Strawberries, that fragrant, luscious herald of springtime, have always figured prominently on Southern tables—and earlier in the year than for most of the rest of the country. But by May, the season in Florida, which produces most of the country’s early fruit, is over, and while it will linger a few weeks longer in Northern Georgia, Carolina, and Virginia, it’s beginning to wind down across the South.
The fact is less appreciated nowadays, thanks to commercially produced berries that are available year round, but the only ones really worth bothering about are the local berries that are gathered at their peak.
While such wonders are available to us, you don’t need a recipe to make the best strawberry dessert ever devised: just pick the sweetest and ripest berries, wash and core them, and put them into individual serving bowls; put some good cane sugar into a caster for each person to sprinkle on to taste, and pass with it a pitcher of thick, heavy cream or a bowl of Crème Fraîche.
But when there’s company, or when you want something special to round out a family meal, you can take almost exactly the same ingredients and, with a bare minimum of effort, dress them up into a luscious fruit fool.
It isn’t what you’re thinking it is: the word “fool” can actually mean several things other than one of your in-laws or a member of an opposing political party. In this case, it’s an ancient English dessert—a simple yet sumptuous confection of whipped cream and tart fruit similar in concept to a classic Bavarian cream. It was once popular on this side of the Atlantic, too, and ought to be popular again.
Sometimes the fruit for a fool is cooked before it’s folded into the whipped cream, but here, the only “cooking” that the berries get is a brief maceration in sugar and a little whiskey. If they’re not very acidic, you can add a spoonful of the juice from the orange.
1 pint strawberries
2 tablespoons bourbon
Freshly grated zest of one orange
1 cup heavy cream (minimum 36 percent milkfat)
4 sprigs fresh mint
1. Wash the berries and set aside 4 small, nicely shaped ones for garnish. Stem and core the remaining berries, and cut them into thick slices. Sprinkle lightly with sugar—how much will depend on how sweet the berries are already—the bourbon, and the orange zest. Cover and set them aside to macerate for half an hour.
2. Mash the berries to a pulp with a potato masher. (Don’t use a blender or food processor; both machines do too good a job and liquefy them. Or if you really must, or want a smoother texture, mash half of them and puree the remainder in the machine.)
3. In a separate bowl, beat the cream until it forms soft peaks. Gently fold in the strawberries until the mixture is uniform. Spoon the fool into stemmed glasses. Thoroughly chill the fool for at least 1 hour. Just before serving them, garnish the tops with the sprigs of mint and reserved berries.
Recipe and text adapted from Beans, Greens, & Sweet Georgia Peaches, 2nd Ed. Globe Pequot Press, copyright © 2014 by Damon Lee Fowler, all rights reserved.