Strawberry meals forever
Henri whips up his favorite summertime dessert
“Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.”
—William Butler (1535-1618)
As Henri’s third spring in Chico slowly slips into summer, he’s more convinced than ever that he’s found a little bit of heaven right here in Northern California. Mornings on my front porch with a tall Bloody Mary and a good book (I just finished a fabulous Barbara Stanwick biography!). Afternoons napping on the lawn at One-Mile. And evenings on the couch at the Pageant watching movies, or going out to a play—Henri is astonished at the amount of excellent live theater in Chico! Best of all, though, the farmers’ markets.
Henri finds no greater joy this time of the year than wandering the crowded aisles of local produce and products, from the stunning floral bouquets to the exotic Asian beans, from the avocados and broccoli crowns to the exquisite handcrafted jewelry. And this time of the year, it’s the strawberries—ripe and succulent, their sweet redolence wafting through the air—that most bestir Henri’s palate and imagination. And such prices! I usually buy at least a couple of boxes on both Thursday evening and Saturday morning, one to nibble from and one to use for some of my favorite recipes.
Harvested wild since prehistoric times—from Asia to the Americas—and most likely first cultivated in ancient Rome, strawberries have not only been consumed for their delicate sweet flavor but have been used in folk remedies, including to treat skin and digestive disorders and to remove stains from teeth. American scientists began developing hybrids in the late 18th century.
Derived from Old English, the word strawberry most likely comes from a reference to the straw that was typically used as mulch where the berries were grown. A more fanciful—and perhaps more poetic—theory is that the name came about because the berries were strewn about the ground and/or the leaves of the plants themselves. In some northern European countries today, people collect strawberries on “skewers” made of straw.
One of Henri’s favorite ways to enjoy strawberries is in shortcake, a favorite American dessert since the mid-1800s that actually dates from 15th century England. Traditionally, it’s made with sweet biscuits, lots of sliced strawberries and a scoop of ice cream or dollop of whipped cream. The following recipe is from southernfood.about.com, slightly modified.
1 quart strawberries
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
3 tablespoons sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 stick butter
2/3 cup cream
Rinse the berries under cold water, and drain. Remove stems, slice the berries, place in bowl and sprinkle with the sugar; cover and let stand at room temperature for about one hour. Whip the cream (sweeten with 2 or 3 tablespoons of sugar, if desired, or a teaspoon of vanilla) until it holds a soft peak. Cover and refrigerate.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Set rack at center level.
In a food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar, and mix at “pulse” setting. Cut butter into pads and add to the mixture. Pulse until coarse, with a few pea-sized chunks of butter remaining. Transfer to a large bowl and make a well in the center. With fork or stiff whisk, stir in the cream or milk, until dough is just moist. Let stand for a minute. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 2 or 3 times, until it begins to hold together.
Gently pat the dough into a 6-by-12-inch rectangle about 3/4-inch thick and cut into 8 (3-inch) biscuits with a floured round cutter. Transfer to a buttered, foil-lined cookie sheet, brush on a little milk or cream and sprinkle tops with sugar. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until risen and golden brown. Remove to a platter and split each biscuit with a serrated knife, laying halves side by side, then top each with about 1/3 cup of berry mixture. Reassemble and top with a tablespoon or so of berries. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.