‘Strawberries are insanely amazing,’ I hear Dave (‘Monty’) tell one customer. Regarding his punnets – three sizes, family, medium, and small – of joyously radiantly red, perfectly proportioned berries, who am I to argue?
For over thirty years Dave has been cultivating and selling this fruit. His vast plantation in the Tweed is under shelter, so he never has a bad season. A perfectionist, he strives each year – planting in April, and the season is over by early December – to make each crop better than the previous, but when I ask him how he can improve on perfection, and where does it all end, he looks at me as if I’m mad.
Yet there’s definitely something of the zealot about this man, who starts over from scratch each season, removing every piece of debris from the previous one – sanitising the entire environment – ‘cleaning, to do it all over again’ in his words, his eyes shining.
To keep pests and bugs out he sprays with mineral kelp. You bite into one of Dave’s strawberries and it’s red and sweet, all the way to the centre – you wonder if you could ever eat any other strawberry. The season’s booming, so apart from devouring them straight from the punnet it’s time for me to come up with culinary ideas. Like, simmering two parts red wine with one part sugar, reducing till syrupy, chilling, then folding through fresh strawberries to serve alongside creamy goats cheese. Or whisking together 2tbs balsamic vinegar with the seeds scraped from a vanilla bean, then stirring through 250g quartered strawberries with freshly ground black pepper to go with vanilla ice-cream.
Or, you could make a rustic tart, simplicity itself with the pastry whizzed together in a food processor then filled with a macerated tumble of strawberries, raw sugar, grated nutmeg, and lemon rind, then baked. See the recipe on the market website!
Monty’s can be found every Tuesday at the New Brighton Farmers Market, 8–11am and every Friday at Mullumbimby Farmers Market, 7–11am.