Strawberry days

by Danielle Charles

If the first heady days of summertime had a flavor, they most certainly would taste of strawberry. Not just any strawberry mind you, but the perfect strawberry – a ripe little gem picked straight from the plant with the sunshine pouring down on your shoulders and your fingers stained crimson, the far away humming of bees and the heat and the boozy sweet perfume of squashed berries weaving an intoxicating spell around you. When you bite into a strawberry like that – you know that summertime has begun, beyond a doubt. You can feel it.  You have crossed that strange boundary where spring’s sweetness begins to totter into something altogether more complex and provocative and interesting, like the maturing of a fine wine. Summertime.

There is no comparison between that sort of strawberry and the ones you find at the store. True strawberries are not made for supermarkets shelves – they are made to eat quickly and greedily and fervidly before they melt into a boozy mush. A good strawberry won’t last more than a few days. I always forget this in the spring, when the first cartons of California and Florida berries begin appearing and I bring them home, tantalized by the prospect of them. But they always disappoint. They are strawberries made for utility and resilience, not for flavor. They taste like nothing.

So when strawberry season begins, I take full advantage. I pick until my husband has to drag me away. I freeze them. I make jam. I eat more strawberries in a day than anyone rightfully should. I put them in muffins, slice them over my cereal, macerate them in sugar, blend them into smoothies. I had to make this and this of course, and strawberry shortcake, and this. And who could resist that? I eat them until I begin to almost sicken of them – almost – which is about when the season is whittling down anyways. Because I know deep down that this is my one chance in the year to really experience the sensation of summer melting into my tongue. The chance to eat a strawberry that tastes like a strawberry, and to make the world stop and fill my head with sunshine and blue skies and days that never seem to end.

Here is a recipe that I felt brought out the strawberry’s full potential in a simple, elegant way. It combines two of my favorite fruits – strawberries and peaches – with a warm, sophisticated drizzle of balsamic and a beautiful scattering of fresh rose petals that just combines everything good about this time of year. I hope you enjoy it – strawberry season is beginning to wind down, so do be sure to properly gorge yourself this next week, and enjoy the sweet taste of summer before it all to soon begins to slip away.

A salad of strawberries, peaches and rose petals with warm vanilla-rose balsamic syrup

A simple and elegant desert to enjoy as is, or spoon over something delicious like ice-cream. You can use wild or cultivated roses from your garden for this – I happen to have the most beautiful little rugosa rose bush that I discovered hiding in the weeds last summer, so I used the bright fuschia petals of that, which are lightly fragranced and beautifully stunning scattered over the fruit. You might wish to double the syrup amount to have on hand for other things – sweet and fragrant with a touch of warmth from the pepper – it makes a wonderful topping for ice-cream, even pancakes. If you don’t have a vanilla bean handy just add a tablespoon of vanilla extract to the dressing

Serves 2.

  • 2 perfectly ripe peaches, sliced into thin segments
  • 1.5 cups strawberries, sliced into thin segments
  • the petals of one rose

For the dressing:

  • 1/2 cup aged balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon unrefined cane sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 teaspoon rose water
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the balsamic vinegar and sugar into a saucepan. Slice the vanilla bean in half, scrape the seeds from the pod and add them to the pan, and then add the pod itself. Turn on the heat and bring to a boil, letting the syrup concentrate and reduce, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced by half. Remove from heat and let cool slightly before removing the vanilla pod and adding the teaspoon of rose water.

While the syrup is cooling, arrange the sliced fruit onto two plates however you like.

Drizzle the syrup generously over the fruit, and then finish with a sprinkling of rose petals.

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