Strawberries. Everybody loves strawberries. Or do they? As a small child I didn’t like them. I can’t even remember why; I don’t believe it was the sharpness that ideally comes along with the sweetness because I loved damson jam, a regular feature of my Northern upbringing, for instance.
Then when I was about eight I was playing at a friend’s house when I was offered a bowl of strawberries. This was clearly intended as a great treat; it was after all the 1960s, with a much shorter growing season and few, if any, imports of soft fruit. I didn’t feel able to decline so I accepted a bowl and experienced a flavour explosion – what a revelation! From now on I DID love strawberries.
Except … I fell out of love with them for a while as my tastes expanded to take in raspberries (I don’t remember ever having them as a child), plums, damsons in crumbles, and foreign exotica such as peaches, nectarines, and apricots, although the latter are usually better cooked, as even the ripe fruit often disappoints when raw. Strawberries became less attractive with the rise of supermarket standardisation and refrigeration, the ubiquitous almost tasteless Elsanta variety, imports, and the much longer growing season, which made them less of a rare treat. And being environmentally aware, the food miles issue, high water inputs, the rise of pesticides & fungicides, and the visual pollution of acres of polytunnels were of great concern to me.
Yet much has happened to make me fall back in love with the strawberry in the last few years. Customers are demanding more flavour, and at least some producers have responded. Farmers markets are a good source of local, seasonal produce. Nowadays I will enjoy strawberries three or four times in the traditional season (yes, around Wimbledon!). This means, for me, eaten plain, or with lashings of double cream (NOT single, NOT whipped, NOT clotted, and definitely NOT from a spray can!) or maybe on a Pavlova or in an Eton Mess (although I prefer raspberries in that).
Newer ideas for bringing out the flavour or combining swith other ingredients are fascinating, such as with freshly milled black pepper, marinated in balsamic vinegar, or cooked with rhubarb, but I don’t feel the urge to try them. When it comes down to it, English strawberries at the height of their season, as un- messed-about-with as possible, is hard to beat!
This post is based on a piece I wrote on the course.