When we returned home last August, my older sister told me about strawberry season in Nigeria – January/winter to you in some parts of the world. I was convinced it was a joke. Till last Friday when I held a pack in hand. Granted, those weren’t the first strawberries we’d had since our return. In December, we were in Lagos at a delightful French shop, L’Epicerie when I spotted strawberries and Lemon melisse. The rest was history. Pricey history no doubt but one that soothed the bellies and souls of my red-berry crazed bunch. They were imported from some country. Israel perhaps. Not the ones I took receipt of last week – those are grown here, ….. in Nigeria. In the central-northern region of Jos, which is mountainous and temperate and able to grow a range of ‘Western’ fruits and veggies – Cauliflower and Broccoli amongst them.
At an altitude of 4,062 feet (1,217 m) above sea level, Jos enjoys a more temperate climate than much of the rest of Nigeria. Average monthly temperatures range from 70° to 77°F or 21° to 25°C,from mid-November to late January, and night-time temperatures may drop as low as 8°C resulting in chilly nights. Hail is common during the rainy season, owing to the cool high-altitude weather.These cooler temperatures have meant that from colonial times until present day, Jos has been a favourite holiday location for both tourists and expatriates based in Nigeria. Situated almost at the geographical centre of Nigeria and about 179 km (111 mi) from Abuja, the nation’s capital, Jos is linked by road, rail and air to the rest of the country.And considering their ‘foreigness’, they aren’t that expensive – they cost roughly 4 euros/punnet. And I in my possession have 4!
A “punnet” is a small shallow basket which in the past was used as an old country measure of volume. In the United Kingdom, a punnet of strawberries weighs about 450g, roughly a pound.As you do when you have loads of strawberries (about 1.6kg/4 punnets), you get some cream. Whip it to delightful peaks with the finest vanilla powder known to man – don’t forget the caster sugar. You make some wafers (or cookies….or buy some). Macerate loads of strawberries and call a party that includes friends and neighbours. You lay out petite verrine glasses and long stemmed spoons and the party begins. First the strawberries, then dollops of sweet, light cream. To top? Shredded mint leaves and the fine zest of a fresh lemon. The kids are oohing and aahing and saying, ‘These strawberries taste exactly like the ones from Holland’. We have some guests who just moved back from the UK and they say ‘These strawberries taste exactly like the ones in London’. And they do. They are sweet and meaty, infused with strawberry fragrance. Ok, they are not the prettiest ones I’ve ever seen but what they lack in looks they more than make up for in flavour. But that’s half of the story. The other half? Turns into Strawberry-White Chocolate-Peppermint ice cream. You heard me. 1 cup of my new favourite frosting made of white chocolate, cream and mint essence meets 1 cup of leftover whipped cream, and 1 cup of strawberry puree made by passing hulled strawberries through my potato ricer. An overnight chill follows while my ice cream bowl freezes….And then on the 2nd day, churn, churn and our pink delight is ready. Rosy-hued, creamy, fresh with mint and rich with flecks of strawberry fruit! The strawberry flavour emerges clearly and not overly sweet. We love it. However, I believe the white chocolate/mint combo would work well on its own, not necessarily with my strawberries, plus there is a slight grittiness that is on the ‘finish’. I say all this but we loved the ice cream – next time, I’ll stick to just strawberries. There are so many reasons to be grateful. Strawberries and cream, with lemon and mint….in Nigeria is only one of them. What are you thankful for?