Enjoy the king of summer fruit along the back-roads of Kent, in England's southeastern corner.
An English summer would not be summer without strawberries. These sweet, scented berries, relatives of the rose, have somehow lodged themselves in the national consciousness. Cardinal Wolsey, chancellor to Henry VIII, was said to be one of the first people to air wild strawberries with cream. Jane Austen's Emma heads out on a strawberrying party, "Where strawberries, and only strawberries, could now be thought of or spoken of. The best fruit in England — everybody's favorite — always wholesome." And for many visitors to Wimbledon Championships, the tournament is as much about enjoying strawberries and cream, alongside a glass of champagne, as it is about tennis. Wimbledon strawberries come from the country of Kent. Traveling through this rolling landscape, famous for pretty villages, fruit orchards and hop gardens, you can feast on strawberries to your fill at roadside stalls and pick-your-own (PYO) farms. If you want to sample old varieties, such as Royal Sovereign, look out for them at PYO farms, where you will be given a small cardboard basket, or punnet, to fill and take away — and where you can snack on strawberries straight from the bush as you pick them. You may even be lucky enough to find intensely fragrant, small, wild strawberries along the edges of woods or, sometimes, at local markets.
When to go: The English strawberry season runs from mid-June through August.
Planning: If you do not want to pick your own strawberries, try local farmers' market. Strawberries will be cheaper and fresher here than at supermarkets, and will always be local. Some PYO farms grow their strawberries on platforms at waist- height, which makes picking far more comfortable for adults, but can be awkward for children. Call ahead to find out whether the farm you want to visit does this.
Websites: www.farmersmarkets.net, www.pick-your-own.org.uk, www.visitkent.co.uk
Named for the English school, Eton Mess might first have been made by boys stirring together strawberries and cream.
2 cups strawberries
2 cups whipping cream
6 plain meringues
Rinse the strawberries, remove the stalks, and cut in half or quarters. Put the strawberries into a bowl, sprinkle with sugar and stir to mix, crushing a few against the sides. Chill.
Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Crumble the meringues and add to the cream, then mix in the strawberries. Pile into a large serving bowl or individual bowls.