When I smell strawberries, I think summer and when I taste strawberries, I think love. Their sweet, unmistakable smell that awakes the senses, makes my mouth water and my eyes get bigger as I cannot wait to put that first strawberry of the year from my very own patch into my mouth. When that happens, I know summer has arrived!
It’s rare to meet someone who does not like strawberries. Everyone has a favourite; in a jam, a pie, chopped up into a salad or a salsa, mixed into vanilla ice cream, dunked in sour cream and rolled in brown sugar, eaten as-is with champagne, or my favourite: being dipped in dark chocolate. Whether you bring out their sweet or savoury side, strawberries are sure to please. This fruit has so many interesting facts about it that I have to admit, I was taken back.
Strawberries are the only fruit that wear their seeds on the outside, with the average berry having over 200 of them. Now you know why you get seeds stuck in your teeth!
To be botanically correct, strawberries aren’t true berries, like blueberries. A berry has its seeds on the inside so each seed on a strawberry is its own separate fruit. Did you know strawberries are members of the rose family? It makes sense as they smell as sweet as they taste.
In Belgium, there is a museum dedicated to strawberries. You can find everything from strawberry jam to strawberry beer in this place. First Nations ate strawberries long before European settlers arrived. As spring’s first fruit, they were a treat, eaten fresh or baked into cornbread. Ancient Romans used strawberries for their medicinal powers. They treated depression, fainting, fever, kidney stones, bad breath and sore throats.
Strawberries are an aphrodisiac. Strawberries help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers as they are low in calories, high in vitamins C, B6, K, fibre, folic acid, potassium and amino acids. Strawberries contain high levels of nitrate that increase your blood and oxygen flow to the muscles. Research shows that loading up on strawberries before exercising gives you greater endurance and burns more calories.
The largest producer is California that grows over 80 per cent of the strawberries in the world marketplace. This equals over 2 billion pounds per year yet every state in the U.S. and every province in Canada grows their own.
Store fresh strawberries by washing them and cut the stem away. However, if you don’t eat them for a few days, keep them in the fridge and wait until before you eat them to clean them as rinsing them speeds up spoiling.
On a chef’s note, your strawberries can also be pickled, especially when picked green or unripe. If your berries are overripe, make jam!
This following recipe uses raw, ripe strawberries and enhances their flavour with the lemon verbena. This plant is a beautiful addition to your edible garden as it’s an herb perfect for also infusing custard for crème brûlée and making flavoured teas. Here the leaves add a gentle citrus note to the meringues, but if you can’t get hold of any, a little finely grated lemon zest will do the trick.
Lemon Verena Pavlova with Strawberry
6 egg whites
180g icing sugar, sifted
180g caster sugar
a few tiny lemon verbena leaves
SAUCE AND FILLING
375g strawberries, hulled
400ml double cream
2 tablespoons icing sugar
1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped
4 sprigs lemon verbena
1. Preheat the oven to 212°F (100°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking parchment.
2. To make the lemon verbena meringues, use an electric mixer to whisk the egg whites with the caster sugar to stiff peaks. Add the icing sugar and continue to whisk for 4–6 minutes, or until the meringue is smooth and shiny. Stir in the lemon verbena leaves.
3. Using two large metal spoons, shape a quenelle (eye shape) of the mixture and place it on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat the process to make seven more meringues, spacing them well apart on the baking sheet. Place the meringues in the oven and cook for 2 hours.
4. Remove the meringues from the oven and allow to cool slightly before gently easing them from the baking sheet with a palette knife. Transfer to a wire rack and set aside.
5. Place 250g of the strawberries in a small food processor and blend until smooth, then pass through a sieve into a bowl to remove the seeds. Thinly slice the remaining strawberries.
6. To make the filling, whip the cream, icing sugar and vanilla seeds together until soft peaks form.
7. To serve, spoon some of the cream onto the base of half of the meringues, top with a few strawberry slices and sandwich together with the remaining meringues. Garnish with the lemon verbena sprigs and serve the strawberry sauce alongside in a bowl.
Recipe copyright from James Martin.
For plant-based meringue, follow the recipe below and make sauce as above.
1 (15-oz) can chickpeas
¼ tsp cream of tartar
¾ cup superfine sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 250ºF. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
2. Strain the chickpeas directly into the bowl of a stand mixer. There should be about 3/4 cup liquid; reserve the chickpeas for another use. Add the cream of tartar and a pinch of salt to the liquid, and beat on medium-high speed until very foamy. While still beating, add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, then continue to beat until the mixture forms stiff and glossy peaks, about 4 minutes.
3. Transfer the mixture to a large pastry bag fitted with a large star or round tip, and pipe 2-inch mounds about 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the meringues are set and no longer glossy, about 2 hours, rotating the trays (from top to bottom) halfway through. Turn the oven off, and let the meringues sit in the closed oven until they have dried out inside, about 1 hour more. (The meringues will keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days.)
Lara McCormack is one of the owners of From Scratch – A Mountain Kitchen in Fairmont Hot Springs where one can savor fabulous, seasonal food, sip from a selection of B.C. wines and enjoy the views of our gorgeous valley landscape.