Yesterday was my parents’ wedding anniversary. It was number 42. When they first started dating my grandmother made dinner for them which they ate at the dining room table on a little date (they were 14 at the time). She made strawberry shortcakes for dessert. I was thinking of that first date as I bought a gallon of strawberries from Jordan Farms. Like first dates a giant bucket of strawberries is pure potential.
I’ve been home this week in between trips to Knoxville for the Southern Food Writing Conference and my own anniversary trip with Mr. L to Asheville. Whenever I come home around this time of year the first thing I notice is the smell of honeysuckles in the air which has yet to become heavy with summer humidity. In May the days are still nice enough to go for walks outside along the creek, so I loaded Willa Claire into the Baby Bjorn in her little sun hat and we went looking for wild honeysuckles to make into syrup. The baby loves being outside and taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells of her very first year. It didn’t take long for us to find a massive vine just hanging with yellow blossoms and as I picked the flowers Willa Claire grabbed at the basket and the branches wanting to experience everything. I planned to make a huge batch of syrup but after picking for a while I realized it was a pretty tedious task reaching into the brush and pulling off each flower so a single jar of syrup started to sound just right.
Since my parents spent their 40th anniversary going to Asheville for my wedding and now their 42nd hosting me and a mostly charming baby I wanted to make something for them. They celebrated by working together in the yard they’ve maintained for 38 of their 42 years so a sweet dessert was well-deserved. The floral honeysuckle syrup pairs perfectly with the slightly tart berries. The combo can be eaten on its own, but when spooned into a tender biscuit and topped with whipped cream it becomes a dessert as comfortable as early summer.
Wild Honeysuckle Strawberry Shortcakes
These are small so plan on two per person.
Wild Honeysuckle Syrup (below)
Sliced fresh strawberries
2 cups self-rising flour
1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup)
2/3 – 3/4 cups of milk or cream
Stir together 1/4 cup of Wild Honeysuckle Syrup per 1 1/2 cups of sliced strawberries and set aside for the flavors to meld. If the berries are tart then add more syrup to taste. To make the shortcakes, preheat oven to 475°F. Measure the flour into a bowl. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender or two knives until pea-size. Make a well in the center and add the milk and 2 Tbsp. of the honeysuckle syrup. Stir until just combined. If it looks dry add the remaining milk. Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface and knead by lifting and folding the dough 4 or 5 times. Roll or pat to 1/2-inch thickness then cut into 2- to 3-inch rounds. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack. To assemble the strawberry shortcakes, split the shortcake and spoon strawberries and a good bit of the syrup onto the shortcake. Add a dollop of whipped cream and the shortcake top.
Wild Honeysuckle Syrup
I like easy-to-remember recipes so I made the syrup using a 1:1:1 ratio. For a stronger honeysuckle flavor add another 1/2 cup of flowers. It’s great drizzled over cornbread or into hot or iced tea. The syrup can be frozen and since there is so much sugar in it it will not get completely solid so you can scoop out a little at a time as needed.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup honeysuckle flowers (green parts removed)
In a saucepan stir together the sugar and water. Bring to a simmer and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Rinse the flowers in a colander then add to the sugar syrup. Simmer 5 minutes then remove from heat and cool slightly. Pour into a jar and place in the refrigerator to steep over night or up to a full day. Strain the flowers from the syrup with a fine strainer and press with a wooden spoon to get out all of the syrup. Refrigerate up to 2 weeks or freeze up to 6 months.