Since my daughter, Zoe, left to study at Oxford this summer, my mind is in England. We lived there for many years and I miss is terribly. Eton Mess is an all-time classic British dessert. The dish was traditionally served at Eton College’s annual cricket game against the students of Winchester College. The dish has been known by this name since the 19th century.
One story is a Labrador dog sat on a picnic basket in the back of a car and squashed a strawberry and meringue dessert. The dessert is quick and easy to make and makes great use of ripe strawberries at the height of summer when they are plentiful. The word mess may refer to the appearance of the dish.
4 large egg whites
1 cup plus 1Tbs sugar
3/4 lb strawberries
2 Tbs sweet Sherry
1/2 cup well-chilled heavy cream
Preheat oven to 225°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Beat whites with a pinch of salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer until they just hold soft peaks. Gradually add 1 cup sugar, beating, then beat until meringue holds stiff, glossy peaks. Spoon meringue into 4 mounds on parchment paper and spread each into a 3 1/2-inch round, smoothing tops.
Bake in middle of oven until crisp and firm, about 1 1/2 hours. (If weather is humid, cooking time may be longer.) Cool meringues completely on baking sheet in turned-off oven or on a rack and carefully peel off parchment.
Halve some small strawberries for garnish. Slice remaining strawberries and stir together with Sherry and remaining tablespoon sugar in a small bowl. Macerate 20 minutes. Drain strawberries in a sieve set over a bowl, reserving syrup. Beat cream in a chilled bowl until it just holds stiff peaks and beat in reserved syrup. Spoon cream mixture over meringues and top with strawberry slices. Garnish plates with halved berries.
Meringues can be made 1 week ahead, wrapped well individually, and kept at cool room temperature. You can also buy ready made meringues instead!