Author of Ed Engoron’s Choclatique, Running Press, 2011
It is strawberry season in Southern California. I was at my favorite local farmers’ market this weekend and could smell the freshly picked, ripe strawberries a block away. There is nothing better than the aroma and taste of spring and early summer strawberries. That’s only one of the reasons I choose to live in California, but that could be enough.
Today I was inspired to make Fresh Strawberry Chocolate Shortcake. But, where did the original Strawberry Shortcake first come from? As I was working on my recipe, I wanted to learn a little bit about the origins of one of my favorite desserts.
No one exactly knows when the first strawberry shortcake was made. I’ve heard it may go back as far as 1850 right here in California. Strawberries have been around for more than 2000 years. Records that show that the people in ancient Rome enjoyed them, but putting strawberries and shortcake together seems to be more of a United States tradition.
As with many classic dishes, when the timing is right, the dish becomes a national favorite. We know that shortcake has been around at least since Shakespeare. It was mentioned in his play, The Merry Wives of Windsor.
A European recipe book in 1594 had a recipe for Short Cakes. The crumbly shortcake, which first resembled the texture and shape of a scone, turned round when the typical triangular shaped pastries kept having the point break off. It was thought that the round shape was more practical.
Strawberry shortcake parties became popular in the United States in the mid 1850s, as a celebration of the coming of summer. Probably the most popular berry back then, people talked of strawberry fever. The railroads became transcontinental and strawberries could be shipped from coast to coast surrounded with ice to keep them fresh. Advertisements and articles about strawberry shortcake caused more and more demand.
The earliest recipe I found for this dessert was in 1847 in The Lady’s Receipt-Book by Miss Leslie. It’s called Strawberry Cake, but it’s very similar to what we call strawberry shortcake. I don’t know what anyone could do to improve on this old-fashioned favorite, but I decided that the only ingredient that could make it taste any better at all was chocolate. Check out my recipe—Chocolate-Strawberry Shortcakes—created right here in the Choclatique Chocolate Studios. We originally started working on it last summer when we were testing all the recipes for my new book, but it was cut when we found we had more recipes than pages to print them on. So, never being one to let anything go to waste, especially with strawberries, I decided to share it with you today.