Under a strawberry moon

The passing of the first full moon of June has Henri howling for his favorite berry … and some dessert

Strawberry shortcake.

Strawberry shortcake.

Photo by JoePhoto (via Flickr)

Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did —William Butler (1535-1618)

The sad passing of Miss Marilyn last month and the slipping of spring into summer have given Henri pause—time to reflect on the decade-plus since he first arrived in Chico, that sweet, furry girl his sole escort and soul confidante. Who’d have thought we’d stay?

But here I am, still enjoying the simple life I’ve found here. Mornings on my front porch with a tall Bloody Mary and a good book (the new memoir by Judy Garland’s agent, Judy & Liza & Robert & Freddie & David & Sue and Me, looks deliciously deviant). Afternoons napping on the lawn at One-Mile. And evenings at the Pageant Theatre watching movies, or going out to a play—Henri loved the Blue Room Theatre’s recent productions of Rick’s Café American and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

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. 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 and most likely first cultivated in ancient Rome, strawberries have been consumed not only for their delicate sweet flavor but also 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.

Strawberry shortcake

1 quart strawberries

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 stick butter, chilled

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, and a teaspoon of vanilla—until it holds a soft peak. Cover and refrigerate.

Preheat the oven to 425. Set rack at center level.

In a food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and butter cut into pads.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 a 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 and whipped cream.