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Berried treasure

I discovered something much to my disliking on Google the other day: A much-loved, classic American dessert has been overshadowed by a perky little plastic doll with a sickly sweet, fruity scent.The horror.With Glenwood’s annual Strawberry Days festival coming up, I thought I would do some research on the juicy little berry, and the dessert it inspired, strawberry shortcake. I know the flaky biscuit confection has been around for hundreds of years and was curious to learn its history.Foodie that I am, when I type “strawberry shortcake” into the search box on Google, I’m expecting to find recipes, historical facts and trivia.But I forgot about that stupid doll.Yes, I had a Strawberry Shortcake doll when I was a little girl. At the time, it was very innovative, since it was one of the first scented toys. The 6-inch, red-headed figure was supposed to smell like strawberries. Instead, it came off as more of a perfumed, sugary plastic smell (at least to me). It kind of gave me a headache.Still, Strawberry Shortcake was cute and spunky and the toy to have back then. I played with the doll and had the merchandise (pajamas, sunglasses, etc.), as did all my friends. If I recall, I think Strawberry got along well with My Little Ponies. She even got to date GI Joe and He-Man when my cousin, Andrew, and I played together.My opinion is that, like Hammer pants and crimped hair, what happened in the ’80s should stay in the ’80s. Yet, as evidenced by the plethora of Web sites my search engine dug up, Miss Strawberry didn’t die. The doll was resurrected in the 1990s, and again in 2002 and with a new look, new friends and her own DVDs. Instead of the old red pinafore and striped tights, Strawberry Shortcake now wears jeans and a T-shirt. And apparently, she now prefers a hat to her old bonnet.Why learning about the redesign intrigued me so much, I don’t know. I didn’t even like the doll, or her scent; in fact I don’t think I’d even remember her if it weren’t for my Google search. And I am a little weirded out that there are actual Strawberry Shortcake conventions (do they have their own secret handshake? Yikes.). Still, it is sad they had to ruin a classic.On this foray into the online world of strawberry shortcake, I never learned much about the history of the actual dessert. I do know that the first recipe is credited to Eliza Leslie, who included it in her 1850 book, “The Ladies New Receipt Book.” And I turned up dozens of recipes.Interestingly, despite the myriad variations on shortcake, the original recipe has remained much the same as it was in the 19th century. It just goes to show you can’t improve upon a classic.Too bad the toy makers didn’t realize that.Gabrielle Devenish is the food editor at the Post Independent. Her Strawberry Shortcake doll ended up marrying a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Contact her at (970) 945-8515, ext. 535, or gdevenish@postindependent.com.Eliza Leslie’s 19th-century strawberry shortcake4 cups flour2 sticks butter3 eggs3 tablespoons powdered sugarStrawberries and sugar, to tasteWhipped cream (recipe follows)Cut butter into a dice and combine with flour. Rub with your fingertips until it resembles fine crumbs. Lightly beat three eggs, mixing with the powdered sugar. Combine the flour mixture and the egg mixture. Mix with a fork until it becomes a dough. If too stiff, add cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time.Knead the dough until it leaves your hands clean. Roll out the dough into a thick sheet. Cut into round cakes (biscuits) with the edge of a tumbler or with a biscuit cutter, dipping in flour to prevent sticking.Line cakes on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees until light brown.Mash strawberries with sugar, or slice and toss with sugar, to taste.Once the cakes are cool, split them and cover the bottom piece with strawberries and whipped cream. Lay on the top piece, pressing down. Top with more strawberries and whipped cream.- Eliza Leslie, c. 1850Whipped cream1 cup heavy cream14 cup sugar1 teaspoon vanillaWhip cream until almost stiff. Add sugar and vanilla; beat until cream holds peaks.- Diana Rattray


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