Eton Mess, Wimbledon, Pimms… There are some quintessentially British traditions which require an unquestionably seasonal ingredient. Of course you can now buy strawberries all year round, but come June, we become fiercely proud of our homegrown varieties. Surely every family, including my own, has their own account of a hazy summer’s afteroon spent scrambling through the rows of straw, picking their own bounty of the ripest, reddest fruit in the field. At the end of one such session, once our many punnets had gone through the till, my grandmother plonked the smallest of our clan on the scale, their face a telltale shade of claret, and sighed, “You’d better weigh this one, too”.
What makes homegrown, and some would argue particularly Scottish strawberries, so worth the wait is down to another one of our unique traits – the amusingly-named great British summer. This one has been a prime example. Throughout May and June the plants are subjected to much cooler temperatures than Spanish or French, together with lots of nourishing rain. The plants, put on their guard by this damp reception, focus their energy in the budding fruit, rather than on growing to an enormous size. Cue a mini heatwave with glorious, ripening sunshine and the result is firm, ruby-red strawberries with an intensely sweet flavour.
You can replicate the just-picked feeling in your own kitchen by letting your strawberries come to room temperature before indulging, so that their fragrance and flavour isn’t smothered by the cool of the fridge. Pick up the punnets with dark red, smaller fruit rather than the giant, fire engine-red ones, and even if one might attract a few quizzical looks, I never buy before I’ve had a good smell.
Almond meringue with strawberries and coulis
This simple recipe comes to me from my Belgian grandmother, who at the age of 90, makes it every Wednesday for her bridge party. To paraphrase her French expression, the ladies themselves on it.
6 egg whites
180g caster sugar
200g ground almonds
400g punnet strawberries
Tablespoon caster sugar
Squeeze of lemon juice
Whipped cream, to serve.
- Line a baking sheet with greasepoof paper. Preheat oven to 100C, fan.
Using a very clean bowl and hand-held or standing mixer, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks – depending on the speed, it could take anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes.
- Once the whites are stiff, turn down the speed and add in a spoonful of the sugar at a time.
- Beat until the whites are glossy and have a good shine.
Remove the whisk and fold in the ground almonds, using a spatula or wooden spoon.
- Spread the meringue mixture to a thickness of roughly 1cm.
Bake for an hour, testing a corner. It should be crispy but still have a good chewiness in the centre. Remove from the oven and cool while you make the coulis.
- Hull 100g of the strawberries and cut into quarters. Heat with the lemon juice, sugar and water until just warm, then whizz using a handmixer or gently crush with a potato masher.
- Divide the remaining strawberries between two bowls. Dollop a good spoonful of whipped cream on top, spear with a piece of almond meringue. Drizzle with coulis.