Saturday, May 26, 2012

Real Strawberry Shortcake

 Last year, I read a delightful memoir called Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression. The author, Mildred Armstrong Kalish, relates lots of wonderful stories and makes you feel like you're sitting down for a chat with your own grandmother. Mildred's youth was filled to the brim with danger, inconvenience, hard work, strict and cheerless relatives, wonder, and simple pleasures.

Her book also delivers straight-forward, unadorned recipes for simple and delicious farm food, like how to prepare morel mushrooms or bake an applesauce cake. I made a copy of one recipe in particular, so as to be sure to make it the following spring. You see, I had never actually made a genuine strawberry shortcake until tonight- at least not the shortcake part. My mom's version of this American classic was a lower-fat version that substituted angel food cake and Cool Whip, but for some reason retained the same name.

I just fell in love with the real thing after making Mildred's recipe, which was a sort of subtly sweet biscuit with a crunchy top and heartiness that makes angel food cake pale in comparison. I hope that you will enjoy this dish too, while strawberries are still at their very best. Here are the instructions, in the author's own words. (For my personal notes, I made the dough with butter and almond milk.)

Mildred's Strawberry Shortcake

First, pick, wash, and hull two quarts of dead-ripe strawberries.

Sprinkle half a cup of sugar over the berries and set them aside while you make the dough.

In a bowl place two cups of flour, two tablespoons of sugar, one teaspoon of salt and one tablespoon of baking powder. (Grandma swore by Calumet!)

Cut in half a cup of white lard, butter, or Crisco. Use that gadget that looks a bit like a stirrup made of wires; it was designed for cutting shortening into flour. The mixture should look like very coarse cornmeal.

Add one beaten egg to two thirds cup of whole milk. Now add this to the flour in the bowl all at once and stir with a fork until the mixture is just barely moistened. This is the crucial instruction for flaky shortcake. You will ruin the whole thing if you mix thoroughly.

Using a fork, openly spread this dough into a greased eight-by-eight inch pan. Bake for sixteen minutes in a 450 degree oven until nicely browned. Remove from the oven, cool in the pan for about ten minutes and, with a fork, carefully split the shortcake horizontally.

Divide the strawberries between the layer and over the top. Slosh with great gobs of not-too-stiffly-beaten whipped cream and enjoy.

1 comment:

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me!