My mother adored strawberries. We had some sort of strawberry dessert nearly every day when the fruits were in season. Sometimes it was her replication of the famous Shoney's pie, sometimes simply berries with a bowl of powdered sugar for dipping.
But hands down, the best of the bunch was strawberry shortcake. Sweet berries, crumbly biscuits and sweet cream whipped into pillowy softness or sometimes just poured over top. Nothing fancy ... pure pleasure.
Homemade shortcake is a totally different experience than using those packaged cake rounds seen in the supermarket. Definitely worth the trouble.
Here are a few tidbits about those luscious berries:
Strawberries belong to the genus Fragaria, and the Latin name fragra refers to their fragrance. The English word "strawberry" describes the way they grow, straying and erratic, according to the "Oxford Companion to Food."
Strawberries are known as a "false" or "accessory fruit." Its structure is unique: The "seeds" on the surface are the true fruits of the plant, with miniature seeds inside. The berry is a receptacle, comparable to the small cone that remains on the stem of a raspberry when the fruit is picked.
So, a West Ashley reader asked about making old-fashioned shortcake for the strawberries now coming into season.
We heard from Sandi Winter of Summerville, who sent a recipe that she has used for years. "It comes from a recipe book, 'Amish Cooking.' It is so easy but delicious and reminds me of old-fashioned shortcakes!"
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
Blend the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut in the shortening to make coarse crumbs. Mix in the milk and egg, then spread into a greased 8x8-inch cake pan. Make the topping (see below) and spread it on top of the batter.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly chilled
Blend the sugar and flour. Cut in the butter to make coarse crumbs.
Bake at 350 degrees until lightly golden brown (about 25 minutes). Serve this cake with fresh fruit and milk.
Here's another version adapted from "The Cook's Country Cookbook" (America's Test Kitchen, 2008).
Brown Sugar Berry Shortcakes
6 cups mixed fresh berries (see cook's note)
4 to 6 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled, plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
Cook's note: Raspberries and blueberries can remain whole; strawberries should be hulled, halved and sliced; blackberries should be halved.
For the fruit, crush 2 cups of the berries and the brown sugar in a large bowl with a potato masher. Fold in the remaining 4 cups berries and let sit at room temperature until the sugar has dissolved and the berries are juicy, about 30 minutes.
For the shortcakes, adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Pulse the flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt together in a food processor until no lumps of sugar remain. Scatter the chilled pieces over the top and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 7 pulses. Transfer to a large bowl.
Whisk the egg and sour cream together in a small bowl. Stir into the flour mixture with a rubber spatula until large clumps form. Using your hands, knead lightly until the dough comes together and no dry flecks of flour remain.
Using a large (#10) ice cream scoop, scoop 6 dough rounds onto the baking sheet. Brush the tops with the melted butter and sprinkle with the granulated sugar. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through the baking time. Cool the shortcakes on the baking sheet for 10 minutes. (The cooled shortcakes can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for up to 24 hours.)
For the topping, With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together the heavy cream, sour cream and brown sugar to stiff peaks. Split each shortcake in half using a serrated knife and place the bottom on individual plates. Spoon a portion of the fruit over the bottoms, top with some of the whipped cream and cap with the shortcake tops. Serve.
Who's got the recipe?
--Nancy Kruger of the Isle of Palms writes, "Years ago in Charleston when Harold's Cabin was located on Wentworth Street, you could eat lunch upstairs in the deli. They had the most delicious potato salad and/or macaroni salad. I wonder if there is anyone out there who has a similar recipe. As far as I can remember there may have been dill or dill pickle in one or both of them."
Looking for a recipe or have one to share? Reach Food Editor Teresa Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org, 937-4886, or 134 Columbus St., Charleston, SC 29403-4800.