As it is, in my growing up years, I had to stay away from many food stuffs since I had Bronchitis. Ice creams, heavy milkshakes, grapes, bananas…My parents used to keep trying to make up for this – mom would pressure cook a banana once in a while. My aunt would boil grapes in water to make grape juice. Dad would buy me an icecream cone when we went to India Gate – just the cone, because the icecream would have made me ill. Then, when we moved to Bangkok when I was twelve, it was liberating in many ways. The hot climate and the Bronchitis treatment I got there meant I could finally have icecream. And milk shakes. And fried foods. Even bananas. Strawberries, alas were unavailable there too, but the flavour was ubiquitous, so my sister and I, in our first three months there, had everything we could lay our hands on that had strawberry flavor – milk, icecream, cream biscuits, wafers…
Sadly, though, after the first three months, that syrupy sweetness palled on us and we moved onto other flavours, never to return to strawberry flavor with the same fervor. Somehow the artificial strawberry flavour seems to fous more on the colour than on replicating the intense taste of the strawberry. Even the colour is off-putting - more like Digene or Pepto Bismol than anything else, hardly any relation to the vibrant red-pink of real strawberries. And the taste is just blandly sweet - no fragrance and certainly no tartness to round out the sweetness. Artificial strawberry flavouring is actually revoltingly similar in taste to Digene!
Much later, by the time I was in college in Delhi, I suddenly found little plastic baskets of fresh strawberries being sold at those Diplomat haunts, INA market or Khan market. I had no idea how to pick them so I usually ended up being cheated by the shopkeepers into buying baskets which had red sour fruit on top and green, sour ones at the bottom. I really wasn't sure whether the song and dance about strawberries was just another example of British cuisine. But I was entranced by the way they looked - the lovely heart-shaped fruit, the intense colour, and the whole delicate body being crowned by pretty little green leaves.
Then, on my first visit to Europe, I was in the Eurostar going from London to Paris and found that they were selling punnets of strawberries. I had never seen strawberries like this – they were the size of the peaches we get back here in India. Despite the expense on my limited budget, I had to try them – and finally understood what all the scrumptious mystique was about. Juicy, sweet and yet delightfully and addictively tart, I could have made a meal of them, and nearly did. Ever since, every winter in Delhi, between January and March when the strawberries are out, I pounce on them, hoping to recreate the same flavor that I experienced in England. But maybe that's something that just belongs there, amidst Wimbledon and Boat race night, driven by the terroir?
However, what I can manage is to make strawberries and cream, the cream slightly whipped with sugar to add a little more sweetness to the largely tart flavor of Indian strawberries. Fluffily and palely pink if you refrigerate it for half an hour, it looks like a visual representation of Cloud 9. Add a few ruby-red pomegranate seeds and you're not quite sure whether you're supposed to eat it or just stare at it in delight!