Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Real Thing

Wife had to make a quick trip to Arkansas early this week. The best thing she brought back with her? Arkansas strawberries!

I will risk offending with this statement but I will make it anyway. There is no strawberry on the face of this Earth that will surpass one that is grown in the State of Arkansas. I can’t explain it but it’s true. (Probably true for tomatoes also, but I’ll leave that for later comment).

I will plead guilty to having a totally emotional and biased point of view. In South Arkansas where I grew up, the coming of spring also meant that the first strawberry crop was imminent (first ones were usually around the first of May). The fruit was sacred in my house. My dad, mom, brother and I all loved them.

For my father, however, the affinity for the lovely red berries bordered on the ridiculous. When he learned of the first strawberries being available, he would call my mother from his office in the late afternoon and tell her he would pick them up on his way home (this meant he would buy them at a make-shift market set up by a grower on the side of the road, or perhaps pick them at a pick-your-own type farm). She knew this was her signal to make sure the other ingredients for his favorite of all desserts were on hand (more on that below).

He had no tolerance for tasteless strawberries, especially those in grocery stores, which had been picked weeks earlier and shipped from some God-forsaken place like California. His belief was that one purchased (or picked) strawberries locally during strawberry season. When the season was over, one would wait until the next season for strawberries again. (Although it was permissible to freeze the freshly picked ones for later use as an ingredient in certain recipes).

I have tried to be a little more open minded than Dad, but some of these quirks, I am afraid, have stayed with me. Read on.

To my way of thinking, strawberries are good in a variety of ways. In my advanced age, where I can gain a pound just by looking at calorie-laden food, I mostly just eat them by themselves. But they’re wonderful in a pie, on top of ice cream or as the key ingredient in homemade strawberry ice cream. They’re very good sliced over cereal or oatmeal or mixed with other fruit. Wife has a great recipe for a strawberry cake. All are perfectly acceptable ways to enjoy fresh strawberries.

Strawberries are never better, however, than when they are served fresh in the most luscious of all desserts, strawberry shortcake.

Unfortunately, many times a dessert is presented as strawberry shortcake when, in fact, it is not. It is an imposter. You might have been a victim of such deception but this is your lucky day. I am here to tell you exactly how to prepare true strawberry shortcake and it is not difficult.

Start with a pie crust (the “shortcake”). You may make one or purchase one. Wife, a wonderful cook, has conceded that a pre-packaged crust that can be unrolled and baked is just about as good as one she can make and, of course, many times easier to prepare. Before baking the pie crust, cut it into circles using a cookie cutter or the top of a drinking glass, about three-or-so inches in diameter. Bake the circles in the oven on a cookie sheet until golden brown.

Next, of course, is the key ingredient – the strawberries. Mash them lightly with a fork or some other instrument (I think you can even buy something for this purpose) until they are just a little juicy, but don’t over-mash them as you don’t want “strawberry soup.” Add sugar as you mash. How much? Depends on how sweet you like them. If the berries are plenty ripe, you won’t need much. Add a little and see how they taste. Do not use Splenda or any other artificial sweetener.

Next -- and this is crucial -- is the whipped cream. You do not use Cool Whip or anything else that might come in a pre-packaged container or, God forbid, a can out of which the concoction squirts. No matter how the manufacturer might package and sell it, this is not whipped cream.

If you’ve never whipped cream, it’s easy. You buy cream in a carton, put it in your mixer and whip away. You can also add a little sugar to this while it’s in the mixer. It’s absolutely heavenly and when I arrive there (in heaven, that is) – where, not only will there be no more weeping, neither will there be high cholesterol and I will have a perpetual 34-inch waist -- I will order an unending supply.

In an individual bowl, place a couple of the crusts, three if you’re really hungry, and break them into several pieces if you like. Put a generous serving of the juiced berries on top. Then top with a liberal dollop of the whipped cream, and prepare for ecstasy.

Remember, this is the only true strawberry shortcake. If you are presented strawberries on a little spongy cake with some kind of topping on it, you may accept it graciously and enjoy, but be aware you are not eating real strawberry shortcake. Similarly, strawberries atop ice cream or pound cake might taste just fine, but this is not strawberry shortcake either. (It is your decision whether or not you want to correct someone who serves any of these items to you and bills it as strawberry shortcake. Wife has asked that I refrain from doing so).

So now you know what it is and, just as important, what it isn’t.

Go forthwith and make some of this for yourself and your household while there are still fresh strawberries. If you are not in Arkansas, you are permitted, of course, to acquire those indigenous to your own area. If you are fortunate enough to reside in Arkansas this time of year, you know the routine.

You may all thank me later.


Debby said...

Oh, Bob. I have never in my life had an Arkansas strawberry and I feel as if I missed out on something huge. I am sorry to say that we do not use a pie crust, we use baking powder biscuits hot from the oven and split open while they are still steamy hot. A generous blop of strawberries (we prefer a lot of juice (strawberry soup as it were) so that the biscuits sop it all up. We agree on the whipped cream, though. Only homemade will do.

Bob said...

I should have mentioned that a thoroughly cooked (not at all "doughy") made-from-scratch biscuit could serve as the crust if one prefers. I would approve of calling this strawberry shortcake as well.

Some Tennessee strawberries have come close to the devine nature of those from Arkansas, so I bet there are some in Pennsylvania that will do just fine. As I said, it's very much an emotional matter for me.

Kelly said...

My mouth is watering, Bob.

Personally, I prefer them sugared up and eaten over vanilla ice cream. Your way sure sounds good, though!

Pam said...

Oh my! My mouth is watering too, and my craving for strawberries and YOUR recipe for strawberry shortcake is rising!!!

This sounds scrumptous!!

I do love strawberries!!

Bob Barbanes said...

Boy, people sure are funny. And different. Of all the things I want when I get to heaven (e.g. see old relatives...get my first car back...find out who killed the the Three Stooges...oh yeah, and meet God, etc.), having access to an unending supply of real whipped cream hadn't even made it to the list.

But if it's that high on yours, then how good must it be?! Only ever having "whipped cream" that came from a squirt can, I am left to merely imagine.

Your recipe for strawberry shortcake does sound scrumptious. Alas, since a 34" waist is but a distant memory, I don't see it in my near future.

Oh what the hell, you only live once. I'm off to the Winn-Dixie for heavy cream and the local farm stand for some fresh strawbs!

I'll let you know.

Debby said...

Bob B has never had real whipped cream? *shocked silence* I did not know he was deprived.

Pencil Writer said...

Hey, Bob. I'm with you on the "local" strawberries ideal. We live pretty close to Arkansas, but we love the South Louisiana strawberries. Like you said . . . it's personal pref. I'd like to try some Ark strawberries, however. And I'm with you and Debby on the real whipped cream. I didn't know there was anything else . . . :-}

Not to change the subject, but we had a bumper crop of peaches from our little peach tree this year and even strawberries (in my opinion) can't top these fresh peaches for heavenly flavor. The cobbler was to die for and the cereal was extra special with the sliced peaches and, yes, un-whipped cream!

Thanks for making me hungry at bedtime . . . I won't go eat. I won't go eat. I won't . . .

quid said...

Bob -

I promise I will try to eat an Arkansas strawberry; I will need to compare them to Plant City, Florida strawberries... hereto for the best in the world.

My shortcakes of renown are dry, with just a little juice, on biscuits (made from scratch) with real whipped cream.

I have to say I love it on pound cake, but don't call that strawberry short cake!


Bob said...

Quid, I have no doubt that a strawberry grown in the state of Florida, fresh from the vine, is heavenly. I just didn't get enough of any kind this year.