When I think of my Nana (grandmother), there are many memories I hold dear, but there are some memories that are the epitome of Nana’s personality and the things I loved about her.
My parents and I shared our coal region home with my Nana and Pappy. As part of an extended family that resided under the same roof, Nana and Pappy were not only a part of everyday life, but an integral part of many joyous occasions, celebrations, and milestones throughout the years.
My grandparents could always be found sitting right next to my Mom and Dad at every school play, concert, Scout event, or family get-together. Nana and Pappy were the light of my life.
My Nana worked in a garment factory until she retired. Fond of pin curls in her short-cropped dark hair, white ankle socks worn with penny loafers, and cotton dresses topped by a rick-rack trimmed apron donned during the hours she puttered around the house, my Nana was a mighty presence in our home.
When it came to cooking, there are certain dishes that immediately bring my Nana to mind. Famous in our family for her oft-requested homemade bread, and chow chow, closing my eyes brings about the vision of her in our Coal Region kitchen making one of my most favorite desserts ever – strawberry shortcake.
Although pre-made spongecake cups or biscuits were available for purchase just about everywhere (and can often still be found in the produce section of supermarkets for use in “shortcake”), my Nana was having none of those. She could whip up a batch of these homemade shortcake biscuits blindfolded — and whip them up, she did — sometimes making two batches a week to satisfy our hungry family during Pennsylvania’s fresh fruit seasons.
Most often topped with plump, juicy locally grown strawberries in the late spring and early summer, these shortcakes in our house often featured my Pop’s favorite fruit in late summer– sweet Pennsylvania peaches.
One other thing Nana insisted on for her shortcake was real whipped cream — none of that “non-dairy” stuff ever came near her creations.
As a child sitting at the kitchen table having supper with the family, I often struggled to concentrate on the rest of the meal knowing Nana’s shortcakes were on the menu for dessert. I once tried the “life is short, eat dessert first” argument, but it apparently carried no weight coming from an antsy kid!
My husband, James, grew up eating the store-bought sponge cakes and had always associated them with “shortcake”. Once I turned him on to this version using biscuits, he never touched the purchased ones again. Nana’s homemade shortcake biscuits are the only ones I have made for decades. As I write this, an old, stained, recipe card with her handwriting lies beside my keyboard; it brings sweet memories to me in a time when I desperately long for family and comfort.
I encourage you to skip the store-bought spongecake shells or purchased biscuits and make your own. All it takes is a few simple ingredients and a little time. To add to the experience, skip the “non-dairy” or frozen “topping” and whip up your own real whipped cream — or at least buy the stuff in the can labeled as “real cream”. You will appreciate the difference.
Directions for making these homemade shortcake biscuits, no-cook strawberry sauce, and real whipped cream are all included in my recipe here. Now, go find a farmers’ market or road-side stand and get some gorgeous, fresh, locally grown fruit for your shortcakes — and enjoy!
Homemade Biscuits for ShortcakesCourse: DessertsCuisine: Coal Region, PA Dutch, GeneralDifficulty: Easy
- Biscuits for Shortcake
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon aluminum free baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup very cold salted butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup cold whole milk
- Fresh Strawberry Sauce
2 quarts fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- Real Whipped Cream
1 cup very cold heavy or whipping cream
3 Tablespoons confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Fresh Strawberry Sauce
- Prepare the sauce when ready to bake the biscuits. Place the cleaned, sliced strawberries into a bowl. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup granulated sugar and fresh lemon juice and stir gently to coat all of the fruit. Let stand at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally while you bake and cool the biscuits
- Biscuits For Shortcake
- Preheat oven to 425F degrees. Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper or a silicone liner. Set aside
- In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, and baking powder. Cut in cold butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the milk on the crumbs and bring together with fork or fingers until just combined.
- Using a spoon, drop the dough into 8 mounds onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven, place on rack to cool.
- Fresh Whipped Cream
- Place your mixing bowl and whisk attachment or beaters in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to chill.
- Pour the heavy cream into the chilled bowl. Start whipping the cream using the chilled whisk/beaters. Whip for 30 seconds then gradually add in the 3 Tablespoons confectioners sugar. Whip another minute or two until the cream becomes thick and forms peaks that hold their shape when you lift the beaters or whisk. Do not over-beat!
- Add the vanilla extract and whisk in briefly. Store covered in refrigerator until ready to use. Will last 1 to 2 days in the refrigerator.
- Assembling the Shortcakes
- Split cooled biscuits in half horizontally. Place each biscuit on an individual serving plate.
- Spoon some strawberry sauce on the cut surface of the bottom half of biscuit, then top with a dollop of whipped cream. Place top of biscuit, cut side down, on the top of the whipped cream, then repeat layers of strawberry sauce and whipped cream on the top half. Garnish with a few slices of strawberries or a mint leaf. Serve.