A rainy morning
A strawberry field
A dear friend
Rubber boots and a raincoat
Boxes, buckets or bowls
On a beautiful sunny almost-summer day, plan an outing to the strawberry field with dear friend. Wake up to dreary gray skies. Load buckets, boots, and raincoat. Pick up dear friend and walk, bike or drive to the nearest strawberry field. By the time you reach the field the gloomy skies will begin to sprinkle on you, dear friend, the strawberry field, and everything else. Pick two flats of strawberries, give or take, with dear friend.
Dear friend and I discovered that picking berries in the rain is far better than picking berries in the blazing sun. We also discovered that picking strawberries at our age is far less easy than it was when we were kids. We went snap, crackle, pop! as we made our way up the row. But the rain was just a cooling sprinkle, the berries were perfect, and dear friend and I got a chance to talk with one another uninterrupted about our families, our faith, and homeschooling.
Later this afternoon I hulled strawberries and watched the rain. I hulled strawberries and watched out the window while loving husband, my brother-in-law, my nephews and a couple of my kids loaded up the junk that had accumulated behind the garden shed. (We postponed a planned barbeque, but went ahead with the junk removal.) I hulled strawberries and dreamed of shortcake. It takes a long time to hull so many strawberries. I had a sinkful of little greenish strawberry tops by the time I was finished. The best strawberry hulling tool I've ever used? My thumbnail. I've got a tomato corer/strawberry huller like this one, but I always fall back on my thumb because it's just plain faster.
I sent a bowl of strawberries with brother-in-law, and set aside a large bowl for shortcake, then froze the rest. A berry freezing tip, shared long ago by my sister: Spread the berries in a single layer on a very very lightly greased cookie sheet then set them in the freezer until they've hardened. Then put them in the freezer bags or containers. You get beautiful non-smushed frozen berries that don't stick together.
Perfect Strawberry Shortcake
You need a big bowl of strawberries and some sugar. If you're a measuring kind of person, like loving husband, about eight cups of berries and 1/3 cup sugar. If you're an eyeball kind of person, like me, you need a large bowlful. Take a little less than half the berries (about three cups, for measurers) and mash them with a potato masher or a fork. Slice the rest, and mix the sliced berries and sugar with the mashed berries. Set aside.
In a pinch, your favorite biscuit recipe with 2-3 times the sugar will do. Or try this one:
2 cups flour
4-5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup milk
A splash of cream or an egg white, and a little extra sugar
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Scatter the pieces of butter over the flour mixture. Use a pastry blender, a fork, or your fingers to cut the butter until it's in tiny pieces about the size of a pea. (You can use a food processor, but it seems to me to be more hassle to get it out, assemble it, and worst of all, clean it afterward. The pastry blender is easy to use once you get the hang of it, and it's easy to clean too.)
In a small bowl mix the egg and the milk, then gently stir them into the flour-butter mixture until the whole thing forms a sticky ball. Dump it out onto a floured counter, knead just a bit to get it to come together, then pat into a flat circle about 3/4" thick. Cut biscuit rounds and place them on a cookie sheet. (I use a small cup for this since I don't have a 2-1/2" cookie cutter. It works.) For sugary-topped biscuits, brush biscuits lightly with cream or egg white and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake in the oven for about 12-14 minutes. Leave them on the baking sheet to cool for about ten minutes.
The whipped cream:
For heaven's sake, use a spray whipped cream if it's handy. We hardly ever use whipped cream so we usually don't have it on hand. I get out the stand mixer, attach the wire attachment, pour whipping cream and sugar into the bowl and turn the thing on high. When it looks like whipped cream it's ready.
Slice the biscuit in half and place it in a bowl. Ladle strawberries over the biscuit and top with whipped cream.
It's worth kneeling in the dirt, in the rain, with crackly knees and greenish-red strawberry fingernails for this. Heavenly.