Strawberries have come. Ideally you’d eat them fresh, perhaps with some cream and a little sugar (and maybe a drop of balsamic vinegar), but sometimes life gets the better of you and you end up a few quid’s worth of strawberries sitting in the fridge. At other times, strawberries are disappointing and you’ve decided you want to make them more exciting.
Either way, you don’t want to be wasteful, so lightly cook the fruit with interesting things. An obvious one is vanilla. Through Miss South, I discovered the joy of buying affordable vanilla beans online. Previously I thought, ‘Do these people think I am made of money,’ (no question mark because ugh) at recipes which included bean after bean, but now I say, ‘YES, I CAN BRING THE VANILLA, I AM READY.’ But if you object to it, you don’t have to–do your own spice and tell me about it, I love hearing new combinations.
I’d recommend, however, trying the stem ginger (young ginger preserved in syrup), which is bright and spicy. Not much is required or they overpower the fruit. The jar keeps in the fridge for ever so you needn’t worry about using it up immediately, though see the Delia link for recipe ideas.
This is completely the sort of thing you’d want to eat on one of those idealised summery days. Perhaps you think I had one of those days in the photos, which show Oxford.
I say ‘idealised’ because, though I was very happy as I took them (friends! sun!), I was also sweaty and slightly uncomfortable. But when you look at them, you don’t see that; it’s about your thoughts shaping the story around my images.
I’ve told you a little bit about Oxford before. It was Mr. Pear’s home a lifetime ago. Arriving in Oxford to see our lovely friend, we saw students in sub fusc, and Mr. Pear was astonished at how very young they all looked. I teased him, asking if he longed for his youth (to be a student again, to be in love again), and he said no. Mr. Pear doesn’t want to actually re-live the experiences of his youth: he would just like to be less old. A very relatable sentiment, I think.
We had a lovely time chatting with Shim as we wandered through Oxford. I don’t intend to be irreverently contrarian, and certainly I can see why people do so, but I can’t go along with all the sighing over the city’s old architecture. Most of it’s just sort of ‘meh’ to me. On a purely visual basis I object to crocketing and rustication, though I think grotesques are fun. Obviously each building in Oxford has its own interesting history and level of technical accomplishment, which I can respect while also finding other things more pleasing to look at.
Ignorant, arsey opinions: I have them sometimes. (But it’s not like Oxford suffers from a lack of admirers in the first place, so.)
I was pretty pleased when we took a wandering route which was mostly small streets, reed-lined canals, meadows and footpaths filled with wildflowers and brambles. I wouldn’t really say it’s an Oxford that’s entirely unseen save for locals and I’m letting you in on some big secret here, but the places which wind through, around, and behind Oxford’s iconic buildings are very much worth appreciating for their own merits.
It was certainly the sort of setting and weather where a picnic would have been ideal–being careful of the cowpats and nodding nettles as tall as me, of course–but I was completely content to walk. Perhaps next time, you know?
The recipe I’ve given you is meant to be eaten with warm, with ice cream melting into it, though nothing’s stopping you from having it chilled with some pouring cream (note that the colour bleeds upon storage so your fruit and ginger will be pink). If you’re lucky enough to live in Oxford, perhaps that ice cream will be from G&D’s. I had their coconut ice cream and god, it’s Thai-style coconut ice cream’s custard-rich cousin, and I want it always and instantly. I live near Chin Chin Labs so there’s not really a cause for general ice cream complaints, but that coconut ice cream’s almost made me have second thoughts about London.
We walked to the stretch of canal where Mr. Pear lived in a narrowboat shaded by a willow tree. When he first told me the name of his old boat, Mandingo, I was all, ‘What.’ He was unaware this referred to an outrageously racist and exploitative work, exactly the opposite thing you’d want to evoke for your nice little narrowboat. I’ll leave you to do the googling. (The boat’s now named after a certain fictional address. A better reference to make, relatively speaking.) That aside–pretty, isn’t it?
Occasionally I worry that this, this is the life he really wants: an unusual and lovely home on the water and amazing ice cream and libraries nearby, enjoying all of them with someone actually within his age range and possessing a similar prodigious intellect, socio-economic class and cultural background. He’s lying to me out of kindness. He feels sorry for me. All of that was about how I wrapped my ideas around his life in a way which hurts both of us. My brain chats shit like this to me sometimes–how insecurity twists things to make it all about you in the worst possible way!
Of course, that’s my problem to deal with. The reasons for his continued appreciation of me and our life together are his own business.
I’ll try to be content. I think, knowing how to make strawberries like this, I have a fighting chance of success.
GRILLED STRAWBERRIES WITH ELDERFLOWER, HONEY AND STEM GINGER
Brought to my attention by Seven Spoons. View the original recipe + instructions here, as it’s no longer on the Jamie Oliver site.
Serves 3 – 4 with ice cream and biscuits. It’s prettiest on the day it’s made–it bleeds, but keeps chilled for a few days.
The original is made with Pimms. Elderflower cordial is lovely, though. Perhaps try a good, floral honey to complement.
1 globe of stem ginger; this is about 1 tablespoon, finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon stem ginger syrup
1 whole vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped with pods reserved, or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (try another aromatic, if liked)
1 heaping tablespoon honey or other sweetener
About 450 g (1 lb) strawberries, washed and hulled
A few splashes of light fruit juice and/or elderflower cordial. If cordial, it should be made up with water to the strength you like. You’ll need more or less liquid depending on the size of your baking dish.
Ice cream, 1 scoop per person.
Mint leaves – a few per person
Biscuits or wafers, if you have them – 2 per person
Preheat grill to high while you get on with preparing the fruit and aromatics. Let the ice cream ripen.
In a medium bowl, mix the chopped stem ginger and ginger syrup with vanilla seed scrapings and honey. Add the hulled strawberries and gently toss til glossily coated with the aromatic syrup.
Move the strawberries to a medium-sized ovenproof dish (I used a 23cm enamel tin), placing each fruit point side up if you care for presentation. Add all the ginger bits and syrup, too. Tuck the vanilla bean into the fruit. Pour over enough juice or made-up cordial to thinly cover the base of the container. Grill the strawberries for 3 – 5 minutes until bubbling and warmed through.
Divide into individual portions, if you wish, and serve with ice cream melting into the warm fruit, topped with some fresh mint and crunchy crumbled biscuits or wafers.