Simon’s Simples: Strawberry Recipes

Strawberry Recipes

Fresh Strawberries from my garden

Fresh strawberries are easy to grow whatever your size of garden. They can be grown in pots and if you feed them and keep them warm at the right time you can get a substantial crop without too much work. If you must be lazy, they are also readily available in UK shops pretty much all year round although now it seems, grown on chemicals and flown on air miles and as a result, pretty tasteless. For me – nothing beats the taste of organically-home-grown, self picked strawberries. Ron Finlay comments in his book, ‘The Guerrilla Gardener’:

“Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do: especially in inner cities – plus – you get strawberries”.

I look forwards to that strawberry time of year and want to share some of my favourite strawberry recipes with you here. Now I have fruit good nets to keep the blackbirds off and there are fewer slugs and snails after 2 cold winters and prolonged use of my home-made slug traps, I am already on my third cropping and putting some aside to last through the year.

The fresh fruits are bursting with anti-oxidant vitamin C. In traditional medicine strawberries are a recommended digestive cleanser. They have antibacterial properties and act as a mild tonic for the liver. Some people are sensitive to strawberries as they can cause an allergic reaction so please make sure your guests know what they are eating beforehand!

Preparing Strawberries for Pleasure

Now the first thing to do with fresh strawberries is pretty obvious and you don’t need a recipe for this – just eat them. I choose only the perfect ones – unblemished and un-nibbled by birds or slugs with a constant colouring all over. They are at their tastiest straight from the plant when warmed by the summer sun. The fresh juice is a delicious taste explosion that has most impact on the taste buds when just a little warm.

I take the rest indoors and sort through them. Some are a little white and go onto the windowsill to colour up in the sun. If there is no sun I will sometimes put them with a banana in the hope of ripening them a bit quicker with the ethylene it gives off.  Other strawberries need a bit of trimming to take off slug nibbles, mushy bits or seed clumps. They also need a wash in cold water. Soon I have a delicious Strawberry crop laid out before me, ready for jam and other strawberry treats and recipes.

At this moment my partner Sarah comes in with her friend Tamsin and, to my horror, proceed to eat my strawberries. “No”, I cry, “They’re for jam!” My torment just seems to encourage them and add to their enjoyment. Strawberries are a bit like that. And girls.

I cut the remaining strawberries up with a knife to ‘open’ the flavour for the various things I am making today. This allows the juices to pour out of the strawberries. The smell is divine and fortunately the girls have gone out now. I add the juice of two lemons into the mix. This increases the flavour and acts as a preservative and bacteriacide while the strawberries are raw. It is also important for the jam making as the pectin reacts with the lemon juice to help gel the jam. I stir the mix carefully, working the lemon juice through without bruising the fruit.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

One thing that annoys me about traditional jam recipes for preserving strawberries is that the rolling boil pretty much destroys all of the vitamin C. So you can simply mash up some of the strawberry mix, add a little sugar or icing sugar to taste, and freeze this mix as it is. It can be used as a very tasty jam, or in puddings such as cheesecake or strawberry fool – or it can be frozen in lolly makers as it is. If you are lucky there maybe some vitamin C left when you get to it as freezing destroys less than boiling.

Fun recipes with Strawberries

Strawberry Fool

Strawberries and cream, a marriage made in heaven. I whipped up some double cream and liquidized some of the strawberries in preparation for the next strawberry treats. I mixed some of these two together and put some aside in a small bowl – a strawberry fool.

Strawberry Lollies

As I mentioned above – the raw liquidized mix of strawberries is fine to make freezer lollies, but I like them with a little cream and icing sugar. Fill the lolly moulds to just below the top and put in the sticks. To release the lollies once they are frozen, stand the mold in hot water for a minute or so and squeeze the mold to move the lolly up. Try not to pull on the stick too much as it may come loose. If you don’t have a mold, you can recycle some small plastic containers like yoghurt containers and put a stick in the top. I’ll let you work out how to hold the stick in the middle.

