I love the anticipation of the first summer fruits of the season – juicy British strawberries, raspberries, cherries, gooseberries – all those sweet flavours that bring back memories of picnics on long hot days or sunset barbeques. Of course, they are wonderful eaten just as they are, maybe with a sprinkling of sugar or a dollop of cream, but they are so versatile that they’re not just great for dessert – summer fruits also go brilliantly with meat and fish to create really light and refreshing dishes.
We all know duck goes with orange, pork loves apple sauce and that Parma ham and melon are a good match, but beyond that we’re not, as a nation, generally inclined to mix meat and fish with fruit – especially summer fruit. In fact, there are so many ways to use it that I get carried away just thinking about it: what about roast peaches with wild boar pancetta, hay baked new season lamb with cherries or red muscat grapes with seared beef and a citrus spice called sumac? The sweetness of the fruit really enhances the savoury taste of the meat. If you’re having a barbeque, a fruity salad to go with some spicy marinated chicken would be delicious alongside those smoky flavours.
Oily fish works well with summer fruit in much the same way, balancing the metallic taste of the flesh and giving depth to the dish. Mackerel with gooseberries is a classic but my favourite is to serve it with raspberries soaked in sherry. Seared tuna with strawberries and star anise makes for something a bit different, or I’ve even had lobster with watermelon and black olives – which I must say was pretty strange but surprisingly seemed to work.
Having said that, it just wouldn’t be right to ignore pudding. While the savoury/sweet combination is nice, dessert is where summer berries really come into their own. Old favourites like raspberry pavlova or Eton mess are hard to beat, but for a special occasion, strawberry and champagne jelly with basil sugar or a fruit soup with poached meringues floating on top are pretty magical.
And there’s no reason why we have to stop enjoying them when summer ends – preserving fruit in syrup or pickling them in vinegar means they will keep all year round, so you can have peach melba at Christmas. But for now, let’s try and make the most of the summer – and its fruits – while it lasts.