Synonymous with summer, the British strawberry season begins with the arrival of early season fruit grown under cover. Imported strawberries, now sold for most of the year, are picked whilst slightly under-ripe to ensure that they don’t turn into mush during transportation. However strawberries do not ripen after being picked and so imported strawberries are often hard and have an undeveloped flavour – a pale imitation of in-season British strawberries.
The flavour of strawberries can be really brought out with the addition of a simple dressing. Gently heat some balsamic vinegar and/or orange liqueur, add an equal volume of sugar and stir to dissolve. Allow to cool and pour a little (less is more) over the strawberries. Stir gently and leave at room temperature to macerate for half an hour. Serve, of course, with plenty of cream.
Strawberries are native to both Old and New worlds. They have been eaten since Roman times, when they were also used medicinally to help with digestive ailments, discolored teeth and skin irritations. The strawberries available today are derived from varieties that were originally developed in the seventeenth century.
The strawberry plant, genus Fragaria, is a member of the rose family. Strawberries are not technically fruit, but pseudocarps (also known as false fruit or accessory fruit). A pseudocarp is a fruitlike structure consisting of tissue that is not derived from the ovary wall. The true fruits of the strawberry plant are actually the small seeds (achenes) found on the outer surface.
Look for berries that are unblemished and bright red with fresh-looking green leafy caps. The fruit should be not too firm and not too soft (there should be no dampness on the bottom of the container). The scent is an indicator of quality and smaller strawberries often have more flavour. Strawberries absorb water readily and so are best served unwashed: choose organic fruit to reduce the levels of toxins you may be ingesting. Try seeking out a Pick-Your-Own farm or local farmers’ market to get the freshest.
Strawberries are highly perishable; some may keep for 2 or 3 days but others will be past their best within 24 hours. If not eating on the day of purchase, spread on a shallow plate, cover with paper towels and store in a sealed container or plastic bag in a cool place. They can be frozen: spread unwashed strawberries in a single layer, freeze until solid and then transfer to a freezer bag.
If you’ve bought organic strawberries you can just wipe them with a damp kitchen towel. Non-organic strawberries should be rinsed and wiped clean. Gently pat dry before removing the caps and white hull with a paring knife. Serve at room temperature.
Disappointingly firm or flavourless strawberries make a nice fruit pie (try with rhubarb and vanilla).
Did you know?
The ancient Roman practice of using strawberries as a natural teeth whitener is still being championed today. Josephine Fairley, author of The Ultimate Natural Beauty Book, recommends crushing a ripe strawberry with a little baking powder, brushing onto the teeth and leaving for five minutes before brushing again and rinsing. Try it and let us know how it went!
If you like strawberries, why not try making our recipe for strawberry cheesecake! The perfect summer pudding!