Strawberries are ripening at a super-fast speed and despite the 3000 thrushes and countless slugs living in my garden, I am managing a good crop this year. Our soil is alcaline and strawberries seem to prefer acid so for four summers I've tried and failed but this year, I had a cunning idea of mulching the plants with pine bark pieces and I can fill a basket every day. It seems that the slugs don't like the smell or physical contact with pine and the birds....? I refuse to put a net over the fruit as in my first year I found a young dead sparrow caught in it and since then I've just accepted that birds love strawberries just as much as we do.
Strawberries bring back so many childhood memories. I remember my father's strawberries dipped in sweetened double cream or served with a chewy, mouth-melting meringue. I'm not sure people appreciate the strawberry as much as we did then, as they are now available all year round and taste of nothing and air. There are no "Prousts Madelaine" moments in a strawberry from Chilli in December.
I found my plants at the Conservatoire Vegetal Regional d'Aquitaine which stocks a marvellous collection of local varieties. I planted the Ananas Blanche, the Vicomtess Héricard de Thury and most importantly the perfumed, sweet and sherbet flavoured St Geniez d'Olt (that tastes and looks like the real wild strawberry). All these varieties are no longer grown commercially as big business prefers a more resilient variety that will stand a few knocks when travelling and last longer on the shop shelf.
The St Geniez d'Olt was the favourite of Jean Francois's grandfather in the 60's. He planted the whole back garden of their house in the Aubrac with just this variety of berry and for years this was the only fruit Jean Francois knew of.
But even a commercial, robust variety made for travelling hundreds of kilometres will taste perfect if let to ripen naturally. The mara de bois that I also grow in the garden as they re-fruit in the late summer, develop a true sweetness when picked and eaten when red and juicy as the sugars have had time to develop. The strawberry is sweetest when the sun is not too hot as the fruit should develop and ripen slowly which intensifies the taste. I've planted mine in the shade of my towering old rose bush that protects them from the hottest sun of the day and slows down strawberry growing process.
I was never a huge fan of the fruit until I started tasting my own. Their scent of honey and the crunchiness of the seeds put them right up their with raspberries, gooseberries and blueberries as my now favourite fruit.
When ripe and juicy, I eat them with a drop or two of lemon juice and sugar and dipped in a bowl of thick double cream, churned into a sorbet or ice-cream or simmered into jam.
Don't keep in the fridge, don't wash them and don't cook them (too much)....
Strawberries infused with Hibiscus Flowers
500g ripe, red and juicy strawberries
zest of one orange
zest of one lemon
half a vanilla pod
3 black peppercorns
150g cane sugar
80g hibiscus flowers
In a heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to the boil. Add the orange and lemons zest, pepper and vanilla. Boil until you get a syrup. Take off the heat and add the hibiscus flowers. Return to the heat and bring the mixture to the boil again. Take off the heat and allow to cool in the fridge.
Hull the strawberries and cut into quarters. Place in 4 individual bowls. Pour over the syrup through a strainer which will soak the strawberries and serve.
110g softened unsalted butter
55g cane sugar
110g fine plain flour
55g rice flour
200g Double Cream lightly whipped
100g ripe and juicy Strawberries
Preheat oven to 180°/350°/6. Put the butter, sugar flour and rice flour into a large bowl and knead together into a dough. Roll out into a until 1cm thick and cut with a 10cm cookie cutter (or flour edged cup) into rounds.
Slide onto a well buttered tin and prick lightly with a fork. Bake for 15-20 minute or until pale biscuit colour.