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Saturday, 14 June 2014

The perfect use of imperfect strawberries

It's June and that means the start of the soft fruit season, starting, of course, with strawberries. Strawberries seem to be everyone's favourite. So much so, that supermarkets go to great lengths to keep them in stock all year round. That, to my mind, rather spoils things. Some things are meant to be seasonal and strawberries are one of those things. There is great excitement to be had when the first strawberries are ready if you haven't eaten any for months.

When you buy a punnet of strawberries you spend a couple of pounds on 500g of large, perfectly shaped fruit that smell gorgeous but may or may not have a flavour to match. They should, of course, be a beautiful red colour from tail to tip, although, unfortunately that isn't always the case. Apart from eating them straight from the punnet, perhaps the simplest way to serve them is with a sprinkling of sugar and/or cream. When you have a limited number of such beautifully shaped fruits, why would you do anything else?

When you grow strawberries you are unlikely to ever get 500g of large, perfectly shaped fruit. Instead, you could get less or possibly more than that but they will be a variety of different shapes and sizes. If you are paying proper attention when you are picking them, then they should all be properly ripe. Picked slightly warmed from the sun, they are sure to taste as good as they smell. They may, of course, be in need of a wash and may have the odd hole in them from an annoying blackbird or the perennial pesky slugs.

This may sound like a disadvantage in comparison to the supermarkets' perfect offerings but far from it. Having spent your money on your punnet of perfection, you feel almost obliged to eat them whole and unadulterated. Could you imagine doing anything as disrespectful as taking your punnet full of perfect fruit and sticking them in a blender?!! Aargh! No!

On the other hand, how do you feel about blending up your misshaped collection of berries? Even cut the holes out and throw those berries in too. Now that seems like a good idea. And from there you can enjoy making a whole range of delicious strawberry desserts.

So today, ready with my collection of strawberries that only a mother could love, I spent a pleasant morning in the kitchen with my daughter, knocking up some pretty stripey jellies and some strawberry and marshmallow ice-cream - the perfect use of those imperfect strawberries.

Stripey Strawberry Jellies (makes 4)

1 sachet of gelatine
250g strawberries
75g icing sugar
200g Greek yoghurt
A few drops of vanilla extract
A few extra strawberries or mini marshmallows to serve

Put 125ml of hot water into a small pan then sprinkle on the gelatine powder. Stir well then heat gently until the powder has melted. Remove from the heat. Place the strawberries and icing sugar in a blender and blitz until pureed. Run the puree through a nylon sieve to remove the pips if desired. Measure out 125ml of the strawberry puree and pour one third of the gelatine into it. Pour this equally between 4 suitable containers or glasses then place in the fridge for about half an hour to set. Next, mix together the remaining strawberry puree with 100g of the yoghurt and the vanilla extract. Add half of the remaining gelatine to this (you may need to re-melt it gently if it has set). Pour this mixture onto the first layer to create a new layer the same thickness as the first layer. This should not use all of the mixture. Return the jellies to the fridge for another half an hour. Mix the remaining yoghurt with whatever was left over from the second layer and the last of the gelatine. Once the second layer is set, pour this mixture on top and return to the fridge to set. Once set, decorate each jelly with a reserved strawberry or marshmallows or whatever takes your fancy and serve.

Strawberry & Marshmallow Ice-cream

350 strawberries
70 icing sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
100g mini marshmallows
100ml milk
150ml double cream

Place the strawberries and icing sugar in a blender and blitz until pureed. Run the puree through a nylon sieve to remove the pips if desired  Add the  lemon juice.  Put half the marshmallows and the milk into a suitable bowl and heat in the microwave for 1-2 minutes to melt them.  Stir this mixture, add the cream and whisk so that it thickens slightly.  Combine with the strawberry puree, mixing until the mixture is evenly pink.  Add the remaining marshmallows, pour into suitable containers and place in the freezer for 3 hours.  Remove from the freezer and beat the ice cream to introduce air, to break any ice crystals and to distribute the marshmallows throughout the ice cream then return to the freezer.

You can, of course, make strawberry lollies using this mixture too. Don't bother adding the second half of the marshmallows, but instead pour the liquid into lolly moulds instead of an ice-cream container.

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