Strawberry Shortcake is a nostalgia dessert – no matter the fancy way pastry chefs can create it – it’s always the best when prepared the way mom made. I realize not everyone enjoyed homemade Strawberry Shortcake as a child. But I was lucky enough to…but only in June, when the berries on our large strawberry patch were ripe. And only after I sweated away with my sisters picking the berries. Actually I hated picking strawberries. It was a hot, backbreaking job that always left me with rashes up and down my arms and legs from an allergic reaction to the strawberry plant leaves. I remember one time when Grandpa came to visit and came out to help my sisters and I pick; we were complaining and he said, “You kids should enjoy this job! When I was a kid, we didn’t get to pick big, fresh, sweet berries like you do.” As you can imagine, this did not suddenly increase my enjoyment of the task. But it must have made an impression on me, because I remember it to this day – especially on occasions when I shell out $5 per person for my three kids and I to pick at a U-pick berry farm – just so my kids can hurl the same complaints at me that I used to whine about as a child.
But this weekend, my dear mother-in-law brought four beautiful quarts of berries from her garden in Michigan. When I saw her pull them out of her car, I immediately ran into my kitchen to start mixing up my recipe for Shortcake. Like my mother’s it’s basically a drop biscuit recipe with fresh lemon zest and a little sugar added; I’ve also replaced some of the white flour with whole wheat flour and cut a little of the fat. The lemon peel is a delicious aromatic complement to the sweet berries. Oh, and another tiny change I’ve made: When macerating ther berries (adding sugar to them and slightly mashing with the same pastry blender you used to make the biscuits) add a splash of vodka to the berries to draw out the juices and heighten their flavor. (Ok, maybe that’s sort-of a fancy chef trick, but now it will become part of my kids’ nostalgia!)