Here is a thought for singles seeking love. The next time your strawberry punnet or
patch yields one of those double strawberries, separate it carefully into two and present the person you fancy with one half. According to folklore, that person will fall in love with you. It has been a wonderful season for strawberries. Strawberries deep red all the way through tasting as sweet as God meant them. Now could be the time to Sunday-drive up north to one of the strawberry farms either on the Sunshine Coast or, less distantly, outside Brisbane; Stanthorpe is closer still. You can pick strawberries to your heart’s content then pay around $12 a kilo – although eating on the job is definitely not permitted. A shame, as probably the most potently joyful way of consuming strawberries is straight from the ground.
Delicate, perishable, fragile fruit that they are, several theories as to the origins of their name float around. The common explanation owes to the straw that was – sometimes still is – used as their mulch; another is that the berries as they grow in size are strewn among the leaves of the plant so were at one time called strawberries, which turned into strawberries. And then they are not real berries at all, but something described drearily as aggregate accessory fruit, how alluring.
For lunch I spooned thick plain yoghurt through a punnet of aggregate accessory fruit and it was almost the most perfect way so eat them. The perfect way, of course, is with cream. Strawberries and cream, the very words. A glass bowl of crimson strawberries and a jug of thick cream is such a simple, sophisticated and utterly sexy dessert that you wonder why more dinner hostesses don’t offer it up. The cream can be Chantilly-ed into greater luxuriousness with the addition of sugar and vanilla – ideally icing sugar into whose sifted snowy heart a plump Madagascan vanilla bean has previously been tucked. Splashing balsamic vinegar over freshly hulled strawberries then a drift of caster sugar an hour or so before serving brings out an intensity in the fruit worth trying, if you have not yet done so – as is a grinding of black peppercorns. Purists might sneer, of course – but how dull our dessert repertoire would be if we heeded them constantly.
I had forgotten about some daggy old strawberry ideas until I was recently flicking through William Wallace Irwin’s The Garrulous Gourmet and came across Romanoff Strawberries. Apparently a favourite of the Czar Alexander I of Russia, it consists of ripe strawberries crushed ‘to half fill an ordinary table glass’, after which you ‘pour in enough red port to fill up the glass, stir, cover with a little saucer to keep in the perfume and let it repose in the refrigerator for twenty-four hours. To serve: Strain well, pressing to get out the scented liquor, and pour it over a bowl of well sugared strawberries. Tell the family to snuff up that odour, for it smells as delightful as it tastes.’
More contemporary recipe books of mine fold sweetened whipped cream through the pureed berries and suggest Cointreau or cognac rather than port in which to steep the fruit. Taking that one step further you can produce, to great effect, that offputtingly named dessert the Eton Mess, a heavenly blend of macerated strawberries (kirsch is glorious for this), whipped cream and meringues which you have crushed into rough chunks. Spoon this mess into parfait glasses and garnish with sprigs of fresh mint.