Very berry nice
Wimbledon might be over for another year but this long heatwave is keeping strawberries centre-stage for Jonny Nicholson, Chef-Proprietor of The Bell At Sax’ at the height of the soft fruit season
As I write wilting in the heat, it is clear that weeks and weeks of sunshine is not all a bed of roses or strawberries.
I pity the poor farmers and wildlife as much as my fellow chefs in hot kitchens, it’s all a bit too much now. Perhaps though by the time of reading, we may have had a good shower or two and who knows if a month-long deluge is on the way… Anything is possible with the good old British weather, it is a national obsession after all!
Back to berries, they really are the taste of summer, add in some smoked fish or seafood to start, a hearty barbecue for main course and a sweet ending of perfectly ripe, luscious berries, that’s my idea of al fresco heaven. Being stuck in a boiling kitchen in this weather means I crave being outside whenever I can escape on a precious day off.
I love strawberries, raspberries, the darker loganberries and tayberries, and autumn blackberries to finish, and not forgetting the tricolour of currants, black, red and white.
If you are lucky and have a fruit cage in your veg patch or on the allotment, then you are probably overwhelmed with soft fruit by now in the middle of summer. I guess you’ll have dusted off the preserving pan to get jam-making and filled up the deep freeze, ready for the depth of winter.
Probably my ultimate favourite dish with berries is Eton Mess, a decadent creamy mix, the traditional recipe being lots of strawberries folded through crushed meringues, berry sauce and sweetened whipped cream. I like to mix it up, replacing the strawbs with raspberries or a good mix of berries and soft fruit, alternatively cherries and plums are great, and in winter tropical fruits such as pineapple, passion fruit and mango are a real treat. And you can surprise your guests by marinating your sliced strawberries with a good sprinkling of sugar, a few dashes of quality balsamic vinegar and a grinding of rainbow peppercorns, seal in a container and refrigerating, stirring regularly for 24 hours – you will have the best, fruitiest compote ever at the end of it. Be warned, you might not eat plain strawberries ever again…
For the crunch, try some toasted granola or crumbled shortbread instead or make your meringues with golden caster or light brown sugar for a caramel edge. The sugary cream can be a little OTT if you don’t have a big sweet tooth,try unsweetened thick Greek yoghurt is great or just plain extra thick double or clotted cream instead.
And bizarrely vegans needn’t miss out, you can make a thick cream with cashew nuts and then the meringues from aquafaba (water from a tin of chickpeas… yes, you better believe it!) so get googling for meat-free friends and family!
The Sail Loft, Ferry Road, Southwold IP18 6HQ
Our beachside café-bar-restaurant, proudly using local, seasonal, Suffolk ingredients – find us by Southwold’s dunes near the campsite and lifeboat station. Book for our daily specials: Monday Madness – two courses for £10; Curry-tastic Tuesday; Wednesday Burger Bonanza; Friday Steak Night
W: www.sailloftsouthwold.uk T: 01502 725713
You can’t go wrong with this classic pud, crumbled crisp meringues, whipped Chantilly cream, sliced strawberries and swirled with strawberry sauce, perhaps topped with some shredded mint for freshness, a real delight…
400g very ripe strawberries
Icing sugar (optional)
Medium 284ml pot of double cream, lightly-whipped
4 large home-made meringues or bought nests, crumbled
Few mint leaves, finely shredded
Split the berries into two halves, keeping the best ones for slicing and liquidise the remainder into a sauce. Taste and adjust flavour with icing sugar, if preferred.
Ripple the sauce lightly through the cream (plus sugar to taste if desired). Next stir in the sliced berries and finally fold in the meringue crumble.
Serve in pretty glasses, garnished with mint.
Jonny Nicholson, Chef – Proprietor, The Bell At Sax’