Vi­brant sum­mer desserts full of straw­berry sweet­ness

Daz­zling in colour and full of flavour, sweet, juicy straw­ber­ries make de­lec­ta­ble desserts evoca­tive of the sun-filled sea­son

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“Straw­ber­ries that in gar­dens grow Are plump and juicy fine, But sweeter far as wise men know Spring from the wood­land vine” Robert Graves, ‘Wild Straw­ber­ries’

StRaw­beR­Ries, with theiR plump heart shape and lus­cious ruby-red colour, are a sure sign that sum­mer has truly ar­rived. Burst­ing with juicy sweet­ness, this tan­talis­ing fruit is syn­ony­mous with sunny days and tra­di­tional Bri­tish desserts. Avail­able from early June to Au­gust, the straw­berry makes a rel­a­tively brief ap­pear­ance. Its taste is of­ten ap­pre­ci­ated even more when the fruit is picked by hand straight from the farmer’s field. The av­er­age straw­berry has 200 seeds and is the only fruit that dis­plays them on the out­side. Like rasp­ber­ries, they are not a berry in the botan­i­cal sense, de­riv­ing from a sin­gle flower with sev­eral ovaries, rather than a flower with just one ovary. True ber­ries typ­i­cally have sev­eral seeds. More than 30 va­ri­eties are grown in the UK, each with its own char­ac­ter­is­tics. Ju­bilee straw­ber­ries are of­ten con­sid­ered the sweet­est and the tasti­est. Most Bri­tish straw­ber­ries are red, but there are yel­low and even white va­ri­eties. The white ones are called pineber­ries and taste more like pineap­ple than straw­ber­ries.

Wealth of ben­e­fits

The ear­li­est men­tion of this tempt­ing fruit was in Ro­man times, ap­prox­i­mately 200BC. Dur­ing the me­dieval pe­riod, new­ly­weds en­joyed straw­ber­ries with bor­age and soured cream for their wed­ding break­fast, be­liev­ing them to be an aphro­disiac. They have long been a sym­bol of pas­sion as well as pu­rity and heal­ing. Straw­ber­ries are not only de­li­cious, they have many health ben­e­fits. In the past, they were used to help with di­ges­tive ail­ments, dis­coloured teeth and skin ir­ri­ta­tions. Just five straw­ber­ries are said to con­tain more vi­ta­min C than an or­ange. High also in vi­ta­mins K, B5 and B6, the fruits are a source of folic acid, potas­sium and omega-3 fatty acids. They con­tain sig­nif­i­cant amounts of an­tiox­i­dants, be­lieved to be linked to their red hue. In choos­ing straw­ber­ries for the ta­ble, un­blem­ished fruit are se­lected, with bright green hulls, or stalks. They should be han­dled gen­tly and the hulls only re­moved after wash­ing. If the fruits are al­lowed to reach room tem­per­a­ture be­fore eat­ing, this will in­ten­sify their taste. A dol­lop of thick fresh cream is of­ten ac­com­pa­ni­ment enough, but the fruit’s vi­brancy and flavour lends it­self to a va­ri­ety of sea­sonal treats. Eton mess, sum­mer pud­ding, tri­fle, tarts and jam are among many favourites, but what­ever the dish, straw­ber­ries will al­ways war­rant pride of place on the sum­mer ta­ble.

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