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Strawberry Shortcake

1847 -- Strawberries were only briefly and seasonally abundant until the development of north-south railroads extended the season for urban cooks. This made for strawberry shortcake parties in the 1840s, but printed recipes did not reach cookbooks right away. Early recipes were often for multilayer cakes or heavy pastry. Only gradually did the name strawberry shortcake become standard, for a the simplified dessert we eat today: spongecake topped with sweetened strawberry sauce and whipped cream evolve.

Food historian Alice Ross has been working with a recipe for "Strawberry Cake" from Eliza Leslie's 1850 Ladies' New Receipt Book. What is interesting is that Miss Leslie did not include this recipe in some later editions of her books. However, now living history consultant Virginia Mescher has found the same recipe in Leslie's 1847 Lady's Receipt Book: A Useful Companion for Large or Small Families. Another recipe, listed as "Short Cake" is in the 1857 Practical Housekeeper, by Mrs. Elizabeth Ellet. The earliest printed reference, located by a reader of Food History News, is from the 1840s in Michigan.

Your chances are only fair to find earlier recipes in a book, as early American cookbooks are widely collected and well read. Miss Leslie may have invented her recipe, although the earlier printed source suggests that some home cooks were making something called stawberry cake or short cake or strawberry shortcake for some years earlier. Your best leads are the microfilm files of old newspapers, as a local recipe may have been published, perhaps in Philadelphia or Michigan.

When you find an earlier recipe or reference, email this site and get credit!

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Copyright 2003, 2004, 2006 by Mark H. Zanger. Remember, there is no copyright on recipes or other common household formulae, but copyright and fair use laws do apply to selection of recipes and cultural-historical commentary.