Although it is now fairly easy to find imported berries in supermarkets at any time of the year, there really is no beating a home-grown crop for flavour and freshness. The UK season begins in late May with berries which have been grown under plastic or in poly-tunnels, and usually finishes around the end of July.
Juicy strawberries need little more than some fresh cream or balsamic syrup to bring out their bold, sweet flavour. The sharper taste and coarser texture of raspberries cuts through richer desserts, making them the perfect accompaniment to chocolate and cream-based puddings such as brownies or pavlova.
Berries have long been associated with American food, muffins in particular. However the colder North European climate makes British blueberries tangier and stronger tasting than their transatlantic equivalents.
Blueberries are delicious raw but adding them to your baking or cooking them down to make a compote intensifies and sweetens their flavour.
The British cherry season has always been short – around six weeks from the end of June to July – but UK cherry orchards have declined from around 18,000 in the 1950s to just over 1,000 today. Most cherries there are now bought in from Turkey, Italy, Spain, South America and the US.
Clafoutis, a baked dessert from the south of France, is an excellent way to turn your summer fruits into a tasty, light pudding. Traditionally made with cherries and almonds with optional cherry brandy, the brilliant thing about this dish is that you can use any fruit you like, although you may need to cook denser fruits first. Commit the recipe to memory and you’ll be able to rustle up a fruity dessert at any time of year.
50g plain flour
50g caster sugar
500g berries or seasonal fruit, stoned if appropriate (if using cherries it’s fine to leave the stones in)
2-3 tsp brandy/liqueur of your choice, optional
Preheat the oven to 180˚C.
Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and stir in the caster sugar.
Make a well in the centre and beat in the eggs one by one.
Slowly pour in the milk, whisking all the time to form a smooth batter. Add your liqueur or brandy, if using.
Spread the fruit in a layer on the bottom of an ovenproof dish and slowly pour the batter over the top.
Bake for 20 minutes until the top of the clafoutis is slightly risen and golden brown.
Allow to cool very slightly then serve with thick cream or ice cream.