My mother, and my aunt who lived next door to us, had very large vegetable gardens. It was common in the Amana Colonies where I grew up for the German omas to tend large vegetable and flower gardens. I've been thinking lately about these gardens and the way our meals, throughout the summer months especially, revolved around what my mother and aunt grew. After watching an episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution this past weekend, which confirmed my sinking feeling that this country is in big trouble nutritionally, I've been thinking even more about my mother's garden and my smaller version, and the healthy eating a vegetable garden promotes.
There was huge importance placed on all aspects of my mother's garden. The week before the soil was scheduled to be tilled was filled with great anticipation. It was viewed by my mother and aunt as a momentous event and because of that, we all came to see it that way.... what would we do if it rained?... and the man they hired to perform this task had to cancel?... and it could possibly be another week?.... I think my mother loved being in her garden more than anything else. After the soil was prepped she would be out there daily, usually doing most of her work before I woke up, while the air was still cool. Every meal throughout that summer was made up of some fruit or vegetable grown in our garden. We looked forward to certain foods because we knew we would only be eating these foods at that time, when they were in-season. Eggplant in February? Never... but in August we would eat it non-stop. It may not be possible for many to even consider planting a vegetable garden, but with the increase of farmers' markets nationally and the availability of many fruits and vegetables outside of our own growing season, why aren't we all eating healthier?
In addition to the vegetable garden, my mother also had a very large strawberry patch. Whenever I headed down to the garden to pick berries for my mother, I ended up eating more than I eventually brought back to the kitchen. Unfortunately, I have been unsuccessful at growing strawberries in my own garden; a problem that could possibly be solved by covering the plants with netting. Years ago my attempts at growing and harvesting strawberries were scuttled by hungry birds. More recently, it's because of my French Bulldog Pipi who eats anything and everything (heirloom tomatoes being her favorite).
So how could I pass up these brilliant red strawberries at the grocery store? I know what a carton of strawberries will taste like in April. They will not come anywhere close in taste or sweetness to locally grown berries found at the markets in June and July. But tossed with some sugar and sandwiched along with freshly-whipped cream between sweet, flaky scones, they somehow tasted just fine. I think Pipi would even find them acceptable.
Old-Fashioned Strawberry Shortcakes
+ a recipe from In The Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley +
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/4 cup granulated sugar
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
• 1 large egg
• 1/4 cup whole milk
• 5 tablespoons heavy cream
• Additional whipping cream for brushing scones
• Additional granulated sugar, for sprinkling
• 2 quarts fresh ripe strawberries, hulled
• 3 to 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
• 2 cups heavy cream
• 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 425˚F. Line a small heavy baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder and salt. Pulse until blended. Add the butter and pulse again until the butter is the size of small peas.
2. In a large bowl gently whisk together by hand the egg, milk and 5 tablespoons heavy cream. Add the flour-butter mixture and stir together with a fork just until combined. Gather dough together and on a lightly-floured work surface, pat the dough into a round about 3/4 of an inch thick. Try to work the dough as little as possible. Using a 3-inch round biscuit cutter, cut 4 rounds and transfer to a parchment-lined heavy baking sheet. Gather together the remaining dough and cut 2 more rounds.
3. Brush the tops of the 6 scones with the 1 tablespoon heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in the middle of the oven for approximately 14 minutes or until golden. I found, the 2 times I baked these scones, that the bottoms will become quite dark. A heavy baking sheet is recommended. Cool the scones briefly on a wire rack before splitting and filling with the strawberries.
To Prepare The Berries:
1. Cut 1 quart of the strawberries in half and set aside. Cut the remaining quart of berries into rough pieces and sprinkle with 3 to 4 tablespoons of the sugar, stirring to coat. Let the berries macerate for about an hour. Right before serving crush the strawberries and sugar with a fork until you create a rough sauce.
To Prepare the Cream:
1. Combine the 2 cups cold, heavy cream with the 2 tablespoons sugar and whip until slightly thickened. Add the vanilla and continue to whip until thick. Refrigerate until needed.
2. To serve, slice the scones in half and spoon some of the strawberry sauce onto the bottom halves; top with the halved berries, whipped cream and other half of the scones.
• This dessert is best the day it is made, while the scones are still warm from the oven.
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