Strawberries are just out in their full sweet glory here at the farm. I planted my patch in an area that used to be the chicken pen, and the plants—as well as the weeds—have done wonderfully.
Strawberry season reminds me of my dad, who is the biggest lover of strawberry shortcake. When I was growing up, I remember my mom always made it with her own flair. Being German, she was not used to the biscuit component so she did her own version, which was cakier. My dad grew up with his mother’s traditional farm cooking; her shortcake base was a biscuit with a bit of sugar.
As my summer unfolds with four girls at home, I’ve been thinking about my father growing up on his farm in Michigan. His family mainly grew fruit and asparagus as a hobby for my grandparents. They moved from a larger community not far away to 100 acres of pure beauty. There was no heat upstairs, the house had a traditional farm kitchen with wood cookstove, there was no television.
My daughters, too, moved from the city to what a farm they must have thought was remote: no TV, a wood cookstove in the kitchen (although we had another one for everyday cooking, of course) and chores to do. For the most part, my girls have embraced the move, but I wonder if my father did as much at the time. It seems that his move would have been one without the quick transportation into the city and cell phone access to friends that my girls enjoy today
I know he went from city life to milking a cow every morning, taking care of chickens, and picking fruit, not to mention walking several miles to the end of the “lane”— a wonderful sandy road that I romanticize now but that must have been a chore to get down in the mornings in time for the bus. My dad’s appreciation for food and all the goodness of the farm was something he brought to our family and no doubt as he became an adult with his own family.
After he moved away from home, my father went to university and law school, always staying rooted in his upbringing on the farm, and appreciating all the bounty that it brought to his life. He travelled around the world, ultimately meeting my mother. I’m sure that when they met, she would have been surprised by his culinary sophistication. He wasn’t the typical small-town guy growing up on—and suspicious of anything but!—meat and potatoes. He’s open to all things culinary: new healthy bean recipes my mom tries out on him, smoothies made from kale (and last night’s salad) she concocts for lunch. He loves pretty well all food, but has a special fondness for berries and especially for my mom when she prepares them for him… whatever way she feels like!
My dad’s favorite shortcake recipe is actually my grandmother’s.
One quart freshly picked strawberries, cleaned and slightly squashed. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.
Preheat oven to 400ºF.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
With your fingers, a fork or a pastry blender, work in until crumbly:
4 tablespoons cold butter
Add 3/4 cup milk—a little more or less—until the mixture just holds together in a soft dough. Add more flour if necessary to keep it from being too sticky. Pat or roll out to 3/4” thick and cut into rounds or squares. Place on ungreased cookie sheet or baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake 16 to 20 minutes until golden brown.
I often brush my biscuits with cream just before bakingto give them a golden glazed look. When ready to serve, split biscuits in half and top with ice cream and berries, or berries with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream. Just about perfect!
Here’s another recipe for seasonal fruit my friend, photographer Kim McGee, recently found in the newspaper and shared. I think that adding a few strawberries to this recipe would make it a great addition to the strawberry shortcake repertoire! My dad I know, would love it.
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 powdered sugar
1/3 cup butter
Mix flour and sugar; cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press into a 9×13 pan. (Note: The mixture will be “dusty,” but that is okay.) Bake for about 12 minutes. While the base is baking, mix up the filling.
1 cup sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix together and stir in 3 cups finely chopped rhubarb. Pour over warm crust and bake for another 35 to 45 minutes, until set.
Note: This recipe seems to have originated with Knol Farms near Collingwood, Nova Scotia. Check out their website for other great strawberry and rhubarb ideas!