November 17, 2008

Strawberry fields forever...

…It's getting hard to be someone but it all works out
It doesn't matter much to me
Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to…
'Twas a crisp November morning that saw Team Pretty Bake embark on their first countryside adventure in the form of a leisurely drive in search of Fragarian fields. It was a beautiful day indeed, and as we slowly distanced ourselves from the bustling metropolis, it immediately became apparent that Miss Rose had not often ventured far from her city dwellings. Her delighted squealings and excited exclamations as to the identity of various farmyard inhabitants were equally met by my own pointed expletives describing the nature and direction of the road ahead.
Travelling misadventures aside, following a brief diversion to be beside the sea (and, oh, how we did like it), we arrived at our intended destination that was a Ridge most Sunny. To the fields we did go, and immediately commenced picking. These Earthly delights were warm and ripe, ruby red and simply glistening in the morning sun. Enveloped in the heavenly scent of sun-ripened strawberries, we quickly filled our buckets and thoroughly enjoyed the country air.

Strawberries, you may be interested to note, are in fact a "false fruit". Unlike what I presume to be true fruit whose flesh originates from the plants ovaries, the flesh of a strawberry is instead derived from the peg at the bottom of the bowl-shaped hypanthium that holds the fruits ovaries. Ladies may also appreciate this point of botanical nomenclature, in which you will find that the scientific name for plant ovaries is achenes. Rather appropriate, I think.

Having picked our fill, and even taken some time to experience peninsular craft, we returned to our more familiar urban habitat and began the usual TPB kitchen shenanigans. First up on this week's bill of fare was Miss Rose's Strawberry Pecan Crumble muffins. Deliciously light and fruity, and topped with crunchy, crumbly goodness, these were indeed a scrumptious beginning to the afternoon.

We then commenced on our items of delayed gratification. Dubbed 'she with previous experience', I was in charge of the strawberry jam. The fruit was hulled, drawn and quartered (if such a thing as 'drawing' a berry is indeed possible), and gently boiled with an unmentionably vast quantity of sugar until what resulted was a vat of syrupy decadence. Team Pretty Bake's jam most strawberry was then dispensed into retentively-sterilised jars, covered, and left for, well, you will see…

Meanwhile, Miss Rose was responsible for our gelato di fragola e balsamico. Our lovingly acquired berries were macerated in sugar and balsamic vinegar, and then blended with marscapone and additional dairy. Repeatedly frozen and whipped, the end result was a luscious icy treat with stunning flavour. Certainly a most fitting servant to our spectacular produce.

With patience required to reap the rewards of our efforts thus far, instant gratification was sought in the form of dessert. It is near impossible to work with strawberries and avoid the use of cream. This mutualism bordering on co-dependence is simply one of those all-time classic culinary combinations that must be used and abused whenever possible. And how better to undertake this depravity than in the form of Eton mess? Whipped cream, strawberries and crushed meringue; enchantingly simple and equally pleasurable; a mess indeed, but a thoroughly delightful one.

By this stage, Team Pretty Bake's strawberry supply was starting to dwindle, but there was still baking tasks requiring attention. Miss Emily, having accepted a mission as part of the 'cake crusaders' to provide wedding cakes for certain impending nuptial celebrations, undertook a test run of said nuptial cake to ensure wedding day disasters would be avoided. Dr Catherine will be pleased to note that all went smoothly, and this member of her baking minions, at least, has everything under control.

Miss Rose, not to be outdone or sit idly by, rounded out the evening with pumpkin bread. Enjoyed warm fresh from the oven, this scrumptious loaf was dense and moist, carrying a delectable scent and is certainly one of the prettier loaves that I have ever seen.

And, of course, what better to do with strawberry jam than scones…

Once again, Team Pretty Bake concluded their Sunday baking session thoroughly gorged and immensely satisfied with their efforts. The quietude of picking berries in the countryside on a warm spring morning, if but just for a moment, shone a little light on the soul, and offered temptation to visit strawberry fields forever…

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