Growing up, we always had an abundance of strawberries during the summer months. My mom made strawberry shortcake at least once a week.
Now, I know everyone has their own take on what “shortcake” should mean. Some people like to use biscuits. Others a sponge cake. Some might go for angel food cake. For me, it means the baked-from-scratch white cake Mom made only when she served it with strawberries.
At the end of a long, hot, hard day of working on the farm, a serving of that shortcake soaking up sweet strawberry juice and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream was a little bite of summer heaven.
Even the few years my brother decided to grow strawberries and sell them in town (and roped me into picking them way too early in the mornings), those berries still tasted so good.
My dad liked to say the variety of berry, Ogallala, might not make the biggest berries, but they were the sweetest. I had to agree.
The Ogallala is known as one of the hardiest strawberries because they can handle both cold temperatures and drought. After the first year, they are a heavy producer, spreading out runners and falling in the category of everbearing (meaning they’ll bear fruit all summer).
According to the information I found, 25 years of research and testing by the North Platte Experiment Station and the Cheyenne Horticultural Field Station went into developing this strawberry which debuted in the 1950s. Created by Dr. LeRoy Powers, the Ogallala combines Rocky Mountain wild strawberry with cultivated varieties of Fairfax, Midland, and Rockhill. The result: big husky plants with abundant dark green foliage and deep red berries that are red all the way to the center. The leaves make finding the berries a bit of a challenge, but helps protect against bird damage, hot winds, and unseasonable frost.
All I knew as a kid was how good those berries tasted. Mom would make jam so we could enjoy that delicious summer flavor all winter long. And sometimes, if she was in a rush, instead of making shortcake, she’d simply roll out a pie crust, sprinkle it with sugar, and bake it on a cookie sheet. Then we’d break off pieces of the crust, layer berries and ice cream on top, and savor the wonderful treat.
A few years ago, I was craving those sweet berries of my childhood, not the big, flavorless things we so often find at the grocery store. Of course, when my parents sold the farm, they didn’t bring along any of the berry plants to their new place. So I started searching for them online.
When I finally found a nursery that sold them, I decided to order 20 plants. I figured if even half of them survived, that would be plenty for Captain Cavedweller and me to enjoy. When they arrived, they were the most pathetic looking starts you’ve ever seen. They looked more like shriveled little sticks than hearty root stock. But I planted them – in between the roses that line the fence along our driveway. I was sure none of the plants would grow. The first year, they didn’t do much, but the following spring, gorgeous leaves unfurled and soon we were picking sweet, juicy berries that took my back to my childhood days on the farm.
And this summer, it looks like we’re going to get a bumper crop of berries with berry plants coming up everywhere. Yum! I can hardly wait to make shortcake just like Mom used to serve! (Right after I trim back all those runners!)
¾ cup sugar
½ cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups flour
4-5 cups of strawberries
½ cup sugar
Vanilla ice cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine flour and baking powder, set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together ¾ cup sugar and butter, then add egg and vanilla extract. Alternate adding flour mixture and milk to the bowl until batter is well blended.
Pour into a greased 9 x 13 baking pan and bake until the top is a light, golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Remove stems from strawberries, wash and hull them, then place in a large serving bowl. Mom always used a potato masher to break them down a little. You don’t want to pulverize them like you would if you were making jam, just mash them enough they get good and juicy and break into nice little pieces. Stir in ½ cup of sugar until sugar dissolves, then let rest for at least 10 minutes.
When ready to serve, cut slices of cake, top with strawberries and a scoop of ice cream.
Do you have a favorite childhood dessert
you enjoyed in the summer?
Or a favorite dessert you look forward to
making during the summer months?
Post your answer for a chance to win a copy of Farm Girl, a collection of humorous stories from my childhood years.