Setting Up For Strawberry Shortcake
The recipe for historically and gastronomically correct strawberry shortcake IS coming, I swear, and in plenty of time for the 4th of July ( I also swear). But in the meantime this is a heads-up that you will need 3 things that may take some looking to find.
1. Good strawberries. After giving fairly detailed directions about getting good strawberries I had to buy some ( recipe research!). Went to two farmers’ markets in search of a variety as fragrant as Karen’s. Should have gone to three; but the berries I bought were really quite good and by then market hours were almost over. Also bought supermarket plastic clamshell California ones, just for comparison and without any hope they would actually be edible. They were certainly cheap: $2.79 per quart , as opposed to $4.50 and $5.00 from the farmers – though if you costed it out per fruit they were about 30 cents each. And honesty compels me to report they were a bit sweeter than one of the local offerings. But they were far less strawberry tasting, so I’m guessing there are now “supersweet” strawberries analogous to supersweet corn, in which high sugar content develops early and does not fade but the flavor of corn is faint. And they made a substantial noise when sliced that reminded me of the sound of a good apple.
2. A genuine biscuit cutter – this shortcake is of course made with biscuits, and biscuits do not rise high and flaky unless the thick dough is cut with a tall, sharp cutter designed for the job.
This cutter belongs to food historian Sandy Oliver, of Islesboro, Maine, about whom there will be more one of these days. For now suffice it to say this is your model, though there is no reason to buy an antique one – a new one would really be better if it were sharper which you would think would be a no-brainer but given the quality of some modern tools…
3. Heavy Cream. Pasteurized is fine but ultra-pasteurized is not. Even I who feel strongly about this cannot say the stuff is truly dreadful but it sure as hell is second rate, and the mono and diglycerides, vegetable gums and other substances added to disguise the cooked flavor and diminished whipping power certainly don’t help. “Organic” may be marginally more healthful but usually isn’t any better otherwise; all the industrial-organic national brands are ultra-pasteurized too. Try calling around to co-ops, natural food stores, and the office of a dairy itself should there be one near you. Chefs often have access to food products not routinely retailed and old fashioned heavy cream is one of them.
This is raw organic cream from White Orchard Farm, in Frankfort, Maine. I asked Bill to take the picture when I went to pour some and realized it was too thick to come out of the bottle until prodded.