Friday, October 9, 2009
Gramma Rhetta was most famous for her fried chicken and cornbread, hands down. My Mama always tells a story about a little neighbor boy, Jakey, who had some freaky kind of chicken radar; whenever Gramma got out the skillet and glugged some oil in there, Jakey would appear like magic. He'd hang around the screen door, sniffing through the fine mesh like a stray cat.
Of course, he usually snagged an invitation to supper. Gramma never could resist a stray, human or animal.
Once, in irritation, my mother snapped at him, "Jakey, why are you always hanging around when we have chicken? Your mama makes fried chicken, too, ya know!"
Jakey smiled sheepishly and said, "I like Henrietta's chicken better. It's cripper."
Semantics aside, Jakey had a point. There wasn't crisper chicken anywhere in the county.
But when it came time for dessert, Gramma had another tool in her arsenal. On very special occasions, when true pull-out-the-stops decadence was necessary, Gramma made Strawberry Shortcake.
Most people don't understand the significance, and if you aren't a Ludlam or a Stephenson (or married to one), you wouldn't. Because a lot of people make Strawberry Shortcake. No big deal, right? Ha! What other people fail to realize is, their Strawberry Shortcake is shitty.
Strawberry Shortcake on those sponge cake rounds they sell at the grocery store? Shitty. Strawberry Shortcake on pound cake? Shitty. Strawberry Shortcake on Pop-N-Fresh biscuits? Double Shitty. Strawberry Shortcake with Reddi-Whip? Don't get me started.
No, no, no. Gramma made a shortcake dough from scratch, so buttery and rich it almost oozed off the countertop. And then she'd sprinkle coarse sugar on the top of it, which made every bite crackle just so. And after it was baked and barely cool enough to handle, she'd split that sucker open and slather MORE sweet butter between the layers.
And then came the real cream, the kind from the local cows, whipped with vanilla and superfine sugar into frothy nirvana. No fake dreck from a can for Gramma.
And of course, the strawberries. Gramma only made Shortcake in June and July. Only the best berries need apply. And she wasn't stingy with them either. Actually, she wasn't stingy with anything when it came to that dessert.
It was such a gut-buster, so rich and overflowing with opulence, that we only ate Strawberry Shortcake once a year. Maybe twice, tops. And, the very best part?
Gramma let us eat Strawberry Shortcake for lunch. Just Shortcake. Because really, who wanted to eat anything else when faced with such beauty? My sister and I thought that was the coolest thing ever.
When Shortcake Day rolled around, my sister and I gorked around all morning, busting at the seams to tuck into a humongous, towering slice. Our enthusiasm was always contagious...by lunchtime, even the adults scrambled to the table.
Legend has it that Wild Uncle Johnny brought his first fiancee, Lou, over to Gramma's house one Shortcake Day. Lou was completely baffled by all of the hoopla and pomp and circumstance surrounding the event.
"For Heaven's Sake," she said, a little peevish. "It's just Strawberry Shortcake."
Everyone in the room stared at her, gobsmacked and slack-jawed. *Just* Strawberry Shortcake? This girl clearly had mental deficiencies.
Now that I think on it, no wonder that marriage was doomed. Strawberry Shortcake Day was momentous!
Strawberry Shortcake Days were some of the most memorable days of my life.
Alas, when Gramma died, her recipe went with her. I've tried to duplicate it many times, without success.
Miss D. chose this recipe from the White Trash Motherlode book to make together this week. It had all the necessary things--butter, flour, sugar, milk, berries, cream. And the girls enjoyed making it and ate the finished product, happily.
I poked listlessly at mine and couldn't be bothered. Strawberry Shortcake just isn't much fun without Gramma or an entire morning of fanfare. Some traditions are meant to die, but it doesn't mean they're forgotten.
1 pint strawberries, washed and sliced
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup butter, melted
Sweetened whipped cream, to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place strawberries in a large bowl; toss with 1/4 cup sugar and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Stir in the milk and melted butter until the dough forms a ball.
Pat the dough out onto a clean surface to a 1-inch thickness.
Cut 6 circles in the dough with a round cookie cutter or cut into six free-form pieces, whichever you prefer.
Place the shortcakes on a baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes.
Spread each cake with whipped cream and top with strawberries.