Features & Stories

Consuming Passions: Strawberries

In the Northern hemisphere, Wimbledon is fast approaching and strawberry season is getting into full swing. In this latest contribution to our Consuming Passions series, TV producer and food writer Antonia Lloyd shares childhood reminiscences and suggests culinary uses, both traditional and adventurous, for this most popular of berries.

By Antonia Lloyd

For me, strawberries are quintessentially British. They are our summertime flavour of choice popping up at every occasion with their snazzy jackets of red and little dots of green, sliced beautifully to adorn tarte aux fraises, a strawberry jelly, or even part-smashed in an Eton Mess. They have a reputation and popularity that precede them, offering reliability and robustness in spades in contrast to the delicate, divine raspberry. Bestowed by nature with enviable qualities, a kind of fashion designed fruit destined to sell out, a strawberry is a marvel to behold, offering a sweet, floral smell, and when ripened by the sun and rain to perfection, its soft flesh and juiciness is incomparable.

Strawberries are the most emotive of fruits, bright or deep red, conical or oval, they embody summers past and the possibility of summer, unfolding now, in one neat bite.  A taste for me is like the madeleine crumbs in the tea moment for Proust, the Ratatouille epiphany for critic Egon Ronay, sending me tumbling back in time to sweet strawberry-tinted summers. They unlock childhood memories of watching Wimbledon on the telly, a bowl in hand; evoke my July birthday cake with its bright berry spray; and awaken a nostalgia for pick-your-own rain or shine. The red juice dribbling down the chin, the fear of being caught devouring too many ‘freebies’ by my grand-father and returning with punnets stuffed to the brim for a bowlful with whipped cream in the garden. 

This berry has a popularity that goes way back. They were valued in Roman times for their therapeutic properties and the alchemists in the Middle Ages considered them a panacea. Strawberries were first cultivated in Europe in the 13th Century from wild varieties and start to bloom– there were no less than 1200 strawberry trees in French King Charles V’s Royal gardens intended for the Royal court who were clearly fans. In the 17th Century the scarlet Virginia strawberry arrived from America, followed by French explorer Frézier importing strawberry plants from Chile. These varieties were larger and crossed naturally with the European plants to produce the cultivated strawberry known today. Nowadays there are numerous varieties growing throughout Europe and America with the peak season from late spring to early summer. If you seek out wild strawberries, they grow in woods or alpine regions - small, up to 1cm in length and bright red, but their flavour is intense and when ripe can surpass those of cultivated ones.

Eton Mess from British Food by Mark Hix

Strawberry Tart from Simply Delicious by Paul Bocuse

Over the spring bank holiday, my consuming passion for strawberries led me to our nearest spot for picking: Medley Manor Farm in Binsey, one of only three local farms still operating in the city of Oxford. Here they grow the ‘honeyoye’ variety in neat rows which produces bright red, firm, flavourful fruit. It’s a popular choice for farmers because it’s resistant to disease and heavy-cropping. After our mini harvest, we had the chance to feast upon the fruits of our labour in a variety of guises. Over three days, they were consumed by my family and I unashamedly straight up, as a juicy counterpoint to rich chocolate macarons, blended in a smoothie, gracing a breakfast scone, and, to mix things up, in a rocket salad with black pepper and balsamic vinegar. 

Herein lies, as I see it, the only sticking point to these blessed berries - so seductive are they in their sweet jackets that it’s easy to forget their incredible potential elsewhere. They have truly won us over in the canon of favourite desserts. For a Strawberry Sundae, look no further than Jason Atherton’s recipe in Gourmet Food for a Fiver. For a delicious throwback to Auguste Escoffier, try Strawberries Romanoff (this version is from Le Cordon Bleu) which macerates the fruit with sugar and liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Kirsch, before serving with lashings of cream.  Feel like marrying them off to sugary, crisp meringue, then turn to Lorraine Pascale’s Strawberry and Cream Meringue Layer Cake with Mint. For a dinner party, the Roasted Strawberry Souffle by Eleanor Ford is on hand to lift your guest into the stratosphere — Eleanor suggests including sumac and/or black pepper for added zing. Strawberries are the perfect adornment for (famously) shortcake, orange blossom scones, or Victoria sponge cake. And so the list goes on. The chance of any being left is minimal and any overripe berries will be tossed into the pot to make strawberry jam or blitzed into a smoothie

Strawberry sundae from Gourmet Food for a Fiver by Jason Atherton

Roast strawberry soufflés from A Whisper of Cardamom by Eleanor Ford

Strawberries Romanoff from Summer by Le Cordon Bleu

Strawberry adventures shouldn’t be limited, there are myriad, less familiar ways tried and tested by chefs but less by us at home. Let us consider the harmonious match of strawberry and cucumber. This seemingly unusual pairing has roots in provincial French marriage tradition. At wedding breakfasts newlyweds were traditionally served a soup made with strawberry and borage, a cucumber-flavoured herb, thinned sour cream and sugar. This tradition is thought to stem from the garden — borage is often planted next to strawberries because the two plants have a stimulating effect on each other’s growth. Food photographer David Loftus likes borage so much he says he would “like borage to be grown on my grave” and in Around the World in 80 Dishes he shares a recipe for Strawberries and Borage with Flaked Almonds. I urge the adventurous strawberry fan to also consider this delicate Strawberry Cucumber Ribbon Salad from Erin Gleeson’s The Forest Feast, or perhaps simply a light, tea sandwich of sliced strawberries, borage leaves, and cream cheese. And, while we’re talking of cream cheese or cream — classic bedfellows in a cheesecake — this is the moment to consider the introduction of the strawberry into your summer cheeseboard with a mild Brie or a creamy Brillat-Savarin for a glorious alternative. 


Strawberry-Cucumber Ribbon Salad from The Forest Feast by Erin Gleeson

Strawberries and Borage with Flaked Almonds from Around the World in 80 Dishes by David Loftus


So, what about strawberry and avocado? A bizarre duo or a potential match? Prue Leith is a fan which should reassure you. In one of her early books, Prue suggested a strawberry vinaigrette made by mixing oil with puréed strawberries, and then serving on sliced avocado. The strawberries take the place of white wine vinegar in the dressing and make a dream team whizzed up with oil and a pinch of salt, pepper and sugar. Salads can also benefit from the addition of strawberries –  the late Joyce Molyneux, the second woman to win a Michelin star in the UK, suggests a Salad of Avocado, Melon and Strawberries with an Elderflower dressing which appears in Great British Chefs while South African author Sarah Graham includes a Quinoa, Strawberry and Avocado Salad Bowl in her book Wholesome.

Another leap of flavour faith is to match strawberries and tomatoes. Many scientifically-minded chefs consider tomatoes practically interchangeable with strawberries because they share flavour compounds. In the 1990s it was discovered that tomatoes contain an aromatic chemical known as strawberry furanone, which as its name suggests is also a key flavour compound in strawberries. The highest concentrations of the furanone were found in home-grown tomatoes in high summer.  Why not substitute one fruit for the other — strawberry for tomato or vice versa — in your favourite dishes? Imagine a strawberry gazpacho this summer like Daniel Humm’s Strawberry Gazpacho with basil and black pepper or perhaps create a new type of tricolore salad with a strawberry, mozzarella and avocados. The possibilities are endless when it comes to these berries — salads, soups, soufflés — or just a dollop of whipped cream. Don’t feel restrained this summer, embrace the wonderful opportunity that each and every strawberry represents!


Antonia’s selection of strawberry recipes

View the full collection

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