For the meringues (or you can use good quality shop-bought meringue nests)
175g caster sugar
1 thick lemon slice
3 egg whites, at room temperature
1 pinch salt
To assemble the mess
500g ripe strawberries
50g caster sugar
450ml double cream
1 tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste
Mint for garnish
Preheat the oven to 220°C / Gas 7. Line a baking tray and pour the sugar onto it then bake in the oven until it just begins to melt at the edges. Rub the inside of a mixing bowl with the lemon (this gets rid of any grease) and add the egg whites. Just before it’s time to take the sugar out of the oven, start whisking the whites at high speed.
Carefully tip the hot sugar and the salt into the fluffy foamy whites. Continue whisking until the mixture is cool, glossy and forms soft peaks. Lower the heat in the oven to 130°C / Gas 1/2.Heap dollops of meringue onto lined baking trays, making sure they are well spaced. Bake in the cool oven for about two and a half hours. Check after two hours. The outsides should be crisp and golden but not burned! Turn off the oven and leave the meringues inside to cool completely.
To prepare the strawberries: wash and hull the fruit, and slice into halves or quarters. Aim for bite-size pieces. Place the strawberries in a bowl, sprinkle with the caster sugar, making sure all the strawberries are coated. Place in the fridge for half an hour until the fruit goes squidgy and leaks juices.
Set a third of the strawberry mixture on one side for later. Using a potato masher, lightly crush the rest into a chunky purée. Pour the double cream into a big bowl (it’s best if the bowl is cold). Sift in the icing sugar and add the teaspoon of vanilla paste (not essence) and whip to soft peaks.
Roughly squash and break the meringues. Fold the pieces and the crushed strawberries into the whipped cream. Don’t mix too thoroughly. The red and white should be clearly distinct.
Serve in a large serving dish, garnished with the remainder of the strawberry mixture, so people can help themselves, or spoon into tall glasses and top with the strawberry mixture and a sprig of mint.