Swedes adore strawberries. They take centre stage during the dessert course of many meals, especially at midsummer and crayfish parties.
Swedes believe that Swedish strawberries are unquestionably the best. It is true that the cold climate and the long summer days give extra sweetness and flavour. However, locally grown freshly picked strawberries are superb anywhere; imported strawberries are never as good.
Smultron (wild or alpine strawberries), are more popular in Sweden than in the UK. Swedes love to pick smultron in forests, but they also like to grow them in gardens.
Alpine strawberries are very aromatic and sweet, but much smaller, less juicy, a little more seedy and usually darker than their big cousins. Children like to thread them like beads on a string or skewer, to avoid the ripe soft berries becoming mushy. However, in my experience wild strawberries are best just eaten as soon as you find them or kept as a garnish.
My Dad liked to grow alpine strawberries, but I never thought we ended up with enough to do much with, especially as the temptation to pick them as they ripened was hard to resist! You would certainly need to be very lucky to pick enough in a forest to make jam!
Buying and storing
Most strawberries sold in UK supermarkets are now grown in polytunnels. Whilst this means that strawberries start to appear in the shops earlier, be wary of the very early strawberries. They need the longer warmer days to become really sweet and well flavoured.
When selecting strawberries, look for berries that are completely ripe with all the berries red and unblemished.
They are best eaten as soon as possible after picking as strawberries do not keep very well. If you need to keep them in the fridge, be sure to take them out of the fridge an hour or so in advance, otherwise they will be tasteless.
Try to avoid washing strawberries. If you need to wash them, do so before hulling.
Swedes tend to eat the first strawberries of the season very simply, with cream or ice cream. As the season progresses they look to use strawberries in more complicated ways, such as in cakes, desserts, cordials, salads and for jam or compotes. The best strawberries for jam tend to be small dark berries, which are sweet but with a high acid level, which come at the end of the season.
Among the classic culinary partners for strawberries are:
• balsamic vinegar
• black pepper
Chicken and strawberry salad
This is a lovely salad for a light lunch or as an informal colourful starter. It can be made in advance with cold chicken, but is also nice with hot chicken. The use of balsamic vinegar and black pepper brings out the flavour of the strawberries. More…
Strawberry cordial makes a delicious and healthy drink for children. In the summer it is lovely served with ice and some mint and in winter it makes a nice hot drink when boiling water is added.
Add a little lemon or lime juice and some rum to strawberry cordial and you have a delicious cocktail. Alternatively, add two teaspoons of strawberry cordial to a flute and top up with sparkling wine to make a wonderful summery aperitif. More…
Strawberry cake with elderflower cream
Strawberries usually reach their peak in mid June when elderflowers come into full bloom. They go together really well together! Why not try our strawberry cake with elderflower cream?! Essentially essentially it is a fatless sponge filled with strawberries and elderflower cream and then decorated with whipped cream and wild strawberries. (You can use fresh elderflowers or elderflower essence for the cream.) More…
Strawberry cream cake
Swedes love to make delicious strawberry layer cakes. There are many variations all over Sweden but we think ours is rather nice. More…
The cake is also nice when cut into three layers and then 120 ml (½ cup) of elderflower cordial is poured over each of the bottom two layers before assembling the cake. If you try this variation, reduce the amount of cream to allow the flavour of elderflower cordial to shine through.
Karin's midsummer cake
Strawberries are normally at their peak at midsummer, which is a national holiday in Sweden, and so a strawberry cake or dessert is often served as part of the festivities. Try Karin's delicious recipe for a midsummer cake, which always goes down a storm. More…
For a stylish dessert try our ABSOLUT strawberries. It is made by marinating strawberries in a syrup made with Absolut vodka and then topping them with a berry sorbet and an almond tuile. It can be prepared in advance and assembled at the last minute and makes for a grand finale to any meal. More…
Marinated strawberries with elderflower parfait
A gorgeous, elegant and very summery dessert fit for any occasion. Although it needs preparing a few hours in advance it is easy to make and even easier to serve. More…
Try our strawberry compote, which is easier to make then strawberry jam, but has more flavour because it has a lighter set. More…
If you ever have enough wild strawberries, you can also use the same recipe to make a delicious wild strawberry compote.
Strawberry ice cream
Too cold in Sweden for ice cream? Wrong! Swedes are Europe's biggest consumers of ice cream! Forget the modern trend for fancy flavours: strawberry ice cream is one of the best and our recipe is so easy. Be sure to make some whenever the supply of strawberries is plentiful! More…
Strawberries and rhubarb
Rhubarb and strawberries are a popular combination in Sweden in desserts, drinks and jams. If you fancy a retro-dessert updated try our rabarbertrifli (rhubarb trifle), which has strawberries added to improve the colour and to make it a little sweeter. More…
Growing your own
Strawberries are the most popular soft fruit for growing at home. This should come as no surprise as you don't need lots of room or much patience. Strawberries planted in August will be ready to pick in June or July next year.
There are some challenges to growing strawberries though. A sunny, sheltered site is required and netting to keep birds off the fruit is essential. I grow strawberries in raised beds to help keep slugs at bay. Mulching is essential to prevent the berries coming into contact with the soil. Plants should be pruned to about 8 cm (3") above the crown when the last of the berries have been picked.
Strawberries only have a short productive life. After three years the yield will decline dramatically and after five or six years they are likely to die or become very vulnerable to pests and diseases. Strawberry beds are therefore best cleared after three years and replanted on new ground.
Growing your own alpine strawberries
Alpine strawberries make an excellent garnish and as they crop from midsummer to late autumn and tolerate shade I think they are worth growing if you have the space. They are also make a good edging plant, but as they prefer moist soil so you will need to keep them watered in dry weather.
Few garden centres stock alpine strawberries, although you can grow them from seed or buy plants online. In the UK, I recommend buying a variety called fragaria vesca which is available from the Royal Horticulture Society's store.
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