I am not always as seasonally correct as I might be, that I do acknowledge, but I also concede that there are few joys juicier or more fragrant than an English strawberry in season. So it feels a bit of a treat to have these strawberries bursting out in all their uplifting and intense fruitiness about a month earlier than usual.
I have been celebrating in an appropriate manner, of course. Strawberries like this need nothing except to be popped into the mouth, but I was inspired (thanks also to something of a newly rediscovered obsession with ice-cream-making) to use a punnetful as the basis for a luscious ice cream. I've made a trad strawberry ice cream in the past, using an egg custard base (in fact a bowl of it adorns the back cover of Forever Summer) and I've churned out goodness knows how many pints of Anna del Conte's simple but perfect version using just the berries, balsamic vinegar, sugar and cream. Now, I've gone one better. Inspired by a recipe in Annette Yates's Ice Cream Made Easy, I made (at my son's urgent request) a strawberry and clotted cream ice cream that is the very stuff of dreams. Of course, it helps that I've just bought an ice-cream-making attachment for my KitchenAid (my heavy-duty, professional ice cream machine is still languishing at a friend's house) but I am now a total convert. Gratifyingly, I managed to find a few professional looking proper ice cream tubs on Ebay, but I'm running out now and either have to move into less glamorous storage or go mad and buy the minimum order of 1500 from a proper catering site.
But back to the ice cream: I didn't have any regular balsamic vinegar to hand, so used some fig balsamic instead. If you feel inspired, just hull 250g strawberries and pop them in a food processor with 60g caster sugar and 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar, process until you have a slightly textured red puree then add a tub of clotted cream and blitz again to combine. Chill in the fridge for half an hour before turning into ice cream according to the instructions that go with whatever machine you're using. It took about 15 minutes for me. Or put in a shallow airtight container and take out every half an hour and beat well (to banish ice crystals) until it's set. This does rather take the ease out of it, though. Still, lovely though the ice cream is, I don't think not making it puts you at a serious disadvantage: after all, it's the strawberries that are so magnificent right now and a heaping bowlful, with or without a dribble of balsamic vinegar, with or without a rich heavy dollop of clotted cream, is pleasure enough.