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Strawberry and Verjuice Custard Tart

The term 'strawberry' is variously described as reflecting the straying habit of the plant or as coming from the practice of laying straw underneath the fruit to keep it off the damp ground. The present garden and commercially grown strawberry was unknown in Britain until the nineteenth century. Prior to that, gardeners, monks and other strawberry lovers worked hard on the small wild strawberry to fatten it up a bit. Even as a small fruit it was much loved and enjoyed by itself, with wine or with cream. Even today we argue about whether it is better to leave the fruit in its pristine condition or whether to serve it with sugar, cream or wine - or even in wine.
Cooking strawberries is not a crime; they were often cooked in the past and are delicious. This tart recaptures the old traditions of steeping fruit in verjuice ? sour juice for pickling and cooking made from squeezed grapes or apples. It was used until the end of the nineteenth century and was then replaced by lemon juice. To be true to the old taste, one should really use a very sharp cider, but here I have mixed lemon juice and cider vinegar in very small quantities.

ingredients

serves 6 - 8
225 g (8 oz) rich sweet shortcrust pastry
450 g (1 lb) strawberries
110 g (4 oz) caster sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
55 g (2 oz) plain flour
25 g (1 oz) golden caster sugar
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 egg, plus 2 egg yolks
425 ml (3/4 pint) single cream
lemon juice and caster sugar, to serve

method

1 .Line a deep 23 cm (9 in) tart tin with the pastry and pre-bake or bake blind.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C (375°F) Gas 5.

3. Take three-quarters of the strawberries, hull them, then cut them in halves or quarters. Place them in a bowl and stir in 55 g (2 oz) caster sugar. Add the lemon juice and cider vinegar, stir well, then set aside for 30 minutes.

4. Mix the flour, golden caster sugar and grated lemon zest in a bowl, then sprinkle over the pastry base. Drain the strawberries well, reserving the fruit and juice separately, then place the strawberries in the pastry base.

5. Make the egg custard by whisking the eggs, egg yolks and remaining 55 g (2 oz) caster sugar in a bowl. Heat the cream in a pan until almost boiling, then gradually add the cream to the egg and sugar mixture, stirring. Add some of the juice from the strawberries (depending how much there is) and stir to mix. Pour over the strawberries in the pastry case so that some strawberries are just poking through the surface of the custard.

6. Bake in the oven for about 35-40 minutes or until just set, well risen and golden brown in patches. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.
While the tart cools, slice the remaining strawberries, add some lemon juice and sugar and stir to mix. Leave for a few minutes.

7. Serve the tart with the sliced strawberries and some cream.

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