After attending the Katonah Elementary School’s 2nd Grade State Fair and Americana concert last Friday, I was inspired to prepare an old-fashioned dessert from my childhood—from a memorable summer in 1976.
It was the bicentennial and I had just finished second grade myself. Summer desserts in my Colorado childhood home consisted of homemade vanilla ice cream, cherry pie à la mode, strawberry-rhubarb pie, lemon bars, or strawberry shortcake.
The decision of which sweet to replicate was easy considering the present season is the humble strawberry’s finest hour; it would have to be my grandmother’s flaky cream biscuits with fresh local berries.
Unfortunately, I don’t have my grandmother’s recipe since she, like most farmer's wives of her era, kept an unimaginable collection of recipes in her head instead of on paper. I turned instead to the icon of American cookery: James Beard.
Beard’s recipe for biscuits is most likely similar to my grandmother’s since she used cream, rather than milk and shortening—the more commonly prepared version. It is a simple recipe, and I love how flaky they turn out. Best to serve these warm, even if you have to reheat.
The results were delicious and they inspired some memories recalled by my mother-in-law. As my family dug into dessert, she regaled us with a story of her own childhood memory of strawberry shortcake. It was during World War II—a time of shortages and lack of imported goods—and only local seasonal produce was available. Strawberries were hugely celebrated after the long fruitless winter, and shortcake was an immense delight to her deprived young palate.
Taste a bit of our country’s heritage with this recipe, especially with the abundance of gorgeous berries currently available. And to help elicit a patriotic spirit, check out the attached video of the KES State Fair celebration.
Makes 8-10 servings
Cream biscuits – recipe below
2-3 pints strawberries, rinsed and cut in half or quarters
Top the biscuits with strawberries and whipped cream or slice the biscuits in half and place the strawberries and cream between the two layers. Either way, this is the taste of summer and childhood!
James Beard’s Cream Biscuits
Adapted from “James Beard’s American Cookery.”
5 tablespoons melted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the surface
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ¼-½ cups heavy cream.
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Brush a baking sheet with a little melted butter. Sift 2 cups flour, the baking powder, salt and sugar into a large bowl. Fold in 1 ¼ cups cream. If the dough is not soft or easily handled, fold in the remaining 1/4 cup cream, little by little.
2. Turn dough onto a floured surface, mound it into a ball and, using a rolling pin or your hands, press it to a thickness of about ¾ inch. Cut into rounds, 2 ½ inches in diameter. Gather dough scraps and continue to make rounds. Dip the top of each round in the remaining melted butter and arrange on the baking sheet. Bake until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately or reheat before serving. Makes about 9 biscuits.