Strawberries seem to symbolise the arrival of Summer. This year we have picked a good crop of juicy strawberries out of the garden. The variety we’ve grown is `Florence‘ which is a late Summer strawberry with good disease resistance and a wonderful flavour. What a treat to have home-grown strawberries and cream for dessert!
In June I spent a fabulous couple of days with Anna Mason on a watercolour painting course at RHS Wisley learning how to paint juicy strawberries. Anna is a fabulous teacher and she certainly inspired me as an artist and as a cook!
One of the simplest recipes to preserve an abundance of fruit is to make a fruit vodka infusion. So far this year I have made strawberry, raspberry, peach and rhubarb vodka! The basics of a vodka infusion couldn’t be simpler – cut up the fruit and steep in the vodka, strain and drink! The art, is in deciding how much fruit, and how long to steep. I am still experimenting! You can drink it neat with ice or use as the base for a cocktail.
Summer wouldn’t be Summer without home-made strawberry jam. It’s worth a trip to the local pick-your-own just to have some in the cupboard.
1 kg strawberries
Juice of 1 lemon
1 kg granulated sugar
Hull and wipe the strawberries.
Put the strawberries into a large preserving pan with the lemon juice. Strawberries are low pectin fruit so require the lemon juice to set.
Bring to a simmer, just until the juices begin to run – about 10 minutes.
Mash the strawberries with a potato masher and simmer for a further 5 minutes until you have a thick puree.
Add the sugar and stir gently until completely dissolved.
Turn up the heat and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Boil for 5 minutes before removing any scum. Test for a set. If necessary continue to boil until setting point is reached.
Remove from the heat, skim off any skum, and allow the jam to cool briefly before pouring into sterilised jars.
Allow the jam to cool completely before labelling and storing.
A lot of my jams are given as Christmas presents in beautiful presentation baskets. However I am particularly fond of Victoria Sandwich Cake sandwiched together with home- made strawberry jam and cream.
Victoria Sandwich Cake
The Victoria Sandwich is a cake that was popularised in the reign of Queen Victoria and is still a classic today. It is made of melt-in-the-mouth sponge, sandwiched together with jam and dredged in sugar.
175g Caster Sugar
3 eggs (weighed in their shells)
175g Self Raising Flour
Caster Sugar to dredge
Heat oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5.
Butter two 18 cm (7-inch) sandwich tins and line the base of each with a round of buttered greaseproof paper.
Now that’s all very well, but my tins are 8-inch tins and not 7-inch. I also didn’t know if it mattered whether the eggs were medium or large. The trick is to use the same weight of the eggs (weighed in their shells) for both the butter, flour and sugar. 3 medium eggs will weigh approximately 175g, so use 175g of flour, 175g of sugar and 175g of butter. If large eggs are used they may weigh 210g. If so make sure you use this weight for the other ingredients. I wanted a decent thick sponge so used 4 medium eggs instead of 3. I’m really glad I learnt that trick as it had been puzzling me for ages!
Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. When you beat yellow ingredients (butter and eggs) they get paler and paler the more air you incorporate. What you are looking for is a really pale and fluffy butter and the longer you beat the mixture the better. Keep scraping down the bowl to make sure it is all getting its fair share of air.
The aim is to get as much air into the mixture at this stage as this will create a nice, light sponge.
Beat the eggs and add a little at a time.
Beat well after each addition. It is important to do this slowly, to get as much air into the cake as possible and to prevent the mixture curdling. The mixture can ‘curdle’ if you add too much egg too quickly or if your ingredients are very different temperatures from each other. The moment you see the mixture change from being a lovely pale creamy mixture to looking like very runny scrambled egg, then you can add a tablespoon of the flour and everything should work out alright. The secret is to get as much air as possible into the mixture, so that when it hits the heat of the oven it rises well and evenly.
- Sieve the flour and fold into the mixture with a metal spoon. Be gentle so that you don’t knock all the air out you have put in!
- Divide the mixture as evenly as you can between the 2 tins and level with a knife
Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until the cakes are well risen, firm to the touch and beginning to shrink away from the sides of the tins. Set your kitchen timer for 17 minutes and DO NOT be tempted to open the oven door before this time to peak as your cake will sink. When the timer goes off look very carefully through a crack in the door. The cakes should have shrunk away from the sides of the tin a little. A skewer or flat knife pushed into the middle of the cake should come out clean with no cake mixture sticking to it.
Turn out and cool completely on a wire rack.
When the cakes are cool, sandwich them together with yummy home-made jam and cream. Sprinkle with caster sugar.
So there we have it – scrumptious strawberries at their very best!