Country Kitchen: The Tradition of Strawberry Festivals

Country Kitchen: The Tradition of Strawberry Festivals

By Mary Emma Allen

The sign "Strawberry Festival Saturday" in front of a church we drove past brought back memories of these festive gatherings of my childhood. Each summer, this was an eagerly anticipated occasion.

The Ladies Aid Society of the local church put on this event. Strawberry dishes of many variations were served for a delicious repast. However, strawberry shortcake was the highlight.

Sometimes the event, where round after round of diners took their seats at the tables, was held at the town hall, next door to the church. But those that I remember with most delight were held in Aunt Nellie's country home.

Before the Strawberry Festival outgrew Aunt Nellie's home, she'd set up tables in her dining and living rooms and on the long front porch. Although Uncle Jack was a farmer, Aunt Nellie had one of the loveliest homes in the community, situated on a knoll overlooking the surrounding countryside and woodlands.

The church ladies bustled around Aunt Nellie's kitchen baking biscuits, hulling strawberries, and preparing other strawberry dishes. We young girls helped serve the berry dishes to friends from the community.

In addition to this being a summer social gathering, it was a fund raiser for the church. Perhaps they needed a renovation to the Sunday school section, new song books, a new roof, etc. Aunt Nellie was always in the midst of these with the strawberry festival and a rummage sale.

History of Strawberries

Strawberries in the wild state have been known since early history. Since the 14th century, they have been cultivated to some extent in gardens of Europe.

They are mentioned in writings of Virgil, Ovid, and Pliny, and in 16th century Europe were served with sugar and cream or wine as a most luxurious dessert.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the cultivated strawberries as we know them today were first developed by crossbreeding wild strawberries with those found in Virginia and Chile.

A leaf of this most excellent berry was a symbol of rank in England. A Duke of Edinburgh rated eight leaves on his coronet, a marquis had four, and an earl wore leaves alternated with pearls.

Strawberries Used By Natives

Early American settlers found strawberries growing here and soon used them in numerous ways. The Indians, those earliest American natives, used strawberries, too. One of their favorite beverages, it seems, was a strawberry drink. This was made from crushed strawberries and water.

Roger Williams, of early New England renown, reported that the Indians also bruised the strawberries with a mortar and then mixed them with meal to make a type of strawberry bread.

Strawberry wine was a favorite drink of the pioneers made from these ruby berries. Strawberry shortcake is a classic strawberry favorite most everywhere.

BUTTERMILK SHORTCAKE - This is a recipe I've adapted from an old Shaker recipe and which makes a rich, moist biscuit base for berries.

Sift together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 3 teaspoons baking powder. Cut in 6 level tablespoons shortening or margarine; add about 3/4 cup buttermilk and mix until flour mixture is moistened.

You may roll this out and cut with biscuit cutter or pat into a pan and cut after it is baked. Make fairly thick, so biscuits can be split when served. Bake 10-12 minutes at 450 degrees F, until golden.

PANCAKE SHORTCAKE - My husband makes his favorite pancake recipe and we enjoy alternating pancakes and mashed strawberries to make a layered dish. Serve with whipped topping. This is a festive breakfast and can be used for a supper meal, too. Or you can call it a dessert after a light meal.

(C) 2002 Mary Emma Allen

About the Author

Mary Emma Allen has been writing her "Cooking Column" for newspapers and online publications for 30 years and has compiled a family cookbook. SheÂ’s currently compiling a cookbook/story book, "Tales From a Country Kitchen." Visit her web site for more cooking articles. Contact her at

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