The arrival of fresh strawberries means summer’s finally here. Grab a punnet and head to the park
Eating a strawberry is the taste equivalent of feeling a ray of sunshine on your face. Uplifting, regenerative and calming. There’s something almost reverential about the soft little fruit. You simply can’t have summer (or Wimbledon) without strawberries. Try and it’ll be a failed season. Strawberries are summer; it’s as simple as that. One simply cannot exist without the other. Rosy red with glorious green leaves, its beauty is matched by its flavour so expect to see it gracing picnic rugs and park benches for the next few months.
The first soft fruits of our summertime, strawberries symbolise hope and good times ahead. Initially appeal was due to their short lived six-week season from early June until mid-August (typically when we classify summer as occurring – I appreciate sometimes the British weather makes things a little confusing!). Although their ‘season’ can now run anywhere between mid-April to mid-December thanks to plastic polytunnels, strawberries are at their finest when the true season’s crops reign supreme. No one wants the sweet juice running down their chin when hanging up the Christmas decorations, but in August, chilling out in a Pick Your Own field, it’s the norm – and expected.
Strawberries are so named from the practice of threading them onto straws while being harvested. Eaten as early as 200BC, they’re native to both old and new worlds. If you thought strawberries were proper posh British fare, think again. Londoners would buy them in small cones on the street from the days of Charles II. However they would have looked more like tiny wild forest berries than strawberries as we know them. The plumper, brightly coloured fruit we recognise is a result of crossbreeding from the 17th century which can be traced back to America.
Seen as quintessentially British, it may come as heart wrenching news that strawberries actually hate our cold and wet climate. The success of British strawberries is a mere case of survival of the fittest. A triumph of determination over climate – surely this strong coremerits themworthy of a salute? Still that doesn’t seemto bother the strawberry-crazed public. Around 40,000 portions will be sold to Wimbledon spectators this summer.
Used in Roman times for their medicinal properties, strawberries were used to help with skin irritations,discoloured teeth and digestive ailments. Rich inVitamin C, manganese, folic acid and healthy omega 3 fatty acids, strawberries are also deliciously healthy. They certainly tick all the right boxes. Containing antioxidant flavonoids which not only protect against strokes, heart disease and various cancers, flavonoids are also believed to be partly responsible for their lusciously red sheen. Strawberries are a little like peacocks in that they unselfconsciously bare their dazzling plumage to lure in excited spectators.
Shopping for strawberries in the supermarket is a bit of a gamble. There always appears to be hordes of people crowding around the displays trying to view their chosen package from every angle just in case there are any duds lurking at the bottom. To avoid the queues, have a go at Picking Your Own (PYO). Impractical and fun, this should be the only way to eat them. There’s no greater feeling than picking the ones you want before taking them home and rustling up some tasty treats. It’s like growing your own except you don’t have to go through the boring part of waiting for them to appear.
You may also discover varieties that are shunned fromthe supermarket shelves. Varieties including Royal Sovereign and Keen’s Imperial are nowhere near as commercially successful as the beautiful Elsanta which makes up more than 80 per cent of strawberry sales in supermarkets due to their perfect shape and colour. If you bring back firm or sharp fruits, leave them to bask in the sunshine on your window sill. Macerate with a stingy squeeze of lemon juice with caster sugar. Or use them in savoury recipes to add colour and flavour. Strawberries are for so much more than merely pouring cream over or scoffing.