It's official, British Strawberry season starts here, and growers are predicting a six percent increase in production of the iconic fruit this year.

The cool, dry winter, coupled with recent warm weather, which saw temperatures rise to 26C in one of the hottest days of the year, has created the perfect growing conditions for this year’s crop of strawberries.

The deliciously juicy and slow-ripened strawberries are now on supermarket shelves in abundance, helping to meet the increasing consumer demand for one of the UK’s favourite fruits.

Over the past year, more than 126,000 tonnes of strawberries were sold in the UK, with shoppers spending more than £580 million on the delectable berry.

The consumption of fresh berries, which includes strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, has grown by an impressive 132 percent since 2007, outstripping the 49 percent increase of fruit consumption as a whole.

The steady rise in demand comes from an increase in the number of health-conscious shoppers, who are recognising the serious nutritional punch berries pack for every calorie consumed.

Berries now make up a remarkable 22 percent of all fruit sold in the UK, and this has pushed the value of the berry industry above £1.2 billion.

Where apples and bananas were once the traditional, staple fruit, fresh berries are now the most popular fruit item in shoppers’ baskets.

Dr Emma Derbyshire, British Summer Fruits’ public health nutritionist, explained:  “Berries are a great healthy, summer snack which is backed up by one of the largest bodies of research. They are an abundant source of vitamins, minerals and phyto (plant) nutrients which have been linked to a diverse range of health benefits.

“New Imperial research recently highlighted that we may need to strive for 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day to lower chronic disease risk.

“Snacking on punnets of berries this summer – be it at a picnic, barbeque or when on a lunch break, is a great and easy way to boost our fruit intake for adults and kids alike.”

Laurence Olins, Chairman of British Summer Fruits, the industry body that represents 98 percent of berries sold in UK supermarkets said: “This season’s strawberry production reflects a robust and expanding soft fruit category that is able to meet the growing consumer demand.”

“More and more people understand the fantastic health benefits of snacking on a punnet of berries, and fortunately we have been able to match this growing demand with innovation in the industry, to ensure consumers can look forward to good quality British berries on their supermarket shelves.”

The Recipes

Strawberry basil éclairs

Strawberries and cream get the French treatment, what’s not to love.

Makes 16

Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

50g (2oz) butter, plus a little extra for greasing

150ml (1/4 pint) water

65g (21/2oz) plain flour, sifted

2 medium eggs

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

To finish

400g (14oz) strawberries, hulled, chopped

2 tablespoons icing sugar, plus extra sifted icing sugar to decorate

3 tablespoons fresh chopped basil leaves

300ml (1/2 pint) double cream

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan), Gas Mark 6. Lightly butter 2 baking sheets and set aside.

2. Add the measured butter to a saucepan with the water, heat gently until the butter has melted then bring to the boil. Take off the heat add the flour and stir together then put the pan back on the heat and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously until the mixture forms a smooth glossy ball that leaves the sides of the pan clean. Cool for 15 minutes.

3. Gradually beat in the eggs and vanilla, beating well after each addition until all the eggs have

been added and you have a smooth thick paste. If you have a food processor or electric

mixer you might like to use this to save time.

4. Spoon the choux pastry into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm (1/2 inch) wide plain piping tube.

Pipe 7.5cm (3 inch) long éclairs, leaving space between them to rise in the oven.

5. Bake for 20 minutes until well risen and golden, pierce each éclair with a small knife so that the steam can escape then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

6. Meanwhile mix the strawberries, 2 tablespoons icing sugar and basil together, cover the dish and leave at room temperature.

7. About 1 hour before you are ready to serve the éclairs, slit open the sides with a serrated knife. Whisk the cream until it forms soft peaks then fold in any strawberry juices. Spoon into the éclairs and top with the strawberries and basil.

8. Dust with sifted icing sugar and transfer to a plate and serve.

Cook’s tip: Choux pastry isn’t as tricky as you might think to make, the secret is to weigh the ingredients accurately, don’t be over generous with one of the ingredients or the mixture may be too soft to pipe and use either metric or imperial not a mix of both!

For chocolate fans, spoon a little melted white chocolate over the top of the éclairs instead of adding the icing sugar.

Strawberry Chia Jam and Almond Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients:

Chia jam

200g of strawberries

3 tbsp of chia seeds

2 tbsp of honey

1 vanilla pod

Muffins

300g of ground almonds

300ml of full fat coconut milk (from a can)

2 organic freer range eggs

1 Pinch of sea salt

½ tsp baking soda

4 tbsp honey

1 vanilla pod scraped

Method:

Preheat oven to 180° C

To make the muffins mix the almonds, salt and baking soda together in a bowl. In another bowl, mix the coconut milk, eggs, honey and 1 vanilla pod scraped.

Combine together and pour the mixture into muffin paper holders, but only fill them 2/3 full as they will rise.

Bake the muffins for 20 minutes until just cooked through and golden on top.

While the muffins are baking put the strawberries, honey and vanilla bean pod in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour into a bowl and stir in the chia seeds. Let this sit for 15 minutes stirring every 5 until it thickens into a jam like consistency.

Top the muffins with the strawberry jam and enjoy.

Fraisier strawberry cake

Wow the special person in your life with this impressive looking cake, this classic French recipe has a few short cuts, so you don’t need to be a master baker to make this version.

