Strawberries, not just for tennis

by Mark Broadbent

Mark Broadbent has enjoyed a food-obsessed career spanning three decades. He’s cooked in Five star Hotels, Two star Michelin restaurants, Gastro Pubs and Member’s Clubs, delivering unforgettable cuisine or acting as a consultant. London’s Bluebird was just one of his success stories. Under his creative direction, the restaurant achieved huge critical acclaim and was especially loved by AA Gill.

Coming up with great menus is as much about looking to the past as it is about keeping up with current food trends.

Delving into the history of a nation’s eating habits is a fascinating business, especially when it comes to tracing the beginnings of our best loved dishes.

And when it comes to national treasures like the strawberry, it’s good to know that its heritage is as quintessentially English as you’d hope.

We have the Tudors to thank for the most famous of all summer berry combinations – the classic strawberries and cream.

This Wimbledon staple was an unlikely hit when it was introduced by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, at the time the most powerful figure in the court of King Henry VIII (Wolf Hall fans, you’ll get your history fix here).

As the King’s right-hand man, Wolsey enjoyed the luxury and comfort of his Hampton Court Palace home, complete with vast kitchens designed to cater for 1,000 guests.

At the time, dairy products were considered food for paupers so it must have taken a brave chef to offer up the strawberries and cream combo.

The gamble worked, and Wolsey was so enamoured by the desert that he ensured it found a place in banquets fit for a King.

Since then, strawberries have become synonymous with the English summer. From Wimbledon to long, lazy afternoons filling punnets at pick-your-own farms, there are few fruits with broader appeal.

The strawberry season is without a doubt one of the highlights of the year. Plump and sweet – there’s nothing more exquisite that a freshly picked, sun-warmed and perfectly ripe strawberry.

There’s a multitude of ways to serve up British favourite (and it goes without saying that British-grown are best) – Eton mess, strawberry shortcake, in a tart, ice-cream or made into a jam for the perfect cream tea.

I’m particularly partial to the wild strawberry; slightly smaller with a more intense flavour, I use them in my Spring Berry Sundae, teamed with raspberries, blackberries, lemon curd and fromage blanc.

Macerate strawberries in sugar for at least 30 minutes to intensify their flavour, and remember it is a sin to refrigerate these beauties – strawberries should be served at room temperature.

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