It is officially strawberry season, which means summer is coming. Here, Emily Ashworth talks to Annabel Makin-Jones, owner of Annabel’s Deliciously British, about growing one of the country’s most loved soft fruits sustainably and dishes up some juicy recipes for Farmers Guardian.
From the moment you step foot on to the premises, you know that Annabel Makin-Jones means business, from hearing about how she sought out some of London’s top buyers to managing what is a very diverse and unique operation.
In Sturton Grange, Leeds, West Yorkshire, Annabel grows strawberries on table tops in a form of coconut matter across 89 hectares (220 acres) – equivalent to the distance from Leeds to London. The preferred variety is malling centenary, ‘the best in the world’, says Annabel, and one which works best with UK growing conditions.
The idea to grow this much-loved soft fruit came after years of trying to make the family farm work, which was once Europe’s largest potato grading site, and the strawberries acted as an infill. Since making the decision in 2004, it has grown even beyond Annabel’s belief, and after years of supplying Morrisons and Aldi, she decided to focus on optimising her strawberries and began to create a premium product.
With sustainability at the forefront of her new idea, a separate line of strawberries was created, Annabel’s Deliciously British, using biodegradable packaging – The Times even listed her brand as number one in its list of the 30 best eco-friendly foods. With a focus on zero waste, she has now also started a line of chutneys which enable her to make use of the whole crop.
Annabel says: “Sustainability is at the very core of my farming. We moved to compostable punnets three years ago and have worked hard to remove plastic from our supply chain. All our water requirements for the crop come from our 25-million-gallon lake and we generate electricity from solar panels. We’ve planted trees and improved our habitat. We’ve introduced beehives to the farm too – protecting pollinators is so important to farming and we’re starting to produce honey on-farm.”
The former Harper Adams student has certainly made a name for herself, managing to secure contracts with leading high street names such as Harrods, Fortnum and Mason, Claridge’s and the Dorchester, plus online giant Ocado and all 28 Booths stores.
As we hit the height of strawberry season, here Annabel shares some of her favourite recipes to try at home.
For the elderflower creme patisserie
For the pastry
Sieve together the flour and icing sugar
Dice the butter into small cubes and rub together with the flour mix to a fine breadcrumb consistency
Lightly beat the egg, add to the mix and bring together to form the dough (do not overwork the pastry or it will become chewy rather than short)
Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes
Dust your work surface with flour and carefully roll out the pastry until 3-4mm thick
Line eight 6cm fluted pastry cases (or one large one) making sure to push the pastry right into the corners of the tins Take a sheet of baking paper, scrunch it up and place on top of the pastry followed by ceramic baking beans (rice or dried chickpeas will also work)
Blind bake the tart cases for about 15 minutes
Remove the beans and bake for a further 10 minutes or until golden brown and crisp
Brush lightly with the remaining egg yolk, as this will seal any small holes in the tart case
For the creme patisserie filling
Whisk together the egg yolk, flours, sugar and cordial
Bring the milk and cream and vanilla to a simmer and pour over the egg mix
Return to the pan and gently cook until the mix begins to thicken – keep tasting as it is essential not to rush the cooking or you will end up with a floury tasting mixture
Once cooked out and thickened, add the gelatine leaf and a pinch of salt
Set the creme patisserie in the cooled tart cases just below the rim
For the macarons
For the parfait
For the macarons
Sieve together the icing sugar and ground almonds, discarding any large clumps
Mix together with 60g of egg white to form a paste
Whisk the remaining egg white slowly in a stand mixer
In a small saucepan heat the sugar and 20ml of water together
When the sugar reaches 110degC turn the mixer up to full speed to bring the egg whites to soft peaks
Take the sugar to 118degC then slowly pour onto the egg whites, avoiding the whisk
Add the red food colouring to the meringue until a deep red colour is achieved
Fold the meringue together with the almond mix until fully incorporated – the mixture should fall like ribbons off the spatula but do not overwork the mix
Pipe into rounds about 5cm diameter on flat trays lined with silicone
Gently tap the trays on the worktop to remove excess air
Leave to stand for 10 minutes uncovered
Bake in a preheated oven at 170degC for 14 minutes
Slide the silicone off the trays and leave to cool on the worktop
For the parfait
Whisk the cream and clotted cream in a stand mixer to soft peaks
Put to one side in the fridge until needed
Bloom the gelatine in iced water
Whisk the egg yolks in a stand mixer on full speed until light and fluffy – they will more than double in volume
In a pan bring the water, sugar and glucose to 118degC
Pour down the side of the stand mixer onto the egg yolks, avoiding the moving whisk
Keep whisking until cool n Once cooled fold together with the whipped cream mix
Dice the strawberries into small chunks and fold into the mix
Place the mix into metal rings moulds about 5cm in diameter and put in the freezer
Once frozen remove from the rings – apply gentle heat to the ring if struggling to remove
Sandwich together with the macarons