On Friday, I had the good fortune to have lunch with my grandmother and cousin in Winston-Salem, NC. We ate at a delicious little restaurant called Bernardin’s where the highlight of the meal was dessert: a wonderful strawberry shortcake. With a crumbly biscuit, expertly whipped cream, and, of course, ripe strawberries, it was plate-scraping good.
As food has the power to do, this shortcake also brought back memories. My grandmother told about how she and my grandfather would tell their four children that strawberry shortcake wasn’t very good, so they could have more of the cake for themselves. I know this story is true, because my father, one of the four victims, can’t see strawberry shortcake without lamenting those lost years without shortcake thanks to his parents deception. My grandmother then told us about our great great grandmother Ivey’s strawberry biscuit roll. She claimed it was delicious and backed that statement up by telling about one guest who was so absorbed in eating a piece of this dessert that he did not notice that the family dog was eating his pants under the table. Having never tasted, let alone heard about this family recipe, I realized that my grandmother had made a lifetime habit of keeping shortcake recipes secrets.
Needless to say, my cousin and I insisted upon seeing the recipe. Yellowed and brittle, the recipe is held together by tape. Fortunately, it has a permanent home between the protective pages of a scrapbook as it feels as though it could break into pieces in your hand. The recipe itself, in my great great grandmother’s handwriting, is almost illegible, but we were able to decipher the following:
Granny Ivey’s Strawberry Roll
Make biscuit dough. Add a little more lard than biscuits. Roll out like pie crust, but not as thin. Put strawberries on top of crust. Ad a pinch of salt and cover with sugar. Roll up like a jelly roll. Pinch ends together and bake slowly to start. Drip with juice as it browns.
Sauce: 1/2 cup water, vinegar for a little sour taste, make it sweet and bring to the boil to thin syrup. Add nutmeg to taste and serve with roll.
Unfortunately, the recipe lacks some helpful, some might say crucial, details (especially when we couldn’t find the biscuit recipe). But if it’s so good that a dog eating your pants goes unnoticed while you are eating it, well…I had to try to replicate it.
Granny Ivey’s Strawberry Roll*
A 2009 adaptation that is delicious, if not the same as the original recipe. It still needs it’s final test. I have a dog. Anyone up for dessert?
1 pint strawberries, thinly sliced
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes, kept cold
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar (more if strawberries are not very sweet)
balsamic vinegar, to taste
Preheat oven to 450 degrees and put a rack in the center of the oven.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Cut butter into dry ingredients with a pastry blender or two forks until butter is the size of peas. Add milk to mixture and stir until just combined. Gather dough into a rough ball by rolling it around the sides of the bowl, pressing down gently. Turn out dough on well-floured surface.
Roll out dough into a rectangular shape using a well-floured rolling pin. Roll until dough is about 1/4″ inch thick. Place strawberries on dough leaving room around the edges and sprinkle with sugar. Begin with the narrow side, and roll the dough, tucking in strawberries as you go. If holes form, try to patch them with dough. When finished rolling, seal the seam and edges. Carefully place roll on a parchment lined baking sheet seam side down.
Bake for 15 minutes. Then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until you can stick toothpick in the center and it comes out clean. The roll will split as it bakes and juices will leak out. Spoon juices over the top of the roll and continue baking. Once baked, remove from oven and cool before serving with sauce.
Strawberry Roll Sauce
I’m pretty sure that my southern great great grandmother did not use balsamic vinegar when making this sauce, but strawberries and balsamic vinegar are a powerful combination and I couldn’t resist combining the two here. I think that if Granny Ivey were here today, she would agree with the choice.
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons or 1/4 cup sugar, depending upon your desired sweetness
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, or more depending on your taste
Freshly grated nutmeg
Combine ingredients in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil until a syrup forms. Adjust to taste, adding nutmeg and more vinegar and/or sugar if desired. Serve drizzled over a slice of the strawberry roll.
*The recipe for the biscuit dough is adapted from the recipe for “Shortcake Biscuits” found in Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker’s Joy of Cooking cookbook.