Luscious prairie fruits turn this version of Eton Mess into a unique and special dessert.
I turned around, blinked a few times, and my saskatoon bushes went crazy.
Our drought this year has been hard on gardens and crops, and I thought for sure I wouldn’t have much of a saskatoon berry harvest, but to my amazement the bushes somehow ripened and produced berries without me noticing. They’re not as abundant as other years, and the berries are smaller and not quite as juicy or flavourful (lack of water will do that to the poor little blighters), but a decent crop nonetheless. There are even a few branches bending under the weight of their sweet load.
Have you heard of ‘Eton Mess‘? It’s a light, creamy, dreamy dessert that originated in Eton College, the well-known British boys’ boarding school. The delightful ‘mess’ of broken meringues, whipped cream, and berries – traditionally strawberries – are all smushed and folded together into a wonderful concoction streaked and swirled in pink and white.
In this Alberta prairie version, the sweet saskatoon berries play beautifully with the tart rhubarb. Swirl them together with the fluffy cream and crispy bits of meringue and you’ll think this is a mess made in heaven, for sure. (I’m positive this must be what the angels eat for bedtime snacks.)
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Kitchen Frau Notes: Homemade meringues are quick to make, and keep well for weeks in a covered container. However, if you are out of time or inclination, store-bought meringues will work, too. (I won’t tell.)
You’ll have a couple extra meringues with this recipe. Crumble them up and freeze them in a plastic container to whip up a small batch of Eton Mess or Prairie Mess another time.
And if you can’t get a hold of saskatoons, the tradtional strawberries (diced) are, of course, a wonderful replacement and go equally well with rhubarb.
I’ve served a variation of this dessert for a group of about 30 guests and it was a huge hit. The proportions I use in the recipe are merely guidelines; for larger crowds, just make a bunch of meringues, a big bowl of whipped cream, and a big pot of fruit sauce, then mix them together until they look pretty. Any ratio of fruit to cream will work, really.
The trick when making any ‘Eton Mess’ is to stir it all together as close to serving time as possible, so the crumbled meringue bits stay crispy.
For Dairy Free: Replace the whipped cream with the thick top part of two cans of premium full-fat coconut milk (reserve the watery part for another use), whipped up with a squeeze of lemon juice and 2 teaspoons sugar.
- 2 large egg whites, room temperature
- pinch of salt
- ½ cup (100gms) sugar
- ¼ teaspoon pure lemon extract (or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract)
- 2 cups (310gms) saskatoons (fresh or frozen)
- 2 cups (250gms) diced rhubarb (fresh or frozen)
- ½ cup (100gms) sugar
- grated zest of ½ a lemon
- juice of ½ a lemon
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 cup (240ml) whipping cream, chilled
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- ¼ cup (60ml) sour cream, Greek yogurt, or regular yogurt (optional, but it adds a lovely tang)
- couple handfuls of fresh saskatoon berries (optional)
Make the meringues: Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Whip the egg whites and salt with an electric mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and continue beating until the meringue is thick and glossy white. Beat in the lemon or vanilla extract. Plop the mixture onto the parchment lined baking sheet in six piles. Spread each pile of meringue around with a spoon to form an approximate 3 inch (7.5cm) circle. No need to be too perfect.
Bake for 30 minutes. Then turn off the oven and leave the meringues in the oven to cool, with the door closed, for an additional 30 minutes. They will be a light ivory colour, and the outsides will be dry and crispy and the insides, still a bit chewy.
Make the fruit sauce: Place the saskatoons, rhubarb, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, until the rhubarb breaks easily when pressed against the side of the pot with a spoon, and the mixture is thickened like a custard. Allow to cool, then chill until cold.
Whip the cream with the 2 teaspoons sugar, until soft peaks form. Add the sour cream or yogurt and whip just a bit more to stir it in.
Assemble the Prairie Mess: Place the whipped cream in a large shallow bowl. Crumble 4 of the meringues into chunks. (Reserve the other 2 meringues for another use). The largest chunks should be no bigger than about 1 inch (2cm) in diameter. Stir the cream and meringues together lightly to partially combine them. Don’t be too meticulous in the stirring – just toss the spoon around a couple times in the mixture.
Plop the fruit over the top of the cream mixture in spoonfuls (reserve a bit to garnish). Toss a handful of fresh berries on top, if using them. Then lightly swoop a spoon through the mixture, folding it all together so there are streaks of fruit throughout the cream. The trick is not to overmix, or you’ll have a muddy pink mess. You want to see glistening swirls of pink running through the white and cream.
Spoon the ‘Prairie Mess’ into stemmed glasses or pretty serving bowls (clear glass ones show off the ruby red streaks). Top with a spoonful of the reserved fruit sauce and a few fresh saskatoons, if desired.
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or here are some lovely rhubarb recipes . . .