‘Eton Mess’ is a perfect way to enjoy all those summer strawberries

This dessert encourages you to mess with your food. In fact, precision is not advised. In other words, it’s my kind of dessert.

The recipe is inspired by an Eton Mess, which is a British concoction that has an origin story involving a cake, a dog and, well, a mess. You might see where this is going.

The story begins with a traditional pavlova dessert, which is an airy, ethereal meringue layered with billows of whipped cream, crowned with a mound of glistening berries and dusted with powdery sugar. This festive, dreamy dessert was first prepared to celebrate a cricket match at England’s prestigious Eton School in the 1920s.

However, a Labrador retriever — doing what Labradors do — discovered the cake first and squashed it. In keeping with the social norm and never crying over spilt milk (or smashed cakes, as it were), a transformative moment of culinary pivoting ensued, sparking the creation of a jumbled mishmash of whipping cream, crushed fruit and crumbled meringue — and heralding a (new) popular dessert for all times, affectionately labeled a mess.

This summery dessert is simple and fun to make — you do get to smash things, after all. The strawberries are traditional, but raspberries or a mix of berries can also be used.

Note that it’s best to serve the dessert immediately after preparing. If you would like to stabilize it, replace 1/2 cup cream with 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese. Whip the cream first, then mix in the mascarpone before adding the remaining ingredients. Refrigerate the prepared dessert for up to three hours.

For the meringues, feel free to use store-bought mini-meringues or meringue kisses, which can be found in well-stocked markets.

Strawberry Eton Mess

Yield: Serves 6

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound fresh strawberries
3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus more for garnish
1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 1 1/4 cups coarsely crumbled vanilla meringues

DIRECTIONS:

1. Set aside 3 unblemished strawberries. Hull and quarter the remaining berries. Place half of the strawberries in a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon sugar. Gently press with a fork to coarsely mash. Add the remaining berries and the lemon zest and stir to combine.

2. Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until it begins to thicken. Add 2 tablespoons sugar and the vanilla and continue to beat until soft peaks form. Fold in the meringues and berries.

3. Spoon into individual serving glasses or small bowls. Top with a half strawberry and garnish with additional lemon zest. Serve immediately.

Lynda Balslev is an award-winning writer, cookbook author and recipe developer, and authors the blog TasteFood. More recipes can be found at chicago.suntimes.com/taste.

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