Really, the ten quarts of strawberries that have taken over my kitchen are all my dad’s fault.
If he didn’t plant a garden when my sisters and I were growing up, if he didn’t take us strawberry/cherry/apple picking at the U-pick orchards and fields around our town, if he didn’t spend nearly every week in summer making a fruit pie or shortcake of some kind, if he didn’t teach me how much better tomatoes and corn and strawberries taste when they’re fresh and warm from the sun, I wouldn’t be in this predicament.
My dad will shake his head (I can tell, even over the phone) and laugh at me when I tell him about the stash I brought home, but I think behind that he understands. He grew up on a farm (ask him about tractors and combines some time), he lived the whole “farm to table” “snout to tail” thing about 50 years before it was trendy. For my dad, that was just…how it was.
He gave me a taste of that life growing up with our garden. Each year, he would till a 30’x15’ plot (my dad just corrected me–it was at least twice that size, enough space for 3 rows each of 3 to 4 varieties of corn) behind our house before walking along the rows with my sisters and me, helping us plant corn, squash, tomatoes, beans, just about anything you can think of.
I want to say we would eagerly watch and wait for the little green sprouts to peek through the dirt, tending and caring for them, but I don’t think it ever occurred to us that this was something special. My sisters and I didn’t know that most people didn’t run out back for broccoli or spend Sunday picking dozens of ears of corn off their stalks. We thought it was fun to watch our dad simmer and slice “caterpillars” off the corn or mash tomatoes through the food mill, and being a good helper by funneling it all into bags for the freezer and dinner in December.
At the beginning of this year, less than two weeks after his 65th birthday (and only a few days after my 30th) my dad ended up in the hospital from a heart attack. Knowing that my dad came that close to not being around, that I came that close to not hearing his amused, incredulous “Christina!” when I tell him how many strawberries I bought or calling him to ask what a misfire in cylinder 4 on my car means was the most terrifying moment in my life, to be sure, and I have no doubt that it was a less than a treat for him. Want to really appreciate your dad? That’ll do it.
Dad, we have a 5K to walk in a few weeks (the only time I’ll be able to keep up with you), and you need to be around to say “I told you so” on that far-off day that I have kids who gripe that they like chicken nuggets better than my homemade whatever. I guess, given all the complaints a kid could have about their dad, the fact that I’m pretty much unable to buy tomatoes or strawberries or corn off-season and that I appreciate the finer points of a perfect strawberry shortcake means you did something right.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you and I’m really glad you’re around.
Summer meant strawberry pie or, more frequently, strawberry shortcake when I was growing up. My dad still likes the recipe on the box of Bisquick, but I like these from Smitten Kitchen. It makes 6 but I halved the recipe for exactly 3 perfect servings. The flaky, slightly crisp edges are biscuit-like but inside they’re soft like cake. The lemon zest (or orange, if you’re feeling adventurous) makes these good enough that they almost (repeat, almost) don’t even need the berries.
1 2/3 cup flour
3 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder (this is important or the cakes will be bitter)
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 hard-boiled egg yolks
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into cubes
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2/3 cup heavy cream
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Press the egg yolk through a fine mesh sieve into the flour mixture and whisk lightly to combine. Cut in the cold butter and zest with a pastry blender or fork until the mixture is a coarse meal. Stir in the cream until the dough just starts to come together. Dump onto a pasty board and fold the dough over a few times until the flour is mostly incorporated. Pat into a round about an inch thick and cut your preferred shape. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush the tops of the shortcakes with a little cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake on a parchment lined pan for 20-25 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.
Meanwhile, stir together berries with spoonful or two of sugar and let set until juicy. To serve, split a shortcake in half, spoon a good portion of berries and juice over the bottom half and top with whipped cream and the top of the shortcake.