Let's Eat

Strawberry fields forever

If you are partial to berries, why not go out and pick some yourself.


Farmers around the world all claim that their strawberries are the best. In Wepion, Belgium, for instance, proud growers have built a museum dedicated to the berries whose Latin name, frugaria, means fragrance. In America competing farms have declared themselves to be situated in the strawberry capital of the world, while in Israel, the halachic implications of eating strawberries were recently the subject of a rabbinical rumpus.

The strictly Orthodox Torah and Land Institute declared that strawberries grown in Israel were infested with miniscule insects and were therefore not kosher. However Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar — clearly partial to soft fruit — came to the rescue of Israeli growers, ruling that in fact the Torah does not ban the unwitting consumption of bugs that can only be spotted through a powerful microscope.

Strawberry fanciers who have tasted the produce from Belgium, Spain, America and Israel, will tell you that, kosher or not, foreign strawberries do not hold a light to the flavoursome, sweet scented, rosy red British version which is, by the way, an excellent source of vitamin C.

That is why this summer, crowds of enthusiasts are donning their shorts and sun hats and descending on pick-your-own farms for a truly tasty rural experience (even though many of the growers are based within the M25).

Of course you have to pay for what you pick. One farmer, with a wry smile, told me he had considered weighing in and then weighing out his fruit noshing customers rather than simply weighing the fruit in their baskets.

While picking strawberries is fun (and filling), and guarantees that you get the freshest possible fruit, it is also a labour of love and plays havoc with your back. At the PYO I frequent, near Enfield, North London, the most popular berries are grown on platforms that bring the fruit within comfortable reach.

But by the time we get there these have been stripped away by locust-like family groups including expat Israelis indulging in a spot of kibbutz nostalgia. There is nothing for it but to bend low and pick the fruit at ground level.

Of course strawberries are just one of a wide range of fruits available on Britain’s more than 1,000 PYO farms. If you don’t mind thorns, tackle the vast blackberry bushes growing all around the London area, as well as raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, tayberries. gooseberries and rhubarb.

As for veg, my favourite is sweetcorn which grows over six foot tall and makes the perfect hideaway for an afternoon snooze while your companions labour away. Depending on the season, spinach, courgettes and beetroot are also ready to be plucked from the soil.

So what do you do with all the fruit and vegetables once you have unloaded them from the boot of your car and rinsed them to ensure that those pesky microbes are washed away?

For strawberries in particular there are some luscious recipes, although a bowlful, sprinkled with sugar and smothered with cream takes some beating. Strawberries may be perfect for dessert but they are also a fine addition to salads, combining well with balsamic vinegar or lemon. Add black pepper to bring out their flavour.

For something a bit more ambitious, celebrity chef James Tanner has a mouth watering recipe for strawberry pavlova with hot chocolate sauce.

It takes less than 30 minutes to prepare and just 10 minutes to cook.

Strawberry pavlova

● 50g dark chocolate
● 75 ml milk
● 75g strawberries,
● 1 tbsp spiced berry cordial,
● 75 ml of double cream (whipped),
● 1 tsp of vanilla extract and three ready made meringue nests

● Heat the dark chocolate and the milk in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Stir until the chocolate has melted and combined with the milk to make a smooth sauce.
● Place the strawberries and cordial into a food processor, reserving three strawberries for garnish, and blend until smooth.
● Place the whipped cream into a bowl, add the vanilla extract and stir to combine.
● To serve, place the meringue nests onto a serving plate, place the whipped vanilla cream on top and drizzle with the chocolate and strawberry sauce.

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