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Strawberries are my absolute favourite fruit (right up there with lemons) - in fact 'strawberry' was one of the first words I learned when I set foot in Italy: fragola (sing.), or fragole (pl.) and even though they're easy to find I think of them as a little luxury food.
Italians (at least the ones I know personally) don't serve with white sugar and fresh cream - à la Wimbledon - but with sugar (whichever type you prefer) and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. It's a good match...the contrast of the tartness in the juice-syrup and the sweetness and texture of the strawberries - delicious! As I have also come to love the lime (#makemineamojito), I now add a few squirts of fresh lime juice as well, which gives a very perfumey-rose-type flavour.
I only recently learned they're not considered a fruit because their seeds are on the outside. Fragaria is a genus of flowering plants in the rose family, Rosaceae, commonly known as strawberries; so now the Italian word for strawberry (fragola), and the French word (fraise), makes much more sense.
Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamins C and K, plus some fibre, folic acid, manganese, potassium and iodine. They contain significant amounts of phyto-nutrients and antioxidant flavanoids, thought to protect against inflammation, heart disease and even cancer, plus they contain something called anthocyanins, which gives them their bright red colour. Studies have shown that the high potassium content (as with bananas) helps improve cognitive function by increasing the blood flow to the brain, and therefore strengthening concentration, memory, and recall abilities, and iodine which is helpful for regulating the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system.
The strawberry has been used throughout history to help with digestive ailments, teeth whitening and skin irritations. The fibre and fructose content may help regulate blood sugar levels by slowing digestion and the fibre is thought to have a hunger-calming effect - again, in my case this hasn't worked because once I start eating strawberries I actually can't stop until they're all gone!
Leaves can be eaten raw, cooked or used to make tea - however, as this is considered a herbal remedy, it is important to check with your doctor, if you're taking any medication, to ascertain whether or not there could be any interactions. As a tea, this is most commonly used to improve digestion and balance acids in the digestive tract, purportedly helping alleviate an upset stomach and reduce symptoms of nausea, bloating, stomach cramps and diarrhoea.
Strawberries have been enjoyed since the Roman times. Native to many parts of the world, hundreds of varieties of strawberries exist due to crossbreeding techniques. In 1714, a French engineer observed that the strawberry native to Chile was much larger than those found in Europe. He decided to bring back a sample of this strawberry to cultivate in France. The end result was a large, juicy, sweet hybrid (the modern garden strawberry) that became extremely popular in Europe.
Not far from Rome, in surrounding woodlands near the pretty lakeside town of Nemi, small dark-coloured wild strawberries grow. The local pastry shops make them into the most delectable tarts with these tiny wild strawberries and confectioner's custard - heavenly! I was lucky to visit one of these pastry shops with Laran Tours of Lazio and I have to say it was sooo worth it! And, each year (end May/early June during strawberry season) in this gorgeous little town a Strawberry Festival takes place, where streets are lined with strawberry bunting and all other manner of strawberry references - even the buildings are pink!
What to drink with your strawberries?
This depends on how you decide to serve them. With the way I usually prepare mine, an ice-cold shot of Limoncello does very well, or a chilled Strawberry Mojito or Strawberry-Rose Gin Fizz cocktail. If you're fancying wine, choose white or rosè, either with bubbles or without - I love the wines from the Lazio region: Amoenus Spumante by Cantina Bacco, Bellone Spumante Brut by Omina Romana, Casale del Giglio's Abiola Rosato, and Pacchiarotti's Pian di Stelle Rosato which has a hint of roses to it.
Eton Mess - or it might be 'just a mess' :)
Recipe variation from my own kitchen. As an alternative Jamie Oliver's does look nice
Traditional no-bake Cheesecake with Strawberry Topping
Classic recipe found on various baking websites
Adapted from a lemon tiramisu recipe by James Martin
I'm not 100% convinced with this one. I'll always love the classic version (made using egg), and the zing of the lemon version, but I'd been wanting to try a strawberry version for a while - however, it is lacking something (not sure what), so I need to experiment more to get it tasting fabulous.
If any budding pastry chefs out there have any of their own variations, I'd love to hear about them :)
Strawberry-Rose Gin Fizz cocktail
Recipe from Dessert for Two
Strawberry Mint Basil Summer Cocktail
Recipe from Savory Simple
The precise history of the Eton Mess is somewhat blurry - apparently known by this name since the 19th century and traditionally served at Eton College's annual cricket match against the pupils of Harrow School.
How did the strawberry get it's name? Well the season in the UK runs from May to July, so in order for farmers to achieve maximum yields during this short season, they must protect emerging berries from the muddy soil (since it often rains in Britain). They do this by spreading a layer of straw around each new plant - hence the name straw-berry.
Strawberries in Art: in the early 15th century, western European monks were using the wild strawberry in their illuminated manuscripts, and is found in Italian, Flemish, and German art, and in English miniatures.