Sandburg's Hometown

June 10, 2013

New England Shortcake
Photograph Credit: Megan Chromik/Wikimedia Commons

Fruit Short-Cake

By Barbara Schock 

On June 11, 1881, the Galesburg Republican-Register reprinted an article from the New York Practical Housekeeper. In the article it was stated that in those days restaurants and pastry shops put up signs announcing Strawberry Shortcake was available for sale. They sold prodigious amounts of the dessert during the short season of availability.

The article provided homemakers with several options for preparing the biscuit dough at home. Some recipes were made with milk or buttermilk and others with clabbered milk or sour cream. The dough was patted or rolled into rounds. These were layered in a round baking pan. After the layers were baked, they were split apart. The biscuit was buttered and spread with mashed sweetened berries. An application of whipped cream, meringue or custard on top was the finishing touch.

As the summer season progressed, homemakers could use the same biscuit recipe for raspberries, huckleberries, blackberries or peaches.

In ancient times, the Romans enjoyed eating strawberries which grew in the mountains. The Colonists who came to these shores ate strawberries. It was said that strawberries were so prolific that one could hardly walk without stepping on them. Of course, the fruit was much smaller than the berries we enjoy today, but the flavor was more intense.

The first record of a recipe for Strawberry Cake in this country appeared in Miss Leslie’s Lady’s Receipt Book published in 1847. The cake layers were made like pie crust rather than biscuit.

Cultivation of strawberries began on the east coast and spread to the southern states. A few years later, the railroads began using ice in railcars to carry fruit to the north. The demand for strawberries just kept increasing. In the Midwest strawberries were grown in many home gardens. During the 19th century, numerous varieties were produced for home gardening and commercial production.

Since the end of World War II, most strawberries are grown in California. The state universities developed new varieties suited to the growing conditions there. Special treatment of the soil has increased the size of today’s strawberries to gigantic proportions.

Strawberry socials at community churches or school have been popular for more than a hundred years. Platters of warm, rich biscuits spread with butter and mashed strawberries in between layers and whole berries on top attract young and old alike.

Strawberry shortcake has become a food which adds appeal to a meal. The dessert creates a festive dish for family celebrations and gatherings.

Clara Sandburg may not have been able to afford strawberries for her family in the summer. August Sandburg cultivated a garden with several types of root vegetables which were deemed to be more practical. They could be stored for winter consumption. Perhaps there was a raspberry or blackberry bush or two to provide some summertime fruit. Let’s hope there was a strawberry social at the Mission on South Seminary Street at which they could enjoy the summer’s best dessert.

Sandburg's Hometown
Date Title
June 10, 2013 Fruit Short-Cake
June 3, 2013 Horatio Alger, Author
May 27, 2013 Memorial Day, 1887
May 20, 2013 Professor Jon W. Grubb
May 13, 2013 Beginnings of Lombard University
May 6, 2013 Young Sandburg’s View of Lombard College
April 29, 2013 Thinking
April 22, 2013 Robert Colville, Master Mechanic
April 15, 2013 The Galesburg Opera House
April 8, 2013 Grocery Stores and Sample Rooms
April 1, 2013  A Hearty  Breakfast 
March 25, 2013  The Lost Wallpaper Legend 
March 18, 2013 Martin G. Sandburg
March 4, 2013 The Edison Talking Machine
February 25, 2013 Joe Elser, Civil War Veteran
February 18, 2013 Remember the Maine...
February 11, 2013 Lincoln's Birthday
February 4, 2013 Curiosity