Wheeler Farms Berries

Although much of this festival involves carnival rides, cotton candy, and other ubiquitous fair foods and activities, we did come home with a flat of some very sweet and delicious strawberries from Wheeler Farms.  It would have been nice if more of the food booths (all of which are run by volunteers and benefit various community organizations) served homemade foods actually featuring local berries, but only a few did.  We got some awesome preserves– Strawberry Fig and Strawberry Habanero– from Uncertain Farms.  We walked around taking turns carrying this flat of berries.  I had to use the berries right away (or else freeze them, which I did with half), so here are the results.  I present this post in two parts: 1. Shortcake, and 2. Salsa.

Part 1: Shortcake

I discovered booth after booth serving something they called “Strawberry Short Cake” that was not actually shortcake, but sponge cake.  I find this interesting, since the name is in reference to the actual process of cutting shortening into flour (resulting in a biscuit like texture) which is nothing like sponge cake.

After talking to some folks born and raised here, I realized it turns out Texas may be filled with people who have never actually had a shortcake, but only think they have.  I think this is primarily due to the fact that, even here in the country town of Poteet, TX, store bought cake has replaced homemade, and this is what causes such confusion.

Think about it– what kind of cake do they sell next to the berries in the grocery store?  Sponge cake.  Not just angel food cake, but little square or rectangular sponge cakes. Once at work someone offered me some of this cake, only they were calling it “pound cake” (also something else, much different).  But since this blog is all about preserving homemade foods, I politely present this exposé on the misnomer “shortcake” for all things sponge cake.

I have nothing against a good sponge cake.  I happily ate some at the festival, and was pleased to find the fresh berries were just lightly sweetened, and the whipped cream was fresh-made on site (not from a can!).  We even watched as three people worked to clean the giant whisk attachment used to make the quantities of whipped cream at the water spigot.

I only want to clear this up because I think the two cakes cannot be more different, and a true shortcake is a delight, especially when you have berries this sweet and fresh.  You see, shortcake is more buttery than sweet, and the contrast with the berries and their juices, the creamy whipped cream, makes all that red sweet tang just pure genius.  Also, a shortcake does not get soggy like a sponge cake– so you can really load it with berries and juices and not worry about it turning to mush.   This is one of those traditional national dishes that is perfect the way it is, doesn’t need a ton of sugar to be decadent and indulgent, and has wonderful contrast and texture.

So of course, I had to make some.

And now you can too:

Strawberry Shortcake

adapted from Betty Crocker

1 quart fresh strawberries (the smaller, wickedly sweet ones used for jam, which you can only buy at farms, farmers markets, and roadside stands)

1/4- 1/2 cup sugar (to taste)

2 cups flour

2 tablespoons sugar

3 tsps baking powder

1 tsp salt

1/3 cup butter or non-hydrogenated shortening

1 cup whole milk

1 pint heavy whipping cream, sugar and vanilla to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Slice berries and mix with sugar; set aside to allow juices to come out.  Combine dry ingredients.  Cut butter or shortening into dry ingredients using knives or pastry cutter until dough is coarse pea-sized crumbles.  Stir in milk until well-combined.  Press dough into a pie plate or 8 x 8 baking pan.  Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown.  Whip cream with sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form.  Serve shortcake warm with berries and whipped cream. 

Part 2: Salsa

Since we had so many berries, I just have to give you two recipes.  The next one was loved by all in my lunch bunch at work, plus a Spanish teacher who took some home with her.  Someone even offered to pay me in barter for this recipe.  Well, all you have to do is subscribe to my blog, and I will call it even.  I have been putting it on my dinner all week and loving it.  Sweet, savory, and smokey– this chili sauce has been nicknamed “Strawlsa” since it is made with 1 full cup of fresh ripe strawberries. The dried chiles are commonly found with the spices in the produce section, or the aisle where the Maseca is stocked.

Homemade sopes with cabbage lime slaw and strawberry ancho salsa

Strawberry Ancho Salsa (aka, Strawlsa)

1 cup fresh hulled strawberries (the sweeter, the better)

2 Ancho chiles (dried poblanos)

1 guajillo chile

1 small clove garlic (I used a very mild German Red fresh garlic, so be careful with stronger varieties)

1/2 cup onion

1 tsp vinegar

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp coriander

1/2 to 1 whole chipotle en adobo (depends on how spicy you like it)

juice of one lime

Cut off stems and remove seeds from the chiles.  Toast the chiles in a dry frying pan until fragrant.  Boil water and soak chiles until soft.  Puree everything until very smooth in the food processor or blender. Adjust salt and lime or vinegar to taste if needed.  Serve with corn chips, on tacos, etc.  Excellent when combined with sour cream, or carne asada.