Wimbledon is underway, even if summer isn’t and suddenly everything has turned strawberry, the number of strawberry-related posts popping up on my reader reaching a seasonal crescendo. Here in North Uist, my strawberry crop is coming to an end, the glut has passed and just as I posted at the start of our strawberry season, here I celebrate the end with this more or less traditional (retro even) shortcake, crème patissière and strawberry coulis recipe, the coulis with the added dimension of pomegranate molasses and wild water mint (Mentha aquatica).
The strawberry season is all too short, but I feel satiated given our substantial crop this year. I will be content to leave the joy of indulging in the heady sweetness of home-grown strawberries until next spring. I don’t grow enough to make jam and although I will not be tempted to eat the generally insipid supermarket strawberries fresh (even if they are British), I could be lured to make some jam if I have the chance to pick my own at a mainland farm or acquire a bumper bargain of British strawberries. Truth be told, I don’t much care for strawberry jam, but would make it for The Man Named Sous who does. The one exception is wild strawberry conserve. I had some delicious home made conserve when I was in Bulgaria a couple of years ago and no strawberry jam I have tasted can come close to that.
My strawberry crop has only been so good because it has been tucked up safe and warm in my small but productive tunnel. The tomatoes, tomatillos, courgettes, cucumbers, dwarf beans and chillies are all looking very happy, flowering profusely indoors. I keep my fingers crossed that there will be enough sun for equally copious fruiting.
We appear to have had our summer of a few erratic days of sunshine, with the long-term forecast now showing a familiar pattern of seasonally unsettled weather from gales (30-40 mph on Sunday past) to sideways smir and proper rain. On the occasional still day a grey blanket of cloud envelopes the islands and the midges descend to devour us as we try to work outdoors.
Meanwhile, the low temperatures and frequent northerlies mean the outdoor vegetables are growing at an imperceptibly slow rate, about the speed of tectonic plates. Even our fly fishing outings have been dour, the trout sulking at the bottom of the lochs, rarely being tempted by the flies cast. All that said, there is at least the perception that it is summer if you are eating strawberries.
Beautiful Loch Bhrusda, Berneray
We did have a fantastic fly fishing outing to Loch Bhrusda on the island of Berneray, the most northern of the islands in the Uist island chain, now connected to North Uist by a causeway. Our fishing club visits this catch and release machair loch once a year. The loch holds some +6lb fish that put up an impressive fight, more like sea trout than brown trout, so it is usually a popular outing.
Fishing was slow and I was the lucky one who caught a lovely silvery 2 1/2 lb brown trout. Sometimes the fishing is secondary when you can enjoy such beautiful surroundings on a stunning day. Of course, bright conditions are not good for fly fishing and the fish were lurking at the bottom. I caught the fish along the deep north west shore, a place where I have had success in the past.
The loch is interesting because has a clear demarcation from shallow to deep running longitudinally along the loch. The transition gradient can clearly be seen in the photos and anglers usually wade out and cast over the shallow lip (about 1m deep) into deeper water where it is perceived most of the fish are. While fishing along this edge, a startled trout of several pounds darted around my legs into the shallow area where I was standing! Interestingly, I have never caught a fish from this favoured area.
Although the late spring has meant the vegetation has been slow to get going, the Berneray machair looked spectacular on this visit. After 3 1/2 hours without a bite, I decided to spend the last half hour of the outing wandering around the machair to look for bumblebees and hoverflies. The succession of machair flowers was still in quite an early phase with birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) dominating the grassland surrounding the loch. There were plenty of the rare moss carder bees (Bombus muscorum), but it was still too early for the much rarer great yellow bumblebee (Bombus distinguendus) to be found.
Strawberries with hazelnut shortbread
This is a nice nostalgic dessert that provides sufficient decadence to be a fitting strawberry swan song. The hazelnut shortbread recipe is courtesy of Delia Smith and these are not at all sweet so the deliciously distinctive hazelnut flavour shines through, the ground rice ensuring crispness and a change from using semolina or polenta. I found the dough a bit soft, even after resting, I would add a bit more flour (170g as opposed to150g) to provide a better dough texture that was less fragile but still nice and short
The crème patissière recipe is not my usual favoured Michel Roux recipe. I decided to try Paul Hollywood’s version from his ‘How to Bake’ book. It was certainly easy to make but perhaps a bit on the soft side if the crème pat is to be used in dishes requiring a firm custard e.g. for making beignets.
The stock syrup included in the strawberry coulis was infused with a sprig of water mint. This is superabundant in the marshy areas around the house just now. A small amount of pomegranate molasses was added to give a different flavour dimension.
Hazelnut Shortbread biscuits
Preheat the oven to 180C
60g icing sugar
60g ground rice
170g plain flour
- Roast the nuts on an oven tray for 5 minutes, allow to cool and then blitz until fine in a food processor.
- Cream the icing sugar and butter together until light and fluffy, gradually add the sifted flours, then the ground hazelnuts. rest in the fridge for several hours.
- Roll out to about 5mm, cut rounds using a scone cutter (I used 8 cm) and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, allow to cool slightly before moving them onto a wire rack.
100g caster sugar
4 medium eggs
500 ml full fat milk
2 vanilla pods
- Whisk the sugar, egg yolks and corn flour in a bowl until smooth.
- In a pan, scrape out the vanilla pods and add them and their contents to the milk. Bring the milk to the boil and remove from the heat.
- Pour about a quarter of the milk over the yolk/flour mixture and scrape everything back into the pan.
- Heat gently until the mixture thickens then remove from the heat.
- Pass through a sieve into a bowl and stir in the butter.
- Place some greaseproof paper directly over the crème as it cools to stop a skin forming (the butter helps too). Cool and chill until required.
Strawberry, water mint and pomegranate molasses coulis
Begin by making a stock syrup simply by boiling 150g caster sugar and 120 ml water together with a sprig of water mint (or other mint species available) for 3 minutes. Leave this to cool with the mint infusing in it and remove sprig just before using.
50ml stock syrup
200g hulled strawberries
1 tbsp. pomegranate molasses
2 water mint leaves
juice of 1/4 lemon
- Simply blitz all the ingredients in a food processor and pass through a fine sieve.
Assembling the dish
This is straightforward piling of strawberries on a biscuit, followed by a generous dollop of crème pat and coulis, topped with another biscuit, more crème and a whole fresh strawberry.
No summer barbecue would be complete without the classic strawberry tart, made with pâte sucrée case lined with dark chocolate, filled with crème pat, a layer of passion fruit curd and topped with apricot jam-glazed strawberries and blueberries. Adios amigos, until next year…