We kidded my mom a lot about her “Irish” cooking, teasing her about “boiling the hell” out of everything and chiding her for her sometimes-simple palate. My sister recently reminded me of one of her favorite dishes: white fish cooked in milk, which I think is illegal in some cultures.
But when it came to desserts, her love of simplicity was welcome. Apple Betty, aka apple crisp in hour house, was delicious. Apples baked with an oatmeal-brown sugar topping. Served warm with ice cream, it’s a perfect mid-week dessert.
She would also make stewed peaches. Impatient, I guess, to wait for just the right few weeks in summer when they’re really in season, and just that actual moment during the week when they would finally be ripe enough to eat, she would encourage them along by placing them in a bit of water with a little sugar and bringing them to a gentle boil. More than a few times, I caught her having this treat alone in the middle of the day. A small treat to have, all to herself, while her six kids and her husband were out.
But more than anything, she loved Strawberry Shortcake. We would be on the lookout for good strawberries from the first sign of spring so she could make a batch. Strawberry shortcake topped with whipped cream was a Sunday treat. Hulled strawberries bathed in sugar and gently tossed all day to foster a nice thick syrup would sit atop a Bisquick shortcake (baking wasn’t her thing, so Bisquick would do just fine, thank you) and then topped with a big dollop of freshly made whipped cream. Don’t get me started on the whipped cream, a ritual that involved freezing a bowl — not just any bowl, the green Fiestaware bowl that was just the right height — along with the paddles from the mixer for a few hours and an alchemist’s mixture of cream, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla. Hitting the right consistency on the peaks in the whipped cream was essential. I still haven’t exactly matched her recipe.
The shortcakes tasted great after dinner, but somehow they were even better the next day. The strawberries were a bit more tender, and the shortcakes a bit more dry. Eating the left-overs with her at the kitchen table the next day was almost better than having first dibs.
Strawberries aren’t quite ready yet, so I’m waiting until they are. I’ll grab the first really beautiful pint of strawberries I see, and mix up a batch of shortcakes in honor of my mom.
And then I’ll wait for the peaches…