There's a stretch of Highway 70 where farmstands abound, perfect for scouting summer peaches, September walnuts, and mandarins in winter and spring. Currently, there's fabulous asparagus, fava beans, and kiwi fruit- 10 for $1. It was on the 70 outside Oroville that I tasted my first great strawberry of the season.
When strawberries are good- as in luscious- I become greedy and buy them by the flat or half-flat, gobbling up a pint on the trip home, where they're put to use: ice cream, sherbet, sorbet, shortcake. Crowning a tart. In panna cotta or preserves or layered with spongecake. In a pink bowl with sugar and creme fraiche. Piled atop whipped cream and rose meringues.
Strawberries with Rose Meringues
This might be my favorite way to eat strawberries. Be prepared for conversation to stop when you serve them!
4 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
pinch of salt
3/4 c sugar
1/2 - 1 tsp rose water, or to taste
Strawberries, washed, hulled, and quartered, tossed with sugar to taste
Heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks with vanilla and sugar to taste
Strawberry sauce (pureed strawberries mixed with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice, to taste. strain if desired)
Sugared rose petals (optional, but lovely!)
To make meringue: Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
Make sure that your hands, mixing bowl, and mixer's whip attachment are very clean and your egg whites contain not a speck of yolk (any trace of fat will prevent your meringue from happening).
Pour the whites into a mixing bowl, place over a pot of hot water, and swirl with your hand until they're a degree or two above room temperature. Remove from heat.
With an electric mixer, briefly whip the whites on medium speed until they're frothy, then add the salt and cream of tartar. Whip until the whites begin to hold soft peaks, turn speed to med-hi, and immediately begin to gradually add the sugar. Add the rosewater, turn machine to high and whip until meringue is shiny and holds stiff peaks.
Drop meringue into six or so equal spoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheet. With the back of a spoon, create an indentation, forming a nest that will later hold the berries.
Place meringues in oven for 1 1/2 hours, turn off oven, and let sit in oven for another hour or so, until crisp throughout (if you prefer a softer meringue, bake at 250 degrees for 1 1/4 hour, or until the outsides are crisp and the interior marshmallow-y). Do not allow meringues to brown. Cool to room temperature and store in an air-tight container until ready to serve.
To serve: Drizzle plates with a generous amount of strawberry sauce. Place meringues on plates, fill with whipped cream, pile on the juicy strawberries, add another dollop of whipped cream. Top with a sugared rose petal and serve to your very lucky guests!