There’s no other locally grown fruit that excites everyone like strawberries. On the Omaha Flats Road, the Matakana Berry Company’s little caravan is currently appearing on weekends, offering punnets of large red ripe perfect berries that are almost jewel-like in appearance. These gorgeous glowing orbs of deliciousness attract crowds of passers-by, especially when their ice cream machine churns out icy cones of fresh strawberry sweetness, perfect after hot days at the beach.
The strawberry is not the easiest of fruits to grow in the unsheltered outdoors, succumbing to inclement wet or humid weather, and sadly the season is fleetingly short. By Christmas they’re almost over so take advantage of this local crop while you can.
When you’re looking for strawberries in the supermarket, check for freshness. They should look firm and glossy, and you should be able to detect that fragrance that makes them one of the most popular flavours in so many recipes. Bring them home and eat them as soon as possible. The fridge doesn’t add to their flavour so if you want to keep them for an extra day, remember to take them out for at least an hour to bring them to room temperature before you consume them.
Strawberries that are not perfect or are just past their best can be lightly stewed with a little sugar to make a wonderful topping for vanilla ice-cream or added to breakfast cereal. One of my favourite tasks at the end of the strawberry season is to make jam. It’s become quite a tradition to give each grandchild a pot of my homemade strawberry jam with individual labels that my husband prints out to attach to each jar.
Cream is the most perfect accompaniment to strawberries (thinking of Wimbledon anyone?) If the strawberries are sweet enough there’s nothing better than a pile of strawberries, hulls and leaves carefully removed, served with a generous dollop of softly whipped cream. Add a sprinkling of caster sugar for real indulgence. Those stewed strawberries I mentioned can also be folded gently through whipped cream to make a very simple strawberry fool.
Other flavours that pair beautifully with strawberries are balsamic vinegar, which seems to make the fruit taste richer and a little sweeter, and black pepper to give the strawberry an unusual zippy touch. I really like to add strawberries to a leafy summer salad and make a dressing that contains both balsamic and pepper.
But best of all I love chocolate with my strawberries. A chocolate dipped strawberry was almost a fixture at Christmas parties a few years ago. One of my all-time best desserts is the chocolate log my mother made. A light-as-air sponge made in a Swiss roll tin, rolled up in a clean tea cloth makes a stunning celebratory dessert when filled with strawberry jam, fresh whipped cream and some strawberries. The recipe here is a family favourite and has been served every year on our Christmas table since I was a little kid. Raspberries are also brilliant with this so use a combination of both if you can.
Chocolate sponge roll with fresh strawberries
1 tbsp cornflour
4 tbsp sugar
Pinch vanilla essence
1 tbsp cocoa
For the filling:
3 tbsps strawberry jam
150mls whipped cream
6 tbsp Greek yogurt
2 punnets strawberries/raspberries
Icing sugar to finish
Pre-heat the oven to 175°C. Prepare a Swiss roll tin by lining with baking paper.
Separate the egg yolks and sugar into two large bowls. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar and vanilla until light and creamy. Sift the cornflour, cocoa and a pinch of salt together and gently fold into the egg yolk mixture.
Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold carefully into the mixture, ensuring you do not lose any of the volume.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake 15 minutes or until the chocolate soufflé is light and yet firm to the touch.
Turn out while still hot onto a clean tea towel, remove the baking paper and roll up in the tea towel to cool. You can do this a day ahead but leave the next step until just before you’re ready to serve the meal.
When ready to decorate, prepare the berries by removing the tops from the strawberries and picking over the raspberries. Cut any large strawberries into two or three pieces. Unroll the chocolate soufflé sponge, and spread the jam over the inside surface. Mix the cream and yogurt and spread evenly over the jam, with half the strawberries and raspberries and roll up, placing on a flat cake platter.
Dust the top with icing sugar and strew extra berries around the edges to decorate.