Josiane remembers me from when I was only two and a half years old. A little frizzy haired thing, crying loudly because a French boy nicked one of my strawberries. I only knew her as the Strawberry Lady, because she would always slip me a strawberry just for me as we did our tour of the village market. This week, I went back to say hello, just about as shy as I used to be, though my French is better now.
She remembered me, of course. Kissed me on both cheeks, exclaimed at how much I had grown. Told the story of how we met again, and because she is a professional Strawberry Lady, she remembered the kind we bought twenty two years ago – a Gariguette, the French spring strawberry. This time she added a whole extra punnet to our shopping baskets, berries that were so ripe a touch would have them dissolve into a puddle of juice.
Strawberries and cornmeal had been dancing around for a while in my imaginary test kitchen. Sweet, tart, coarse, golden, slightly salty. Now I had a whole day with only an appointment with a hammock. Though it was 36C outside I turned on the oven, mixed the cake in one bowl and shoved it in quickly. (This may be my most useful recipe of all time, the French yoghurt cake: measure all the ingredients in one yoghurt pot, stir, bake. Sturdy, adaptable.)
Later, when it was dark and the candles were guttering in the wind, we had fat slices with a spoonful of yoghurt. It was a hefty cake, but still impossibly moist. A large crumb and crisp edge that tasted of corn. Best of all, triangular pockets of strawberry jelly where the fruit had melted into the batter. More like essence of strawberry.
Strawberry cornmeal cake
use the yoghurt pot to measure the ingredients – would also be wonderful with stone fruit – peaches, plums, apricots
125ml natural yoghurt pot
3/4 pot oil (a mix of olive and hazelnut was delicious, but anything will do)
2 pots sugar
zest of 1 lemon
2 pots plain flour
1 pot cornmeal / instant polenta
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
400g very ripe strawberries, halved
Preheat oven to 180c. Butter a large round tin – 24cm or so.
Whisk yoghurt, eggs and oil. Rub the lemon zest into the sugar with your fingers to release the flavour. Reserve 2 tbs for topping and stir the rest into the yoghurt mixture. Add flour, cornmeal and baking powder. Pour half into tin (it is a very runny batter), scatter over half the strawberries. Top with the rest of the batter, the remaining strawberries and the lemon sugar left over.
Bake for 40-45 minutes until firm, golden brown and a skewer in the centre comes out with just a few crumbs on it.
Good warm with more natural yoghurt, still excellent the next day for breakfast.