Eton Mess, invented at the famous English college and served at the annual prize-giving celebration, may have come about when a Labrador accidentally sat on a picnic basket. At least, that's the notation you find if you look it up in Wikipedia. If that's anywhere near the truth then the Labrador is definitely in line for a prize, because the dessert resulting from this accident is one of England's most wonderful summer treats.
Made from nothing more than crumbled meringue nests, whipped cream and ripe English strawberries, this pudding is assembled rather than cooked and the taste is simply sublime.
If you're making your own meringue, remember to do so the day before to give them time to cool. But if you're in a hurry (or not to be trusted with kitchen implements), use good-quality bought ones. It's worth experimenting with different brands, as the "chewiness" of the meringue really adds to the overall effect of the pudding.
For me, Eton Mess is predominantly a summer dessert. But you can make it all year round, as long as you have recourse to frozen or imported strawberries.
And don't forget to try raspberries, blueberries, redcurrants, gooseberries or even blackberries if you're in an experimental mood! I'm told you could use bananas - even though I've no idea why you would want to. (As you can tell, bananas and cream don't do it for me. Also, you'd miss out on the wonderful colour you get from using berry fruit!) And for the record: I rate ripe raspberries above all other fruit for making Eton Mess. Not totally traditional perhaps, but totally delicious!
This pudding couldn't be easier to prepare. Here's all you need to feed four:
With a pudding as pretty as this it's worth to think about your presentation before you begin. Are you serving it at a posh afternoon tea or a swanky picnic? Or are you creating the grand finale for a dinner party?
If you want to appear as a generous host, a large bowl piled high with the delicious mix does the trick.
If you want to look classy, serve the pudding in tall glasses with long spoons. Alternatively, arrange the meringue and fruit/cream in layers on a plate as in the picture above.
You could even go 'Pavlova' and use a two large meringues instead of small ones. This isn't traditional, and certainly not "messy", but looks very elegant and would suit an occasion like a wedding or christening party.
Wash the fruit. If you're using strawberries and they're very large, cut them in half.
Blend half the fruit to a puree. Add the icing sugar if the fruit seems tart, but remember that it needs to cut the richness of the cream.
Whip the cream until it stands in firm peaks.
Crumble the meringues (if serving in a bowl) or arrange them on a plate.
Fold the pureed fruit into the whipped cream, then add the crumbled meringue.
Pile into a large bowl or individual dishes and scatter with the remaining fruit.
Serve at once, or keep cool until needed. (Don't keep it too long or too warm or the cream will run!)