Strawberry season is time to make an Eton Mess
Photo by Bob Kuehne
I've been waiting for strawberry season to come to the Ann Arbor Farmers' Market so that I could make an Eton Mess, the "English dessert which is traditionally served at Eton College's annual cricket game against the pupils of Harrow School." Even if it's an unlovely name, Eton Mess is an amazing dessert combining sweet berries, whipped cream, and crisp meringue that is simple to make and easy to fall in love with.
I was hoping for some of the amazing strawberries from Frog Holler Organic Farm, but heard I was about a week too early. Luckily, I bumped into Melissa on her first day at the market with her Sweet Dirt ice cream cart and she recommended the berries from a new vendor called Daisy Farm.
In the middle of "dead man's alley," the dirt lot where all the vendors with the least seniority get stuck, I found my quarry and peppered Mr. Daisy about what kinds of strawberries he grows and whether he had heard of the heirloom and endangered Marshall Strawberry. That man knows his fruit, and I came home with two quarts of big, beautiful Honeoye strawberries.
I was inspired to make Eton Mess from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe for a strawberry-rhubarb version in "River Cottage Every Day." You can use other fruits in an Eton Mess (though berries and bananas are most traditional). But now that it's rhubarb and strawberry season, you'd be a fool not to make a Mess.
And I made the meringues for my Eton Mess with ducks eggs from Our Family Farm. Here's how:
5 ducks eggs, separated
1 cup sugar (superfine if possible)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 pints strawberries, cleaned
1-2 cup rhubarb sauce
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon orange flower or rose water
1 and 1/2 cup whipping cream
Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees. In a stand mixer with a spotlessly clean bowl and beater, put in egg whites and mix until foamy. Add salt and cream of tartar and continue mixing until stiff peaks form. At the stiff peak stage, start adding the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time. Keep beating for about 5 minutes until grains of sugar are completely dissolved. Add vinegar and almond extract in the final minute.
Line baking sheets with parchment. Spoon mounds of meringue on sheets. Bake at 250 degrees for approximately 2 hours. Cool completely.
Cut strawberries in half or in thick slices. Add sugar and orange flower water. Let steep until juicy.
Put cream into a chilled bowl and beat until thick.
Break up cooled meringues, saving a few for the top. Mix together with whipped cream. Just before bringing to the table, gently fold in strawberries and rhubarb just until streaked through - not completely incorporated.
Serve with spoons.
Kim Bayer is a freelance writer and culinary researcher. Email her at kimbayer at gmail dot com.