Hardier plant varieties and the use of polytunnels has allowed the British strawberry growing season to extend from May, right the way through to September. Despite this, I find that the most fragrant and flavourful berries are to be found at this time of year. There are few things, in a culinary sense at least, that are more disappointing than biting into a scarlet bright fruit full of promise and, finding it bland and lacking. Some people like to sprinkle their berries in sugar; I prefer to buy sweeter varieties such as Sweet Eve and Jubilee, add a bit of freshly ground pepper and dollop of chilled cream. I could eat strawberries like this, all summer long, until my lips and fingertips were stained red and my stomach bloated -just as I did as a child going to Pick Your Own. However, should you happen to have a glut or a slightly sour crop, then this recipe is ripe for the picking.
50-75g caster sugar
(50g raspberries -if strawberries aren’t flavourful)
10-12 black peppercorns
10 leaves gelatine
Hull and halve the strawberries and place into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the sugar -how much depends on how sweet the fruit is. If the strawberries are bland or sour, consider adding 50g of raspberries for a fragrant lift. Add the peppercorns, cloves and water and leave to simmer until the fruit becomes a mushy pulp.
Whilst hot, strain the mixture through a sieve catching the scarlet juice in a mixing bowl. Place the gelatine leaves into cold water until they have softened. Squeeze any excess water out and add to the warm strawberry juice and mix until dissolved. Now add the vermouth and once again mix thoroughly. Pour into a litre mould or six 150ml moulds and when cool enough, refrigerate until set (6-8h or overnight).
To unmould, dip into hot but not boiling water for around 10 seconds and turn out onto a plate. Serve with clove spiced short bread (recipe found here). Do not throw the pulp away; compote like, it tastes lovely with yoghurt or as a base for Bircher muesli.