Go for the best: the English strawberry puts the average ones we eat all-year round to shame / Julia Platt Leonard

English strawberries are perfect but if you do want a complement then meringues are hard to beat (but easy to whip)

I’m not proud to say that I experienced Instagram envy a few weeks ago when I saw a friend’s post with photos of her ripe strawberries. While hers were gorgeous and red and ripe, mine more closely resembled – well, let’s just say nothing close to red or ripe. How could two gardens only a mile or two away from each other be so vastly different? And why (and this was the crux of it) was she enjoying fresh strawberries when I wasn’t?

Because strawberries are one of life’s joys. Of course markets carry “strawberries” all-year round but they’re not proper, juicy English strawberries. For those we have to wait and in my case wait a bit longer.

But like so many things in life, the wait is worth it. Bite into an English strawberry and you’re tasting what a strawberry is all about. It puts the other ones we dolefully eat the other 11 months of the year to shame. 

Anything that good doesn’t need or want much attention. I’d happily sit and eat my way through a punnet, wanting nothing more than a napkin to dab at juicy hands and face. But if you do want to show off, then meringues are a perfect partner. They’re easy yet elegant and there is something special about a bite full of crispy meringue with the sweet softness of the juicy berries.

My strawberries are starting – and I mean just starting – to ripen. I’ll have to hope that by the time they’re ready to eat that the slugs and snails haven’t devoured them first. In the meantime, I’m happy (reluctantly) that someone else’s berries aren’t so slow.  

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Simple and zesty: mint, strawberries and lime (Julia Platt Leonard)

Meringues with basil syrup strawberries

Serves 8-9

This makes more basil syrup than you need so halve the sugar syrup recipe if you want, but it’s great to have on hand to drizzle over cake, stir into lemonade or in cocktails. It keeps well in a jar in the fridge.

Meringue

3 egg whites
​175g caster sugar

Basil syrup

200g caster sugar
​200ml water
25g basil leaves (about 1 packed cup full)

Strawberries

500g strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 lime, zested
Basil leaves to garnish

Preheat oven to 150C

Whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Slowly add the sugar, a spoonful at a time until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Spoon onto a baking pan lined with a silicone sheet – making 8 or 9 rounds. Place into the oven and bake for around 1½ hours. The meringues will have a slightly golden colour. Remove and place them on a cooling rack.

While the meringues are baking, make the basil syrup. Place the water, sugar and basil leaves in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook for a minute or two. Remove from the heat and place a lid on the saucepan. Allow to cool, letting the basil steep in the syrup for an hour. Pour the syrup into a clean jar, straining out the basil leaves.

When ready to serve, place the strawberries in a bowl with 4 tbsp or so of the basil syrup. Toss with the lime zest and add a pinch of salt. Let sit for a few minutes so the strawberries can macerate in the syrup. Serve the meringues with a spoonful of the strawberries on top and a bit of extra juice. Garnish with some basil leaves and an extra drizzle of the sugar syrup.  

@juliapleonard

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