Nothing compares to the first local luscious strawberries of the season
The best things in life are free and the countryside is ripe for the pillaging at the moment.
Hedgerows gleam with the creamy, lacy flowers of the Elder tree.
Seamus Heaney in his poem “Glanmore Sonnets” refers to the elder as the boortree bush - “ It was our bower as children, a greenish, dank and snapping memory as I get older. I love its blooms like saucers brimmed with meal”. Their essence is best captured in a cordial – the flowers are infused in a lemon syrup and then strained. Bottle it up and store for the winter months. You can also make an elderflower vinegar by placing washed and dried flower heads in a clean jar and pouring cider vinegar over. Seal and allow to infuse. The vinegar is perfect as a base for dressings or buttery sauces and is especially good with fish.
Serendipitously local strawberries are now in season. You can buy these berries all year round now but nothing compares to the first of the season. The combination of strawberries and cream is a classic and a simple but sublime way to enjoy them. The weather forecast is looking good for the next few days and an ideal time to introduce some frozen desserts into the mix. When you have the barbecue lit roast some strawberries in elderflower cordial and serve them with a rose wine granite. I’ve included the recipe for elderflower cordial. Granita is an Italian icy treat, translated as “grainy”. You freeze a flavoured sugar syrup and then fork it up every hour to form crystals. It melts beautifully on your tongue and is a great contrast to the sweet, fragrant strawberries.
Another way the Italians use strawberries is in a “Sgroppino” cocktail. Sprinkle 50g of sugar over 250g of chopped strawberries and allow to macerate for 30 minutes. Blend the strawberries to a puree and place in a jug with four scoops of lemon sorbet and a bottle of chilled Prosecco. Whisk it and pour into champagne coupes for a deliciously refreshing drink.
Ice-cream is one of those foods that never goes out of fashion – it’s one of life’s great constants. As a resident of Portstewart I can attest to the fact that, in Northern Ireland, we will eat this frozen treasure in all weathers, throughout the seasons. In winter a buttery, hot apple crumble or steamed pudding will taste all the better for some ice-cream. We’re blessed throughout the country with great ice-cream shops and suppliers but I’ve included a recipe for a strawberry variety if you’d like to have a go at making your own. You won’t need a fancy ice-cream maker, just an electric whisk. The base is eggs, sugar and elderflower cordial whisked over a pan of hot water and then whisked until cold and pale. Strawberry puree and whipped cream is folded in and the mixture just needs to be frozen. It has a great texture and is made even more delicious with some fresh strawberries added. Or you could scoop it and enjoy in cone – flake obligatory.
Local strawberries are only in season in the summer. While you can get them in the winter months they tend to taste like a vaguely sweet turnip and sometimes have the texture to match. Cherish them now when they’re sweet and lush.