Recipe: Celebrity Chef Shaun Kenworthy on strawberries and Valentine
Here's a little gruesome historical trivia about Valentine’s Day and strawberries, not necessarily related thankfully — but hey, here it goes. In fifth-century Rome, mid-February was traditionally the time of the Lupercian festival, an ode to the god of fertility and a celebration of sensual pleasure, a time to meet and court a prospective mate.
In AD 496, Pope Gelasius outlawed the pagan festival, but he was clever to replace it with a similar celebration, although one deemed morally suitable. He needed an ‘over’ saint to replace the pagan deity Lupercus. And thus, the martyred Bishop Valentine was chosen as the patron saint of the new festival. Saint Valentine had been beheaded for helping young lovers marry against the wishes of the mad emperor Claudius.
Before execution, Valentine himself had fallen in love with his jailor’s daughter. He signed his final note to her, ‘from your Valentine’, a phrase that has lasted through the centuries. Pope Gelasius didn’t get everything he wanted. The pagan festival died out, but he had further hoped that people would emulate the lives of saints. Instead, they latched onto the more romantic aspect of Saint Valentine’s religious life. While not immediately as popular as the more passionate pagan festival, eventually, the concept of celebrating true love became known as Valentine’s Day.
Meanwhile, many weird and wonderful things have been said and done with the strawberry. Did you know that Queen Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII (one of the beheaded ones) had a strawberry-shaped birthmark on her neck, which some claimed proved that she was a witch! The English word ‘strawberry’ comes from the AngloSaxon word ‘streoberie’, not spelt in modern fashion until 1538. And in Greek and Roman times, the strawberry was just looked upon as some wild plant. Also, last but not least, the strawberry was a symbol for Venus, the Goddess of Love, because of its heart shape and red colour, hence its relationship with the above.
The world over, everyone loves strawberries, and as we are in the thick of strawberry season currently, we should really make the most of them. I have to admit that when it comes to cheesecakes, I’m something of a purist. I think it’s hard to beat the classic, unadorned, baked New York-style cheesecake. So, for this, I’m going to make it really easy, and give you a good heavy cheesecake, but unbaked, so anyone can have a go. This is me blending my principles.
No-bake strawberry and peanut chikki cheesecake
To start, generously grease a 20 cm round sandwich tin with a removable bottom, line the base and sides with parchment, and mix together 85gm crunchy peanut butter and 60gm of melted butter. Finely crush 15 digestive biscuits, either in a processor or by putting them into a bag and bashing with a rolling pin and stir together, until the mix looks like wet sand. Using the back of a spoon, press the mixture evenly over the base, and up the sides of the tin. Once even and smooth, chill in the freezer for 30 mins, while you make the filling. You will need 400gm cream cheese, 25g icing sugar and a few drops of vanilla extract or the seeds from ½ vanilla pod. Beat together with an electric hand beater until thick.
Spoon carefully into the biscuit case, then top with strawberries and chill for at least two hours. You can make an easy sauce if you like, by blending 200g of hulled strawberries with the 25g of icing sugar, until smooth. When ready to serve, carefully push the very cold cheesecake up out of the tin. Sprinkle over some crushed peanut chikki and serve.