Strawberry Ice Cream

You can also take the above cream and strawberry mix (with a sweetener, eg sugar, honey, stevia to taste) and pour it into an old ice-cream container to put in the freezer. Take it out every 20 minutes or so and give it a stir until it freezes. Delicious with fresh strawberries.

Strawberry jam

Strawberry Jam

Then, onto the jam recipe. Using a measuring jug, I put the remaining strawberries into a big pan. I had 1.5 litres or 3 pints. I put in the same amount of sugar and start the heat, gently stirring the mix. At this stage I find I have only 1 little sachet of pectin powder and don’t live anywhere near the shops. I put it in and add a small knob of butter because it says so in so many recipes. I have never been clear why but believe it stops the ‘foaming’ on the top of the boil.

The mix reaches a rolling boil and I let it go for 4 minutes, then switching off the heat and testing for coagulation by dripping a bit of the jam onto a cold plate to see if it jellifies. Nowhere near.

I add more sugar and try another rolling boil, mourning the loss of vitamin C. A couple of boils, releasing as much water vapour as possible and its there, ready for the prepared jars. 10 jars will hopefully last me all year.

Summer Pudding

Summer pudding

Midsummer’s Day. What better time for the archetypal summer treat, home-made Summer Pudding with clotted cream. I salivate just thinking about it. You might be thinking that this is hardly a medicinal pudding but let me tell you, it makes me very, very happy and this releases all sorts of positive endorphins. By mid July I am practically made of Summer Pudding.

First, pick your strawberries. You don’t have to grow your own but freshly picked, in season and from an organic source guarantees you are getting something real. Imported ‘out of season’ strawberries may well be pumped up with all sorts of stuff you don’t want in your body. I shop bought some local plums and raspberries also and set myself up with a spherical bowl for the pudding shape.

So for this recipe you will need the above fruits, or any summer fruits. My favourite are tayberries and strawberries but I have only just planted the tayberries in my new garden this year so I don’t have any. A touch of vanilla essence and some sugar if you need it! Some sliced white bread, a day or two old is better than fresh. Then get some bowls like in the pictures below.

Building a summer pudding

Start by washing the fruit in cold water and trimming stalks, stems and any bits that are too ripe, or unripe. I also cut off any areas of heavy seeds on the outside of the fruit as they can cause flatulence. If you pick your own strawberries from the garden, check for tiny slugs nesting inside little holes they make. Bird beak marks are OK, just wash the strawberries and cut off the flesh around the holes if you need to.

I cut the strawberries in half, then de-stone and cut up the plums. Put the raspberries into the pan whole. Add just the tiniest amount of water and heat up the mess, stirring the fruit gently until it starts to break down.

Taking your loaf of sliced bread, cut off the crusts and cut the slices into fingers. I find three fingers to a slice works well. Arrange them as shown in the pictures, building them up to create a well for the fruit mess. Press the fingers slightly into each other, you are making something here which shouldn’t leak!

Pour off the juice from the fruit and have a glass or two, its delicious. Make a cocktail if you are in the mood. Save some fruit juice for a sauce later, you can reduce this if you like or even make it into a fantastic strawberry jelly by adding jelly cubes. Finally, when you have finished experimenting with the juice, pour the solid fruit mess into the bread and start to construct the ‘base’ as shown in the pictures.

Summer pudding and the strawberry man

Hopefully you should have some bread slices poking above the base which you can fold over and seal. Use a bit of juice on the fold to encourage it. Finally add some weight to the underside, I used another bowl filled with side-plates. Put the summer pudding into the fridge once it has cooled and leave it under pressure for a minimum of 5 hours. It is meant to be overnight but who can wait!

What should happen when you place a plate on the open side of the summer pudding, and then turn the whole thing over, is a neat pudding arriving on your plate. It is not always predictable. Serve this delicious pudding with clotted cream or ice cream. Add some of the sauce if there is any left. A total dream of a pudding.

I have been living in strawberry world for a fortnight or so now. Strawberries every day, fresh from the garden. jam, lollies, ice cream, strawberries on bread, on toast, Cornish cream teas, summer pudding.

My tummy but it looks a bit like the shape of the summer pudding above for some reason!

I had better go and do some trench digging !