Bake strawberry shortcake for the Fourth of July

O2 centre finchley road

O2 centre finchley road - Credit: Archant

English strawberries for an American treat on Independence Day

Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake - Credit: Archant

With the library still closed and a sizeable pile of books re-read, (everything from Camus to Camilleri and Simone de Beauvoir to Georgette Heyer) I have been dipping in to my collection of old cookery books. Published in New York in 1927 as a freebie with a two year subscription to Good Housekeeping, Katharine A. Fisher’s Good Meals, “a guide to meal-planning, cooking and serving” is a treasure which has captured my attention this summer. It reminds me of one July, driving across America to stay with distant relatives of Tom’s in northern Montana.

Gastronomically, it was like stepping back in time. I tasted food I’d only read about, marshmallow salads, combinations of jellied fruit and vegetables, layered salads, Indian pudding, savoury ham balls, tuna casserole and much more.

I found this retro food full of charm, and of some historical interest, showing, as it did, not a hint of Tex-Mex or Cal-Asian influence. If you are tempted by the marshmallow salad, by the way, you need to put about 150g miniature marshmallows in a bowl, pour over 150 ml sour cream and leave, covered, overnight. Next day beat to a cream. Taking as many as you think you’ll need of walnut pieces, cored and diced red-skin apples, celery and dried cranberries, put them in a serving bowl.

Mix and season to taste some Dijon mustard, apple juice and plain yoghurt. Stir into the fruit and vegetables and pour the marshmallow dressing on top.

From my copy of Good Meals I have loved the complicated sandwich recipes and the multi-coloured salads, all perfect for this time of year, especially if one has time on one’s hands. But some of the simpler dishes are just as enticing. For a ‘piquante’ (sic) fish salad, mix shredded radishes (skin on; I don’t think I’ve ever shredded a radish before – surprisingly nice) with diced celery and cooked halibut, pour over some French dressing, arrange on a bed of lettuce and garnish with mayonnaise over which you scatter some capers and a sprinkling of paprika. Left-over cooked salmon would be very good prepared this way.

And even simpler, an ‘endive grapefruit salad’ – grapefruit pulp heaped on endive (chicory) leaves and crumbled Roqufort on top.

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Ms Fisher’s menu suggestions include children’s birthday parties – creamed oysters, (yes, indeed!), lettuce sandwiches, baked custard and chocolate-covered animal crackers, for example. Or, for a 4th of July dinner she suggests cantaloupe filled with raspberries, grilled salmon, new potatoes, green peas, clover leaf rolls, cucumber salad, toasted crackers, vanilla ice cream with crushed strawberries, and sponge cake.

What could be nicer for the weekend? Instead of the salmon, however, I would choose wild sea trout, now in season and available from the estimable Hampstead Seafood in the Community Centre - in mourning, as we all are, following the sad death of Emi Theodorou.

And as this weekend is, indeed, the 4th of July, here is my recipe for the perfect strawberry shortcake; our friends in Maine will be tucking into this after a feast of lobsters.

This simple, scone-like cake is traditionally served with strawberries, but it is also very good with thinly sliced peaches, or nectarines, or a mixture of raspberries, strawberries and blueberries. However, given all the exhortations to eat English strawberries to stop them going to waste, I’m happy to stick with the original.

Strawberry Shortcake


1 kg strawberries, rinsed, hulled and sliced

1 to 2 teaspoons rosewater

Sugar to taste – see recipe

250 g plain flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

75 g butter, diced

5 tablespoons plain yoghurt, beaten with 1 egg and 300 ml whipping or single cream


Put the strawberries in a bowl, sprinkle with rosewater and sugar, and mash lightly with a fork. Sift the dry ingredients together, including two tablespoons sugar. Rub in the butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Mix in the wet ingredients lightly, and then roll out onto a floured board. Knead for half a minute, and shape into a circle about 20 cm in diameter.

Place on a baking sheet, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 200 C, gas mark 6 for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow the cake to cool on a rack for 10 minutes or more, then split it in half. Spread some of the cream on the bottom half, and pile on half the strawberries. Top with the second half of shortcake.

Serve the remaining strawberries separately with the cream, or pile the strawberries on top.

Copyright: Frances Bissell 2020. All rights reserved