Capturing Early Summer

Capturing Early Summer

“I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food I’m cooking.” –Julia Child

Here it is June, somehow, and I find myself thinking about strawberries. I wondered if Beeton thought of strawberries in June as well. The BOHM has very few strawberry recipes: a simple one for strawberries and cream, which I will be trying tonight, a jam and a jelly recipe, and lots of advice for arranging fresh fruit on trays and platters in pleasing pyramid and tower shapes. The unspoken message here, I suppose, is that strawberries are excellent fresh and enjoyed with no adulteration.

Beeton tells us that the name “strawberry” is derived from

an ancient custom of putting straw beneath the fruit when it began to ripen, which is very useful to keep it moist and clean. The strawberry belongs to temperate and rather cold climates; and no fruit of these latitudes, that ripens without the aid of artificial heat, is at all comparable with it in point of flavour. The strawberry is widely diffused, being found in most parts of the world, particularly in Europe and America.

This is a popular story that I had heard well before reading it in Beeton’s, but by some accounts, untrue. It looks like another case in the English language where the meaning is assumed to be very literal (strawberries=berries bedded in straw) much like “forcemeats,” which meant “spiced meat” rather than the very literal “filling that is stuffed (forced) into other meats.” I know I am going all Captain Obvious on this topic, but I do like how English is never as simple or literal as it may seem on the surface.

So, strawberry pyramids seem like a fun way to impress guests, but what if it is 1865 and you want to save strawberries to enjoy later? I decided to Preserve Strawberries in Wine [1595]. The wine it calls for is madeira or port, which is something I enjoy, but do not have a lot of taste or experience in. I am much more of a sauvignon blanc person–very fruity, green wine suits me.

I went to a local wine shop where I knew they would know MUCH more than I did. I chose some midrange-priced, “rainwater” madeira, with the intention of sweetening it, and thinking I would drink the leftovers. I am having a small glass as I write this–delicious.

Two Pounds of Strawberries

The recipe is very simple: stem and hull the strawberries and cover them with sweetened madeira. This is where we get into trouble with Beeton’s. How long do we keep them for? Strawberries float, is that a problem for rot? John Smythe, our pickling master here at TQS, has advised me to “weight” the strawberries using a plastic bag filled with water as is sometimes done with pickles. I think I am going to give them a day or so to see if the berries become wine-logged and sink on their own.

Strawberries in madeira

I used two pounds of strawberries, three ounces of sugar, and a bottle (750 ml) madeira. My plan is to pull some out in August and test them, and slice them over ice cream or poundcake. The rest I will pull out during the holidays–I think they could be very interesting as a compliment to the rich meats served at that time. I am sure I will do something with the leftover madeira as well–it could be easily reduced to be a dessert sauce, I think.

One more thing that I am very excited about that I should have done months ago:

EXACTLY Three Ounces

A food scale! Even if it is not perfectly accurate, it got decent reviews and will cut out a lot of my careful math and guesswork.

PRESERVED STRAWBERRIES IN WINE.

1595. INGREDIENTS – To every quart bottle allow 1/4 lb. of finely-pounded loaf sugar; sherry or Madeira.

Mode.—Let the fruit be gathered in fine weather, and used as soon as picked. Have ready some perfectly dry glass bottles, and some nice soft corks or bungs. Pick the stalks from the strawberries, drop them into the bottles, sprinkling amongst them pounded sugar in the above proportion, and when the fruit reaches to the neck of the bottle, fill up with sherry or Madeira. Cork the bottles down with new corks, and dip them into melted resin.

Seasonable.—Make this in June or July.

1595. Preserved Strawberries in Wine [My version]

1 750 ml bottle rainwater madeira
3 ounces sugar
2 lbs. hulled and cleaned strawberries

In a wide-mouthed jar, stir sugar into wine until dissolved and then add strawberries. Screw on lid and hope for the best! I’ll let you know.

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