Monday, March 06, 2006

A fruit worth gathering.

Today, March 6th …

The “Scientific American” of this day in 1847 published an article taken from a London newspaper, which gave a method for drying strawberries. Frankly, the story stretches culinary belief.

Last summer, by way of experiment, when strawberries were plentiful, I attached threads to their stalks, and hung up a few which were over-ripe to dry. I placed them inside a window facing the south, where they remained from June last until the present time, (Jan.28.) They have just been tasted, and the result is most satisfactory. That sweet refreshing acid which is peculiar to the strawberry in full perfection; the flavor of the fruit, without any watery taste, is delicious; … The experiment may be tried when the fruit is so ripe as to be scarcely worth gathering, without any further expense or trouble than being hung up.

I do not believe that this method would have worked. Not even for an “Ave-Maria while” do I believe it (see Dec 7th Old Foodie if you have forgotten this!).

Air-drying food requires long hot days with low humidity – not likely even in the best English summer - and the fruit most likely to fail would be whole, soft, juicy, over-ripe strawberries. It is stretching belief that they would be hanging nice and dry in the window six months later. Oozed off the stalks and bled all over the window sill more likely – if insects, birds and mould didn’t get to them first.

Housekeepers with a surplus have ever been desirous of preserving the fruit about which the seventeenth century William Butler said: "Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did". The main method until the advent of home freezers and home dryers was as strawberry jam or conserve, but here is an alternative worth trying, from Mrs Beeton (1861).

To every quart bottle allow 1/4 lb. of finely-pounded loaf sugar; sherry or Madeira.
Let the fruit be gathered in fine weather, and used as soon as picked. Have ready some perfectly dry glass bottles, and some nice soft corks or bungs. Pick the stalks from the strawberries, drop them into the bottles, sprinkling amongst them pounded sugar in the above proportion, and when the fruit reaches to the neck of the bottle, fill up with sherry or Madeira. Cork the bottles down with new corks, and dip them into melted resin.

Tomorrow: Soup for the singer.

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