I have fond memories of strawberry picking as a child. With my mother, who would drive miles to find the best produce, we picked our own at the Jakicevich family farm in Glengarry Rd, West Auckland. As kids, we no doubt ate far more berries than we contributed to her haul. The Jakicevichs, who went on to establish Glengarry Wines, also made strawberry bubbly, which Mum would buy to go with Christmas dinner. When my 12-year-old brother opened the bottle one year, he thoughtfully saved us all from being sprayed by drinking the foaming contents. That was an interesting lunch.
This past week Mum drove to the Young family’s strawberry farm near Auckland airport and returned with enough of the fruit for a big batch of jam. I hope I can cook as well as her when I’m nearly 90. Strawberries are the fruit of celebration. This month sees the annual Strawberry Festival, which raises funds for hospices. Events are taking place around the country, including at QEII Square in Auckland on November 28, where I’ll be baking meringues and cupcakes. Click here for details.
Desserts are where strawberries star, especially when fresh and juicy. But they can also be added to salads, bringing a punchy sweetness, particularly in combination with balsamic vinegar and black pepper. The pepperiness of watercress and the pungency of goat cheese in the following strawberry salad make an irresistible first course.
SWEET AND SAVOURY STRAWBERRY SALAD
- 350g fresh strawberries
- 4 handfuls fresh watercress
- 100g soft goat cheese
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 4 tbsp toasted pinenuts
- 3-4 sprigs fresh mint leaves, sliced
- 1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
Remove the strawberry stalks. Halve any larger berries but leave small fruit whole. Wash the watercress, removing the thick stalks. Break the cheese (or a creamy feta if you prefer) into small pieces. Mix the balsamic vinegar and oil in a jar, combining well.
Place the watercress, strawberries, cheese, pinenuts, mint and black pepper in a wide bowl. Pour over the balsamic and olive oil mixture, gently turning the leaves so everything is just coated.
Divide the mixture between 4 plates. Serve at once.
Wine match: sauvignon blanc.
STRAWBERRIES IN JELLY WITH CRÈME FRAÎCHE AND YOGHURT
- 2 x 350g punnets strawberries, stalks removed
- 1 packet strawberry jelly crystals
- 600ml water
- 100g crème fraîche
- 200g unsweetened plain yoghurt
- 2 tbsp Heilala vanilla syrup
Choose the best dozen strawberries and slice them neatly, keeping the rest aside for the purée. Dissolve the jelly crystals in a few tablespoons of boiling water, stirring well, then add enough water to make up to 600ml. Cool completely. Divide the sliced strawberries between 6 glasses. Pour over the jelly, then place the glasses in the refrigerator and allow to set.
Meanwhile, combine the crème fraîche with the yoghurt, beating well. Place the remaining strawberries (keeping one or two aside to be finely chopped for decoration) in a food processor and process with the vanilla syrup until a soft purée forms.
Once the jelly is set, add a thin layer of the creamy yoghurt mixture and top this with a layer of strawberry purée. Decorate with a little scattering of chopped strawberries and some chopped almond praline.
- 1 cup sugar
- 70g skinned almonds
Put the sugar in a heavy-based saucepan with enough water to soak it. Place over a gentle heat and allow the sugar to melt. Watch it carefully and when the edges start to turn a slight golden colour, tip in the almonds. With a metal spoon, stir the almonds in the sugar as it turns to caramel toffee. When it is the colour of golden syrup, tip it onto a board lined with baking paper. Once the praline has cooled and set, chop it into small fragments and store in an airtight jar.
Ruth Pretty shares recipes
Ruth Pretty, a wedding planner, caterer, cooking school operator and newspaper columnist, is a leading light of the Wellington culinary scene. Her new book, Ruth Pretty Cooks at Home, contains more than 100 of her recipes. These are dishes suited to entertaining rather than everyday eating, and there are lots of appealing and appetising ideas that cooks will enjoy using and serving to friends.
Photographer Murray Lloyd captures the charm of Springfield, the 10ha Te Horo property where Pretty lives and works, with shots of the stunning flower, herb and vegetable gardens.
RUTH PRETTY COOKS AT HOME, by Ruth Pretty (Penguin, $65).