All right, so we all have a rough idea of what it is, but actual definitions of Eton Mess tend to be quite hazy. The classic version, of course, consists of chopped and slightly squashed strawberries, and crisp crushed meringues, gently folded together with whipped double cream. Yet some accounts of the history of this dessert dispute this. The story of the unruly dog crashing into the pavlova is contested as often as it is retold, but most authorities agree on other surprising details. For example, ice cream was used instead of double cream, and bananas were sometimes substituted for strawberries. To complicate matters further, the chef and Old Etonian Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall claims that Eton Mess wasn’t even served when he attended the college.
But let’s face it, it’s essentially a very simple dessert, and in a way this vagueness is entirely apposite. After all, it is on those heat-hazed, sultry summer days that the longing for luscious, ripe red berries and cool, creamy sweetness grips us most ardently, and mingled with this desire is a sense of playfulness, which prompts experimentation. Together, these two impulses can produce only one thing: serious pleasure; and that, in some cases, describes Eton Mess perfectly.
I’ve tried various recipes over the years, but at the moment this is my favourite. I haven’t included quantities, because this is a matter of personal taste, especially in a recipe with so few ingredients. As a guide, though, I use a litre of ice cream, a regular punnet of strawberries, two of those thin punnets of raspberries, and a box or tray of around six to eight meringues. This caters for a small gathering, but feel free to change the amounts.
Good quality vanilla ice cream (homemade if you insist, but I like the shop-bought Cornish variety),
Strawberries (these must be ripe, and will ideally have been picked yourself, but since they’re in season, supermarket stocks will have more flavour than they do at other times of the year, so these can be fine as well),
Raspberries (same advice as for strawberries, above, but these are usually pretty good from a supermarket anyway),
Meringues (make your own if you want, but they’re going to be crushed, and I usually just buy them).
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Hull and wash the fruit, then drain well. Chop the strawberries into halves and quarters, and place in a large mixing bowl with the raspberries. Softly press them with the back of a spoon until the juices just begin to rise. You want to keep the fruit intact.
Add the ice cream to the bowl in dessert spoon-sized pieces, and fold lightly with the berries. Add the crushed meringue (each piece should be about the size of one of the strawberries, but anywhere between whole meringue and caster sugar is perfect), and continue to fold together. You’re after a well-mixed but marbled pattern of textures and colours.
[/su_tab][su_tab title=”Serving suggestions”]This can be eaten as a mess, or, if you want something classier, arranged in cocktail glasses, drizzled with vanilla flavoured double cream, and topped with whole fruits and delicately broken meringue. The mix can also be frozen to produce a great ice cream, to be garnished with more fresh berries. But this obviously requires more preparation, including time to thaw prior to serving. Feel free to experiment. Trickle over a raspberry coulis, go traditional with whipped cream, or add whisky and honey to create a kind of alternative cranachan. Whatever you do, enjoy it![/su_tab][/su_tabs]