The Strawberry receives as warm a welcome in June as does the primrose of spring, and for the same reason. -Edward A. Bunyard (The Anatomy of Dessert: With a Few Notes on Wine)
Lately, I’ve been struggling to lose myself in novels. I don’t know if my mind has been too preoccupied with the ongoing (and officially resumed) search for a job, or if Elektra’s trip to the doggy ER last weekend has been weighing on my mind, but traditional fiction just isn’t doing it for me these days. I also suspect that, between all of my tutoring gigs and walking to and fro, I’m almost too tired to read by the time I crawl into bed. For an avid reader, it’s a fairly unhappy state, but I’ve been taking comfort in several collections of essays about food–about fruit, actually–while I work my way back to my preferred genre.
The first of these is The Anatomy of Dessert (1929) by the British pomologist Edward A. Bunyard. While I will admit that it’s not the world’s fastest read, it’s the kind of book that will not only teach you interesting facts about fruit (really, it will make you understand how diminished the world of fruit has become since Bunyard put down his pen), but that also can be savored in 5-page installments before turning off the light. Bunyard, as he takes you from Apples to Strawberries, also proves to be a wonderfully opinionated, highly literate and slyly humorous writer. As he writes about the grape:
The Strawberry Grape is beloved by some, but to me the flavor suggests a cross between a Tom Cat and a Black Currant, and it is to most palates undesirable and happily rare. If, as some think, it is of American origin, it may well explain certain recent developments in that country. Not for such grapes did the Centaurs fight, nor for such wine did Virgil sing (41).
The other book on my nightstand, Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book (1982) is in direct dialogue with Bunyard; she references him several times and structures her study in a similar manner, examining fruit from A to Z and evoking fairy tales, etymology and culinary history all the way through. Unlike Bunyard, however, she explores her topic in broader terms, including fruits like papaya, citrus, mango and watermelon, as well as a host of recipes for the adventurous fruit lover. These alone are fascinating to read. Although it’s true that many of the recipes are a bit old hat in our day and age (think Key Lime Pie and Strawberry Fools), there are others that, even thirty years past the original publication date, still manage to tempt and surprise: Poires a la Chinoise, Spinach in Orange Cups and Avocado with Strawberry Sauce.
It’s the last recipe that really grabbed my imagination recently. While I don’t often write about salads on this blog (mainly because they’re such an ad hoc, everyday affair around here), this one I couldn’t resist. The strawberries have been so fine recently–wonderfully fragrant and sweet–and, given that this is California, a good avocado is never out of reach. Although the woman who gave the recipe to Jane Grigson admitted that the combination of strawberries and avocados might seem “bizarre,” it somehow seemed right to me: who doesn’t like the combination of sweet, slightly acidic and creamy things, after all?
If you agree with this blanket statement, then I think this is a recipe worth trying. It may even become a spring and summer favorite. We’ve made it no less than 5 or 6 times in the past two weeks (in part, this is because the amount of dressing the recipe makes is more than you can use in one or two rounds; the dressing keeps well in the fridge and you should feel free to use it on anything that strikes your fancy, although this avocado salad is a good place to start) and I’ve found that it’s highly adaptable: one day we had it for lunch with leftover roasted chicken, another morning I had it for breakfast with toast and we recently discovered that it pairs extremely well with pizza. If you want something more than fruit in your salad (remember, a fruit develops from a flower and an avocado fits the bill), a few handfuls of arugula, lightly peppered, salted and dressed with lemon, make a welcoming bed for the pretty pink and green ingredients.
If this salad doesn’t seem like quite your thing, over at the jam blog there’s more strawberry inspiration in a different form.
Prue Leith’s Avocado Salad with Strawberry Sauce
Yields about 3-4 servings
Adapted from Jane Grigson’s On Fruit
Off the bat, I should admit that I made a lot of changes to this recipe. Some changes stemmed from what I did or didn’t have in my pantry; others stemmed from my desire for precision, rather than rough estimates, although I do agree that the cook must always adjust the recipe and prepare and serve what tastes good to him/her.
About the former: The original recipe calls for sunflower oil for the dressing and toasted almonds as a garnish. Because I didn’t have sunflower oil, I looked up appropriate substitutes and found that walnut oil, which I keep around for making bread, would work just as well. Once walnut oil entered the equation, however, I decided it would be silly to use toasted almonds instead of toasted walnuts. But you should feel free to adjust accordingly. My other changes will be explained below.
One final thing, however: Grigson says to use ripe avocado and to cut them across a dozen times before transferring them to a serving platter and “fanning” back the slices. Two out of three of my avocados were just ripe, while one was a little soft (see photo 3 for proof; the Greek and I debated this photo–he called it extremely naturalistic (i.e. bordering on the disgusting), whereas I saw it as evidence that the world of food isn’t always pretty, though food magazines and blogs would have you believe otherwise); because it was impossible to cut this avocado in a way that would allow it to retain its shape, I opted to cut the avocado into smaller pieces. I say do whatever pleases you aesthetically.
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
9 ounces strawberries, washed and hulled
1.5 ounces walnut oil
1.5 ounces olive oil (together, the oils should come to 3 fl oz, or a scant 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
a few dashes of white or black pepper
3 ripe avocados
1 lemon, halved
-Preheat the oven to 375 F and line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the walnuts on the lined baking sheet and, once the oven is ready, place it in the oven. Let toast for 6-8 minutes, or until fragrant and slightly browned, and remove from the oven.
-Using a food processor or blender, puree the strawberries until smooth.
-If using a food processor, keep the machine going as you slowly add the oil. If using a blender, however, remove the lid, add the oil and then place back on the base before blending well.
-Add salt, sugar and pepper and blend or pulse briefly. Taste and adjust for flavor.
-Once the dressing is ready, halve and peel the avocados, discarding the stones. Squeeze lemon juice over the avocados to prevent browning and then cut them into small pieces (if cut across multiple times, they can be made to fan out; if cut into multiple pieces, they can be carefully arranged on a platter). Carefully transfer the cut pieces to a platter.
-Sprinkle the avocado pieces with the chopped and toasted walnuts, then spoon the sauce both around and over them. Serve at room temperature.