afternoon teaMy neighbour’s vegetable patch is sinfully fecund. Everything is cropping on time, with abundance and perfectly unscathed by bird or beast. We, on the other hand, have zippo in our allotment: sweetcorn, French beans, courgettes all wallow, yellowing and feeble despite the sun. It all, I think, comes down to soil. My neighbour tends to his soil like a prize marrow. We, in contrast, whack a barrow load of horse poo on it and play around with the rotavator because it’s fun and a bit like having your own tractor. And there in lies a lesson: next year, less time playing at farmers and more time improving soil.

Do you sense by now a little envy? Just a touch of friendly village rivalry? You’re right. (Heaven help us come the village show.) In this climate, even the kindest gesture fans the flames of my covetousness. For example, my neighbour very generously, though not without a hint of smugness, offered me some of his strawberry glut the other day. Given that my strawberry patch is weeks away from harvesting, I swallowed my pride, thanked him graciously and hoofed it with a good two kilos of strawberries. “Could I have the punnet back when you’re done,” he cries as I leg it, “there are so many strawberries still to pick that I don’t have enough tubs to put them in”…

Still, it was a gloriously sunny day. I had a mountain of strawberries. And I was feeling all girly. Only one thing could come of this:

Strawberry Afternoon Tea on the Lawn

Cream cheese, cucumber and strawberry sandwiches

Avocado and strawberry salad

Eton mess ice-cream

‘Strawberryade’

Cream cheese, cucumber and strawberry sandwiches

  • Soft cheese (like Philadelphia)
  • Strawberries
  • Cucumber
  • Fluffy white bread

The pairing of cheese and strawberries might sound wacky for the sake of wacky, but Niki Segnit introduces the idea in her everso useful Flavour Thesaurus. And she is not a lady to be needlessly wacky, so I tried it.

Slice the bread, strawberries and cucumber thinly. Spread a good layer of cheese over the bread, top with strawberries and cucumber and slice into dainty fingers – no crusts, obviously my dear.

strawberry sandwiches

Avocado and strawberry salad

Niki Segnit, once again, and Jane Grigson reference this pairing for which they credit The Great Goddess Pru (…Leith). With lineage like that, it’s unsurprising that it works beautifully. Try it. Recipe here.

avocado and strawberries

Eton mess ice-cream

This one, in contrast, has no lineage. I made it up. But it shows promise.

For the ice-cream:

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 100g sugar
  • 300ml milk
  • 300ml cream

For the purée:

  • 250g strawberries
  • 2 tbsp sugar

For the meringues:

  • 4 egg whites
  • 200g caster sugar

eton mess ice cream

Heat the milk and cream to scalding point in a saucepan. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until pale. Gradually add the hot liquid to the eggs, whisking all the time. Poor the mixture into a new pan (the one you used for the milk will be too hot and will probably have bits in the bottom) and, over a low-medium heat, stir constantly until the custard thickens. No boiling or it will split. Once thickened, pour into a jug and leave to cool.

When cooled, churn in an ice-cream maker as per the manufacturer’s instructions (which, if they’re anything like mine, will be hilariously translated from the Italian and require more than a little fathoming out).

Whilst that’s churning, make the strawberry purée. I don’t use whole strawberries in the ice-cream as I find they go too hard when frozen. Instead, whizz the strawberries in a mixer until smooth and sieve to remove the seeds. Then add the sugar – I find this helps prevent the purée crystalising when frozen.

You can also get on with the meringues now as well. I make mine like this. It doesn’t matter what shape they are so long as they’re small enough to fit in your dessert bowl.

When the churning is complete, spoon a little of the ice-cream into a tupperware to cover the bottom. Pour over a drizzle of the strawberry purée and repeat this layering until all the mixture is used up. Then, take a chopstick and draw it through the ice-cream to muddle up the purée and ice-cream. Transfer to the freezer to set for 5-6 hours.

When you’re ready to serve, spoon out the ice-cream, add a few meringues on top and enjoy.

‘Strawberryade’

I had some leftover strawberry purée and I’m sucker for pink drinks, so I had a go at this strawberry version of lemonade and I’m glad to report that it’s rather pleasant:

  • 100ml sugar syrup
  • 100ml strawberry purée (as per above recipe)
  • 750ml fizzy water
  • Dash of lemon juice

Mix it all together, check the balance of sweetness and strawberryness, adjust as necessary and serve!

And now my envy is overcome. I no longer care if my neighbour’s growing is better than mine. Just so long as someone grows something, is kind enough to share it with me and thus afford me the pleasure of playing with strawberries all weekend, then that’s fine and dandy by me. I might even return the punnet …