpone, a mix of which makes a convincing substitute for British double cream. It's very good with meringues and strawberries. Just add some sauce made from red fruit, sugar and something alcoholic whizzed and strained into a small jug.
The same sauce with a knob of butter added can be used to cook sliced strawberries if you want to serve them on pancakes with cream or Greek yoghurt for a nice change. And if you want to excite the kids, there's no reason why you shouldn't flambé the whole thing as in "crêpes Suzette"...
But if you don't like your strawberries messed up you could try this tip which a friend living in Austria passed on to me. For strawberries that are a bit over-large and not very tasty, slice them, sprinkle generously with sugar and add two dessert spoonfuls of ruby port or similar and one spoonful of balsamic vinegar. Sounds insane, but I assure you it works and after an hour or so in the fridge, it's impossible to taste the vinegar. All you taste is really fabulous strawberries.
Making jam is of course the classic option when it comes to preserving strawberries if you're ever lucky enough to be faced with a glut of them in your garden but it strikes me as labour-intensive myself. I'm never aching to spend all day stirring a cooking pot, but even more so when the sun is glorious outside. Instead, I prefer to freeze them blended and strained ready to be a thick coulis, or flavouring for a cake or whatever. If you freeze in smallish quantities (yoghurt pots are good I think) then you'll find no end of uses for the glorious Red Stuff.
One of the best is making strawberry daiquiri: mix white rum, strawberry juice, lime juice and sugar and pour over crushed ice. Garnish with mint. Obviously you have to drink it before the ice melts and makes it all watery... but I guarantee that you'll want more than one.
If however, you really have to eat your strawberries whole, how about covering them in chocolate? It's easy, just melt the sinful stuff in a bain marie, spear each strawberry on a toothpick and dip it into the chocolate. When it's all covered but no longer dripping, stick the other end of the toothpick into a square of polystyrene or even florists oasis would do the trick. Mount guard with a machine gun so that the chocolate has a chance to harden before the hoards descend and scoff the lot.
As to what you should drink with your strawberries, personally I think tea is too wet and champagne too fizzy. A nice desert wine would be my choice, perhaps served over ice.
Lastly, if you're a real sucker for punishment and want to make strawberry tarts you'll need to line either little individual tins or a alrge tart wheel lined with pâte sablée, and bake it slowly with a thick layer of egg custard in the bottom. When it's cold, you stack the strawberries onto the egg custard base and cover the whole lot in a heavy strawberry syrup reinforced with gelatine.
Not especially difficult but fiddly and time-consuming, especially the first time you do it. On the other hand, it does get you loads of Brownie Points and nobody cares if the strawberry mountain collapses slightly!
If you've got any more brilliant strawberry ideas, I'd love to hear from you so email me here.
Next column will be uploaded around 1st June.
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