Last Wednesday I noticed new graffiti on a wall I frequently pass: Erdbeere für alle! Strawberries for everyone! I was struck by the concreteness of the wish; instead of calling for something abstract like freedom or justice or a particular political agenda, the author demanded something not only tangible but also edible, something that nourishes and sustains. Here is a utopian vision I can heartily support. How would the world would be different if more people ate strawberries? Can we transform the world by growing more strawberries?
Last year I tried my hand at gardening for the first time, planting herbs, vegetables, and strawberries in containers on my balcony. My goal was an overall 50% success rate, which I am happy to say I achieved despite being plagued by hordes of aphids. My relationship with strawberry plants started when I placed four seeds in a small pot. Two of the four sprouted, but then things went awry and they met their demise quite early in the growing season. Not daunted, I bought a strawberry plant from a local hobby gardener who has heirloom varieties passed on from her grandmother. This plant was full of élan vital, putting out runners that required me to prepare additional containers where they could take root. Despite the plant’s energy, I had gotten it so late in the season that it did not bear enough fruit to make anything, so I just savored each individual berry.
Strawberries are perennials, but I wasn’t sure if they would survive the winter in containers. In March, I was overjoyed to see green leaves growing from one of the plants. The pictures above and below show the current state of my strawberry plant. The first runner is ready to take root, but it has a mind of its own, which required some creative problem solving.
Yes, that is the top of an egg carton container. The pot I had prepared for the runner was too high. But since I love my strawberry plant, I am willing to cater to its every whim. The goal this year is to coax as many runners as possible to take root, then transplant them into a larger container and have a mini-strawberry patch next summer. When I run out of space, I will give away strawberry plants. What do you plan to do to ensure there are strawberries for everyone?
Strawberry shortcake is a classic dessert from the American South which consists of strawberries, cream, and biscuits. Shortcakes became popular in the mid-19th century. “Short” does not refer to the height of the cake but rather the crumbly texture resulting from the proportion of fat to dry ingredients (think shortening or shortbread). Sadly – but not surprisingly – many contemporary American recipes for strawberry shortcake substitute angel food cake for the biscuit layer to cut down on fat, a practice which voids the word shortcake of meaning.
The recipe follows the biscuit formula proposed by Michael Ruhlman in his fascinating book Ratio : 3 parts flour, one part fat, two parts liquid. The use of spelt flour results in a darker dough that provides a stronger color contrast with the red strawberries and white cream. If you like, add chopped fresh herbs to the strawberries for an added layer of flavor. I like verbena and lemon balm in particular, but mint and basil are also compatible partners. For the whipping cream, I used Schlagobers, a heavy cream with 36 % fat available in Austria. Cream differs depending on where you live, which is why I provide the percentage of fat – click here for more details.
500 g (2 pints) strawberries
1-2 Tbs honey or sugar
optional: 1-2 Tbs. chopped lemon verbena, lemon balm, mint, or basil
120 g (1 cup) spelt flour
1 ts baking powder
pinch of salt
40 g (3 Tbs) butter
80 ml (1/3 cup) milk and egg mixture
250 ml (1 cup) whipping cream (36% fat)
Slice the strawberries, mixing them in a small bowl with either honey or sugar and a herb of choice. Let the berries sit while you prepare the shortcake and cream.
Mix flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. Cut in the butter.
Beat the egg and milk together. Add to the dry ingredients.
On a cookie sheet, shape into one large biscuit. Bake for 15 minutes at 220°C / 425°F.
While the shortcake is baking, whip the cream. I tested this recipe several times, and each time I whipped the cream by hand. Yes, just me and a whisk and a bowl, unplugged. Why? To do something I had never done before. To see how long it actually took. To enjoy the sudden transformation from liquid froth into whipped cream. To take pleasure in the act of cooking. To meditate.
I encourage you to abandon the electric beaters. Just when you think that the cream will never change its state, when you try to console yourself with the thought that at least you are increasing your arm strength, just when you are ready to give up hope: the cream becomes whipped! What a miracle. Can you beat my record of 5 minutes?
Strawberry shortcake is served in layers. From the bottom up: shortcake, berries, cream, shortcake, berries cream. I am rather lazy and prefer taste to presentation when cooking for myself, so I just broke the biscuits into pieces and mixed everything together well so the biscuit soaks up the strawberry juice and is doused in cream. Be creative as you wish.
Since you have faithfully read to the end of this post, I’ll give you a preview of what is to come on Wednesdays and Sundays. There will be more about strawberries; cherries will arrive on the scene; cold summer soups will be featured; and you’ll find out who Katharina Prato was.