All of the references to strawberries in Samuel Pepy’s diary appear in June. In 1663, he attended a lovely dinner in Bethnal Green and remarked on the strawberries in his host’s garden: “A noble dinner, and a fine merry walk with the ladies alone after dinner in the garden, which is very pleasant; the greatest quantity of strawberrys I ever saw, and good, and a collation of great mirth.” In 1664, he records “very merry we were with our pasty, very well baked; and a good dish of roasted chickens; pease, lobsters, strawberries.” In 1668, he tipped a boy who showed him around various Oxford colleges in strawberries (costing 1s. 6.d). A few days later, he ate more strawberries in Bristol. A seasonal treat, Pepys noted seeing strawberries growing and eating them in the city and the country alike.
Last weekend, I bought my first local strawberries of the season and devoured them. This recipe for “Strawberr Water” wasn’t on my long list of things to cook, but it beckoned to me from across the page when I consulted a lemonade recipe in Judith Bedingfield’s recipe book, now UPenn Ms. Codex 631. Strawberries are in season where I live and I’m planning to eat as many as possible. Don’t worry: I’ll be making that lemonade sometime soon, too.
To a Quart of Water you must have a Pound of Strawberries, Which squeeze in the
same Water; then put in four or five ounces of sugar, & some Lemon Juice; if the
Lemons are large & juicy, one Lemon is enough to two Quarts of Water: all being well
mixed, put it through a straining Bag, then put it in a cool Place, & give it to drink
An early modern agua fresca, strawberry water is refreshing and delicious. The lemon cuts through the sugar and enhances the fresh strawberry flavor.
I decided to follow the original recipe’s instruction to strain the strawberries and remove their pulp. The strawberry water stayed nicely blended while I was preparing, sipping, and cleaning up. You might experiment with blending everything in a blender for a pulpier, quicker version of the recipe. However, the pulp might not stay suspended in the water and might gather at the bottom of your pitcher/container. (If you try it this way, please let me know in the comments!)
1 quart water
1 lb strawberries
4 oz sugar (1/2 cup)
juice of half a lemon (or more to taste)
Wash the strawberries, remove their stems, and chop them. Smash the strawberries with a potato masher, heavy spoon, or other promising kitchen tool. Transfer to a wire-mesh strainer and leave to drain. By mashing the strawberries into the strainer with a flat wooden spoon, I produced about 1 cup of strawberry juice.
Stir the sugar and lemon juice into the water until the sugar dissolves in a jug or other large container. Add the strawberry juice.
Serve chilled or over ice. Garnish with mint or lemon.
Shockingly pink and delightfully refreshing, this strawberry water would be a big hit for any brunch, picnic, or party. I could see increasing the lemon juice for added sharpness or spiking it with vodka for extra, boozy festivity.