Cuts into 10 slices

Prep: 45 minutes

Cook: 35-40 minutes

Ingredients:

225g (8oz) soft margarine

225g (8oz) caster sugar

225g (8oz) self-raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Grated rind of 2 lemons

4 medium eggs

6 tablespoons limoncello liqueur

Filling

400g (14oz) strawberries, hulled

3 tablespoons cold water

2 teaspoons powdered gelatine

150ml (¼ pint) double cream

500g (1lb 2oz) carton luxury vanilla custard

Topping

2 tablespoons apricot glaze or apricot jam minus the pieces of fruit

250g (9oz) readymade marzipan

Little icing sugar

Few small strawberries

Few chocolate hearts

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (150°C fan) Gas 3. Grease a 20cm (8 inch) heart shaped springform tin with a little oil then line the base with a piece of non-stick baking paper.

2. Add the margarine, sugar and flour to a large bowl, electric mixer or food processor. Add the baking powder, lemon rind and eggs and beat together until smooth.

3. Spoon into the lined tin, level the surface and bake for about 35-40 minutes until well risen, golden brown and a skewer comes out cleanly when inserted into the centre of the cake.

4. Leave to cool for 10 minutes then loosen the edge, remove the tin and lining paper and cool on a wire rack.

5. When the cake is cold, cut into two thinner rounds, trimming the top level if it is a little domed, then spoon the limoncello over the cut sides. Wash the cake tin and line the base and sides with two strips of clingfilm.

Put one of the cake halves in the tin and pull up the clingfilm if needed so that it slightly overhangs the top of the tin.

6. Sort through the strawberries, reserve the medium sized ones for the side of the cake and the larger ones for slicing.

Cut the medium sized ones in half and arrange in a ring around the outside of the cake in the tin so that the cut edge is pressed against the clingfilm. Slice the rest and arrange as an even layer to cover the base cake.

7. Add the water to a small heatproof bowl, sprinkle over the gelatine powder and leave to soak for 5 minutes then stand the bowl in a saucepan of just simmering water and heat until the gelatine has dissolved and become a clear liquid.

8. Whisk the cream until it forms soft swirls in a bowl then fold in the custard.

Gradually fold in the dissolved gelatine in a thin steady stream then pour the custard mix over the strawberries in the tin and chill for 10 minutes until just setting.

9. Add the second cake half to the tin and press lightly into the custard. Gently spread the apricot glaze or jam over the top of the cake.

Knead and roll out the marzipan on a piece of non-stick baking paper then cut into a heart, using the cake tin as a guide. Lift over the top of the cake and press into place with fingertips dusted with icing sugar.

Chill for at least 4 hours.

10. When ready to serve, unclip the sides of the tin, peel away the clingfilm, then carefully lift the cake off and transfer to a plate. Decorate the top with the small strawberries and piped chocolate hearts, if liked.

Cook’s tip – Not a fan of marzipan then simply leave it out and spread the top of the cake with melted chocolate or simply dust with sifted icing sugar instead.

To make chocolate hearts – Melt 50g (2oz) dark chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of very gently simmering water. Spoon into a piping bag made of non-stick baking paper, snip off the tip then pipe heart shapes over a sheet of non-stick baking paper set on a baking tray.

Chill until set then peel off the paper and add to the top of the cake when ready to serve.

White chocolate mousses with strawberry and black pepper sauce

Adding just a hint of cracked black pepper to pureed strawberries adds a real kick, combine with the white chocolate, lime and white rum mousse and you will wow your friends.

Make extra sauce and freeze in sections of an ice cube tray, defrost as many ice cubes as you need in the microwave and drizzle over a scoop of vanilla ice cream to give it the star treatment.

Serves 4

Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: 5 minutes

Chill: 3-4 hours

Ingredients:

White chocolate mousse

200g (7oz) white chocolate, broken into pieces

1 lime, grated rind only

2 eggs, separated

2 tablespoons white rum

150ml (1/4 pint) double cream

Strawberry and black pepper sauce

50g (2oz) caster sugar

75ml (21/2 fl oz) water

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, roughly crushed

225g (8oz) strawberries, hulled, sliced

½ lime, juice only

Few extra small strawberries to decorate

Method:

1. To make the mousse, melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of very gently simmering water, making sure that the base of the bowl isn’t touching the water.

2. Take the bowl of chocolate off the saucepan and stir in the lime rind, egg yolks and rum until smooth.

Lightly whip the cream until it forms soft swirls then fold into the chocolate mix and spoon into 4 small glasses. Chill in the fridge for 3-4 hours until set.

3. Meanwhile make the sauce, add the sugar, water and pepper to a medium saucepan and heat gently, stirring.

Strawberry and blueberry crumble

Serves 4

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 20-25 minutes

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon cornflour

Juice of 1 medium orange

450g (1lb) strawberries, hulled, halved or quartered depending on size

200g (7oz) blueberries

40g (11/2oz) caster sugar

Crumble topping

100g (4oz) plain flour

40g (11/2oz) caster sugar

50g (2oz) butter, diced

75g (3oz) marzipan, coarsely grated

Finely grated rind ½ orange

Vanilla ice cream to serve

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 180oC (350oF), Gas Mark 4. Mix the cornflour and orange juice together in the base of a medium saucepan.

Add the strawberries, blueberries and sugar to the pan then cook over a medium to low heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring until the berries begin to soften slightly. Spoon into 4 x 250ml (8fl oz) individual ovenproof dishes.

2. To make the crumble add the flour, sugar and butter to a mixing bowl and rub in the butter with fingertips or an electric mixer until fine crumbs.

Stir in the marzipan and orange rind.

3. Spoon the crumble over the fruit and bake for 20-25 minutes until the crumble is golden brown and the juices are bubbling around the edges. Serve with scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Cook’s tip: Don’t have any individual ovenproof dishes? Make the crumble in one large dish instead and cook for 30-35 minutes until golden.

Keep an eye on the crumble as the marzipan can brown quickly, so loosely cover the top with foil if needed.

• All pictures courtesy of British Summer Fruits

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