For generations the women on both sides of my family, and Bill’s too, have been avid cooks and bakers. My dad’s mom guarded her recipes like precious gems. Struck by the notable differences between recipes from now and then this old recipe for Shortcakes had berry good results and could not have been easier with only 5 ingredients.
Many old-time recipes are confusing, they have fewer ingredients but can be hard to follow. In Bill’s Grandmother’s nearly 100-year-old “Home Comfort Cookbook by the Wrought Iron Range Company of St. Louis (1864)” dedicated to “The Greatest of All Institutions, The American Housewife” there is a section following ‘Details of The Stove’, and ‘Chimney Construction’ called ‘Advice to Young Cooks’.
In this section they advise a convenient place for everything and ‘everything kept in it’s proper place’. They recommend having a ‘small table, kept clear of everything except for the particular material and utensils being used.’, as being ‘indispensable to any cook’. They want young cooks to know the following:
- Look up the recipe and study it thoroughly.
- Make notes on a slip of paper of materials and amounts.
- Gather the materials and utensils before beginning.
- Pre-measure or weigh all liquid and dry ingredients before beginning.
Here they stress the importance for careful attention to ‘detail’, citing it as ‘THE MOST important secret to success in cooking’. Adding:
- Young girls learning to cook should ‘not trust too much to luck and memory’.
- ‘Luck in cooking is the product of knowing how, being sure of quantities, temperatures, and methods required’.
Next they impress upon young cooks the importance of properly handling their wood-burning wrought iron range, pointing out that becoming a good cook comes with knowledge and practice:
- Use good dry fuel.
- Keep the reservoir supplied with fresh, clean water.
- See that the oven heat is at the proper temperature for the food you are preparing.
- Keep the oven properly regulated while cooking.
- Prove to your own satisfaction that the big secret in all cooking is knowing exactly how.
I love this next part best:
“A century ago (1823), no cook was considered proficient under thirty years of age; today, thousands of girls have become fine cooks at eighteen or twenty.”
That was progress in 1923. Today I heat my oven using a dial and my sons were baking at ten! Can you imagine what’s next?
I studied this recipe thoroughly and ran it past Bill to see if he got the same thing from it I did. Though confusing I believe I got it right because this old recipe for Shortcakes had berry good results ~ we devoured it!
In the morning I cleaned and sliced a pint of fresh strawberries into a bowl:
I cut off the tops and sliced them top to bottom into 4 or 5 slices per berry macerating them with approximately 4-6 tablespoons of sugar:
I had a pint of fresh blueberries and decided to add them to my recipe. I slightly smashed a few and macerated them with 2 tablespoons of sugar:
I kept them in the refrigerator tossing them now and then to stir up the juices as the berries softened. I combined the berries after 3 hours. The blueberries do not give off nearly as much liquid as the strawberries do:
I started the shortcakes at about 4:00 in the afternoon. After sifting together the dry ingredients I cut in my mixture of half shortening, half butter with my mom’s old pastry cutter. You do not need one, you can do the same with a fork. Gently mash the shortening into the flour with the tines of your fork till it resembles fine meal:
Add the milk slowly, a bit at a time, and gently mix until a soft dough forms, drop the dough on a floured surface and gently form into a ball with your hands trying to not overwork the dough. Gently roll the dough thin (approx 1/8 – 1/4″) and cut with a large biscuit cutter or glass. I used a beer glass with a 3 1/2″ opening and got 16 rounds. I cut then re-rolled my dough scraps twice to get 16 rounds. Place one round on a cookie sheet and brush with melted butter:
Place another round on top of the bottom round, butter it and sprinkle with granulated sugar:
Continue until you have used all your dough. I made 8 double stack rounds. Place them in a 450 degree pre-heated oven and bake for approximately 10 minutes until browned:
Immediately from the oven take a fork and separate the doubled up shortcake stacks, place each half on a wire rack to cool:
To assemble the shortcakes take a little liquid from the macerated berries and put it in the bottom of a bowl, place the bottom half of one of your shortcakes in the liquid, top with spoonfuls of macerated berries and whipped cream. Place the top of your shortcake over the whipped cream. Spoon more berries and juice on top, add a dollop of whipped cream and enjoy!
- 2 cups sifted flour
- 1 level teaspoon baking powder
- ½ cup shortening or ¼ shortening and ¼ cup butter mixed (I mixed them)
- 1 scant teaspoon salt
- ½ cup milk, approximately
- 3 Tablespoons butter melted for brushing
- 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
- Your favorite berries macerated with sugar for at least 6-8 hours.
- Whipped cream
- Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees
- Sift pre-sifted flour, baking powder and salt together
- Cut in shortening with a pastry cutter or fork
- Add milk and mix gently until dough starts to form
- Drop dough on to a flour-dusted surface gently forming a ball with your hands
- Gently roll the dough thin to approx ⅛ -1/4"
- Cut into rounds, I used a 3½ inch beer glass and got 16 rounds
- Melt butter
- Place one round on a cookie sheet, butter the top and place another round on top.
- Butter the top of the top round and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
- Continue until all doubled up rounds are on the cookie sheet (I got eight)
- Bake on the center rack in the oven for approximately ten minutes until brown checking them at 5 and 8 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, use a fork to gently separate the two rounds putting them on a rack to cool.
- To assemble: Place a little juice from your macerated berries in the bottom of a bowl, place the bottom half of your shortcake in the bowl, spoon berries over it and top with whipped cream. Place the top half of your shortcake on the whipped cream, spoon more berries over the top, add a dollop of whipped cream and Enjoy!
The recipe says you can do this with peaches and recommends adding crushed almonds to the dough. I am going to have some fun experimenting with this one…I am thinking maybe cocoa powder next time or amaretto, hmmm maybe with banana!
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I look forward to hearing your ideas and thank you for your support.
With a smile, Carlyn 🙂
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