Delicious fresh strawberries

Hear from Head Chef Joe Wood all about the latest seasonal item…strawberries:

Finally it’s summer. The shorts are on and the suntan is a nice healthy shade of lobster. Strawberries are synonymous with British summer time; think Wimbledon where strawberries and cream are an institution. 28,000kg of strawberries are served each year alongside 7000 litres of cream (at £2.50 a pop, I’ll let you do the maths) and I’ve run out of fingers! They also get through 28,000 bottles of Champagne and 230,000 glasses of Pimms, but who’s counting…

Anyway back to the strawberries, obviously they are now available all year round. These imported varieties are picked under-ripe in order to stop them turning to mush during transportation. However, this does not give the flavour time to develop, and so are vastly inferior to their seasonal British counterparts.

Funky strawberry fact: they are not actually a berry. Berries have seeds on the inside, strawberries have theirs on the outside. They are however related to the rose. Five strawberries contain more vitamin C than an orange which makes them healthy. Don’t hold this against them though, they taste pretty great raw or cooked and have been one of our most popular fruits for centuries.

The Romans used them for their medicinal qualities, (prescribing them for anything from depression to bad breath) and were cultivated in Europe from the 14th century. Charles V of France had 1200 strawberry plants in his garden and he was known as ‘the wise’…

Onto the UK – during medieval Britain strawberries were eaten with sour cream and Borage as a breakfast for newly weds due to its aphrodisiac qualities.

The quintessential pairing with cream is credited to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey who instructed his cooks to serve it at his lavish parties for Henry VIII at Hampton Court.

So this months recipe is Baked Alaska. Served with a strawberry syrup and berries it epitomises summer: hot meringue, cold ice cream, and it can be made in advance and kept in the freezer before banging it in the oven, making it perfect for dinner parties so you can impress without breaking a sweat.

 

Wine Match: Castello Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto D’Acqui would work fantastically with this. For anyone who can’t guess, I am quite a fan of strawberry flavoured dessert wine. Fizzy wine is always a good bet, just ensure you pick a slightly sweeter wine. A crisp dry wine will taste sour next to the sweetness of the meringue.

My recommendation this month is a Monbazillac sweet wine from the south-west of France, close to the town of Bergerac. Similar to Sauternes, this months featured wine is Chateau Haut-Bernasse Le Clos Monbazillac 2005, and is made using the same grape varieties as Sauternes (Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle), it’s more famous (and expensive) cousin. A rich gold colour and sweet, with honey, apricot and berry notes. It pairs extremely well with the berries in the dish.

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