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A strawberry for all seasons

Top ways to preserve strawberries this summer

by Great British Chefs 17 August 2015

Being able to enjoy delicious strawberries all year round is one of life’s great pleasures. In summer they can be eaten while fresh and fragrant, while later on, a little bit of clever preserving can mean you’re never far away from a strawberry treat.

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Often seen as the epitome of the British summer, you can, and should, enjoy British strawberries all year round. In fact, several British varieties, such as Sweet Eve, are actually available right through from the earliest crops in May to the first frosts of October. On top of that, your freezer and cooker are on hand to help preserve these juicy berries, so there’s no excuse not to enjoy a fresh burst of sweet strawberry at any time of year.

Fresh

At the height of their season, strawberries are best enjoyed as fresh as possible; with this in mind then, the classic strawberries and cream combo is a clear winner, and the simplest to throw together for an instant pud.

For a slightly more special, yet still impromptu, dessert, Eton Mess ticks all the boxes. Whipping cream to soft peaks and crumbling in some meringues is hardly arduous, but this simple recipe can be adapted to suit in any number of ways: homemade meringues for chewy texture as well as crunch; lightening the cream with some Greek yoghurt; adding extra fruits such as raspberries, blueberries or passion fruit; stirring in some vanilla extract or citrus zest; or topping with a flourish of grated chocolate.

Frozen

Even during the peak summer season, there’s nothing more refreshing than a fruity ice cream, lolly or sorbet to help cool you down. Of course, once stored in the freezer - these treats can be enjoyed for far longer than the berries by themselves.

Whole (or sliced) strawberries can be frozen on a flat baking tray to keep them separate, then transferred to sealed bags or containers so that you always have beautiful fruits to hand. Blitz slices in a blender to make a smoothie, or serve whole, glistening with frost with a hot chocolate sauce poured over for another, almost instant, pudding.

Frozen strawberries can be used for baking, although they should be used sparingly so as not to make the mixture too wet. Freeze the chopped berries - again, separated on trays - then stir these (still frozen) into cake batters or muffin mixes before baking, and they will add moistness and little bursts of flavour when bitten into.

These frozen strawberries are also fantastic in drinks - adding instant glamour and flavour to a glass of fizz or a dinner party cocktail. The strawberries could also be chopped and frozen with water or fruit juice in ice cube trays with added flavours of your choice: mint or basil leaves, other berries or pomegranate seeds for an additional flavour boost for your drinks.

If defrosted, the berries won’t hold their shape as well, but will become softer and slightly mushy. Although not great for finger food, this makes them perfect for making coulis, sauces and compotes. Allow to stand in a bowl with a little sugar until fully dissolved, then serve chunky or blend and pass through a sieve for a smooth sauce. These are ideal for drizzling over cheesecakes, panna cottas or even just with yogurt and granola for breakfast.

This soft texture is also perfect for year-round desserts, such as that great British classic, the trifle. As the strawberries naturally release their juices as they defrost, this makes them perfect for layering with the sponge at the bottom of the trifle - the juices will soak into the cake, adding both flavour and a beautiful pinky-red colour.

Preserved

The other most obvious method of preserving the taste of strawberries for year-round enjoyment, is of course, preserving. A glut of strawberries is crying out for a jam-making session, resulting in jars of ruby-red preserves for breakfasts, afternoon teas, and Victoria sponges whenever desired.

A classic jam is made with equal parts fruit and sugar, boiled together until it reaches setting point, then stored in sterilised jars. Pectin is normally needed to help achieve the perfect set, so a jam sugar (with added pectin), lemon juice or another fruit such as apple, can be used to help this along. For those not keen on dealing with boiling pans of fruit and sugar, an easy no-cook jam could be the option. These can be set in the fridge or freezer and tend to have a softer texture, but can’t be stored for quite as long as traditional jam.

With jam flavours, the world is your oyster. Solo strawberry is a classic, but a mixture of berries (such as raspberries and blackberries) gives a more rustic, hedgerow preserve. A splash of Pimms would capture the essence of summer, or a little Champagne would make an incredibly special breakfast or afternoon tea treat. Infusing the jam with vanilla would be the perfect partner for a Victoria sandwich cake, while for something a little more unusual, black pepper or balsamic vinegar add a savoury note that balances wonderfully with the natural sweetness of the strawberries.

 
 

Dried

In terms of cooking the strawberries to preserve them, drying them out is another option. Freeze-dried berries are now a common site in everything from breakfast cereals to baking products, but it is actually very easy to dry out strawberries at home using a conventional oven. Slice the strawberries thinly and lay out flat on a large baking tray. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and place in a very cool oven for 2-3 hours, or until the slices have fully dried out. Turn off the oven and leave the strawberries to continue drying in the oven, it can help to prop the door ajar with a wooden spoon (like when making a meringue. After a few more hours, or even overnight, you’ll have crisp, strawberry wafers that can be stirred into homemade muesli, cakes, muffins, cookies, or even just eaten as a healthy fruit snack.

Fruit leathers are also a great snack or energy boost. These have very little added sugar, as the drying out process condenses and intensifies the natural sugars in the fruit, and therefore are great for kids, too. A dehydrator could be used for this, or a slow cook at a low temperature in a conventional oven. This time, the strawberries are cooked and blended to a purée with a little honey, sugar or flavourings of choice, then this is spread thinly on baking trays and dried out until chewy. Cut into strips, these snacks are highly portable and ready to go.

 
 
 

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