Flour on the Apron:
“Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.” – Carl Sandburg
Family dinners were the center of our household life when I was growing up. Eating was more than just an essential; it was an event, a requisite, that everyone attended, dressed and washed, with no questions asked. The table was always beautifully set with fresh flowers, linen napkins and good china – and the television was never, ever on. As a little girl, I marveled at how calmly my mother prepared our meals, floating around the kitchen as if she were on skates, impeccably choreographing all the elements of the dinner to come together just as the biscuits were coming out of the oven. We always sat down to hot bread.
One day, when I was seven, my sister and I were playing with friends after church in the screened in porch and were put in charge of watching our wriggling two-year-old brother while Momma made biscuits for our roast beef dinner. Wearing a flour-dusted apron over her pretty Sunday dress, she poked her head out to check on the toddler. Her maternal instinct must have kicked in to pull her away mid-task. “Where’s the baby?” she asked with mild panic. She scanned the room, her dough-caked hands suspended above her waist, as if she were holding an invisible tray. The busted babysitters looked around sheepishly and incredulously. He was gone!
We kids had been so caught up with our game that we didn’t see him waddle out the back door to explore his newly enlarged world. Momma threw her hands in the air and screamed bloody murder. Everyone scrambled like wildfire around the yard, frantically searching for the missing child. Everyone except me. I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed with shame and with the sudden flood of consequence (the highway! the cars!) that might result from not keeping my promise. I heard them call and call for him with frightened, muffled voices as the search drew them farther from the house. If it hadn’t been for our stalwart dog, Crissy, they may never have found him.
Thinking he was in the middle of some marvelous new game, my little brother would hide when he heard his name. Crissy barked her alert of his location several streets over. Scooped up in his father’s arms, the escapee was unharmed and quite unhappy that his solo adventure was cut short.
Upon his safe return, I cried tears of joy and relief. I savored every bite of that delicious meal, including the extra biscuit that I slathered with butter and strawberry jam to celebrate the sweet ending. Years later, while sentimentally talking about family food memories, I asked my brother for his thoughts. He replied, his big blue eyes sparkling in the bright afternoon sunshine, slowly revealing his deeply-dimpled smile, “I always remember Momma had flour on the apron.”
For me, there are few desserts that can rival this classic. Warm, crumbly biscuits that greedily soak up the ruby red sweet fruit nectar, laced with creamy whipped cream. Perfection!
- For the strawberries:
- 6 cups ripe strawberries, hulled and sliced
- 4 to 6 tablespoons sugar (or more to taste depending on the sweetness of your fruit)
- 1 tablespoon orange juice
- For the shortcakes:
- 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
- ¼ cup organic, non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
- 3 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- 1 cup cold buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons cream or milk
- sweetened whipped cream, for serving (see link below for recipe)
- In a large bowl, combine the strawberries, sugar and orange juice; gently stir well. Allow to sit at room temperature until juicy, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Using your fingertips, pinch the shortening and the butter into the flour mixture until it is in small pieces, the size of baby peas. Still using your hands (or using a wooden spoon), mix in the buttermilk until all the flour has been incorporated and the dough just comes together. Dump the dough onto a floured surface, sprinkle the top of the dough with a little flour and gently knead the dough 5 or 6 times. Pat into a ¾-inch thick round and cut out as many biscuits as possible with a 3-inch cutter. Reroll scraps to cut out more biscuits. Place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the biscuits with a little cream and sprinkle over a little more sugar on each.
- Bake until the biscuits are golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Split the warm biscuits in half with a serrated knife, place the shortcake bottoms on individual plates. Spoon over some berries, add a dollop of cream and cap with the shortcake top.
…from the Picture-Perfect kitchen:
Planning: If you don’t own a strawberry huller (and seriously, who does?), you can improvise with a plastic drinking straw, which is kind of fun actually. To remove the hull, push the straw through the bottom of the strawberry up through the leafy stem end and Ta-da! the straw will remove the core and the leafy top. Or just use the tip of your paring knife to hull the strawberries. If you accidentally overbeat your whipped cream, simply add in a little more cream and whisk in.
Product Purity: For an adult treat, replace the orange juice with Grand Marnier! Remember to use non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening for the biscuits. For the fluffiest sweet cream, choose heavy cream over whipping cream – and make sure it’s really cold before beating (I even chill my beaters).
Presentation: Allowing some of the juice to pool around the warm dessert makes it look so inviting. A little mint adds nice color to the plate, too–and there are so many beautiful varieties out there, like pineapple mint in the lead photo. For an elegant and sophisticated presentation, go the “deconstructed” route; serve the dessert parfait-style in a martini glass, spoon in some berries, top with some whipped cream and serve the biscuit on the side.