It is a rather chilly late spring in Toronto. The first crop of local strawberries has just popped up in our markets.
Strawberries dot our childhood memories in more than just jam (although our mother, before her quasi-retirement, was the undisputed queen of the homemade strawberry stuff).
Our beloved auntie Sophie used to take us to the corner store and let us buy whatever we wanted (none of our parents’ tedious restraint). In addition to strawberry iceball bubblegum (five to a plastic sleeve), we adored Strawberry Shortcake Ice-Cream Bars from Good Humor. A rectangle of dubious vanilla, spackled with pink and white bits (sugared coconut? edible plastic?). Scrumptious. At least in memory.
Both of these products smelled delectably of artificial strawberry, a heady scent rivaled only by the luscious auburn locks of Hasbro’s Strawberry Shortcake doll. We loved her.
We also loved Kiddle Dolls by Mattel. They were tiny, housed in bejewelled bubble lockets, and endowed with similarly perfumed hair.
One memorable day we visited our great-grandmother, who casually gave us “a little present.”
It was an entire box of Kiddles. Six dolls. What bounty, what excess! Each doll was smilingly encased in her clear locket. Each one’s brushable hair smelled of a different fruit.
The best, of course, was strawberry.
Ebay does as a brisk trade in this kind of memorabilia. The recipe below sweetens our regret in not having saved our childhood for resale. Serve with lots of cold rosé.
For the shortcakes:
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a baking sheet.
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl.
Add the butter. With your fingers, rub it into the dry ingredients until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Stir in the milk until a very soft dough is formed. Do not overwork.
Drop the dough in equal portions onto the prepared baking sheet. Lightly pat the dough into rounds—3 to 3 1/2 inches in diameter—and lightly brush the tops with the cream.
Bake the shortcakes in the center of the oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
For the Strawberries:
Place strawberries in a bowl. Sprinkle with lemon juice and maple syrup, and then gently toss. Let rest for 1 1/2 to 2 hours for juices to develop.
Just before serving, whip cream with sugar until it holds soft peaks.
Slice shortcakes in half. Place the bottoms on pretty dessert plates and top prepared berries and juice, plus a spoonful of whipped cream. Cover with the shortcake top. Spoon over more berries and juice, then dollop with whipped cream. Garnish each with additional berries and mint and drizzle with any remaining juice.
Enjoy with your glass of rosé in picturesque garden, backyard, or balcony.