This month we are picking…Strawberries
Strawberries are one of the most eagerly anticipated crops of summer, and early varieties of strawberry usually start fruiting in June, but if planted early it can be as early as mid-late May.
They are incredibly easy to grow and can be grown almost anywhere – in borders, containers, windowsills or hanging baskets. The ideal time to plant strawberries under protection is after the threat of frost is passed in early spring, usually March or April.
Strawberries are so versatile – they just need sun, shelter, and fertile, well-drained soil, avoiding areas prone to frost. They are traditionally grown in rows directly into garden soil, if you have poor soil you can grow strawberries in raised beds, which improves drainage and increases rooting depth. Alternatively, try growing in containers or growing-bags.
In great anticipation of British summer time and as a little teaser to get you excited about your strawberry harvest, here is one of our favourite classic simple puds.
Why not give White Alpine Strawberries a grow - these are a PIG fruit cage classic!
- Sow into seed trays or 9cm pots in late winter or early spring.
- Fill pots with free draining compost, up to about 1-2cm from the top of the pot.
- Water the compost and allow to drain so that it is still damp.
- Liberally scatter five or six seeds on the top of the damp compost and cover with a layer of compost.
- Lightly water and keep the compost moist for a few weeks whilst the seeds germinate.
- Once the seeds have germinated move seedlings into a light area whilst they establish, potting up if they become rootbound and water as necessary.
- Prepare a partially shaded bed with some well-rotted organic matter such as manure and plant the strawberries in the late spring, when the risk of frost has passed.
A right old Eton Mess
The clue’s in the name! You’re going to smash up the meringue whatever happens, so it doesn’t matter if it’s too soft or a bit wonky. It’s a great dish for novice bakers and a good way to get the kids involved. Lex, our PIG Princess of Puds is a big fan: ‘I like to make it with strawberries two ways – fresh and macerated with lemon juice. You can use other berries if you have some to use up, it will still be delicious. I don’t do any coulis/purée, just the juice from the fruit. But you can add some if you prefer.’
• 4 large egg whites, with no trace of yolk
• 150g (5½oz) caster sugar
• 500ml (18fl oz) double cream
• 1 tablespoon icing sugar
• 2 small punnets of strawberries
• juice and zest of 1 lemon
• 2 tablespoons caster sugar
• redcurrants, to garnish (optional)
To make the meringue, you will need a clean, dry bowl, whether you’re using a food processor or a mixing bowl and electric hand-whisk. If there’s any water or grease in the bowl, it will affect the volume of the meringue, so make sure you give it a good wipe with some kitchen paper before getting started. Also, be sure to have all the ingredients ready before you begin whisking.
Place the egg whites in the mixing bowl and whisk until they form soft peaks. Then start to add the caster sugar, about a tablespoon at a time, continuing to whisk until it is all incorporated.
Preheat the oven to 160°C, 140°C fan (325°F), Gas Mark 3. Line your baking trays with greaseproof paper. Here’s a little tip if you have a fan oven: place a small blob of the meringue under each corner of the paper to stick it down. This will stop the paper blowing around and disturbing the meringues.
There are a number of ways you can ‘tray up’, as we say in the kitchen. If you’ve got kids involved, try putting the mix in piping bags and pipe it onto the trays with them.
You can create fun designs because it’s all going to end up in pieces anyway. Or you can simply dollop heaped spoonfuls of meringue onto the tray and even them out with the back of the spoon.
Place the baking tray in the oven on the centre shelf and leave the meringues there for 1 hour. After that, turn the oven off and leave the meringues in the oven to dry out overnight, or until the oven is completely cold. Then break them all up into pieces.
Whip the double cream with the icing sugar until it forms soft peaks. Don’t overwhip it or it will go grainy and split.
Take 1 punnet of strawberries and remove the stalks, then slice the fruit into 4 or 5 pieces, depending on size. Place in a bowl, pour the lemon juice over the sliced strawberries and add the zest and a light covering of caster sugar. Cover and allow to rest – to release the juices – for 30 minutes. For the other punnet, remove the stalks and slice the strawberries in half, then set them aside.
When you’re ready to serve, fold the broken meringue pieces, and both lots of strawberries (reserving some from the second punnet to garnish), into the cream.
Serve in individual glass bowls or on 1 large platter. We like to garnish it with a few strawberries, plus sprigs of redcurrants as we have plenty growing in the fruit cages in the gardens, and they give a nice sharp contrast to the sweetness of the strawberries.