The Strawberry Social
We've been enjoying fresh strawberries the past few weeks. When the children were small they used to go out in the fields and gather them but those berries were much different from the large, rosy fruit we buy now. They were small, dark crimson, and so very sweet. As you picked, and ate, the juice would stain your mouth and fingers so that there was no denying there had been more berries than you brought home.
One of the joys of the berry season is the Strawberry Social. In my younger days just about every church took a turn having one. I can remember so well how the day of the Strawberry Social would progress.
In the morning the women met at the parsonage to cook custard for the ice cream. This mixture, full of eggs, sugar, and sweet fresh cream, had to be cooked just to the right point and then set in the spring house or cellar to cool. In the afternoon some of the men rolled up their sleeves and froze it in hand cranked freezers.
The custard was poured into the metal can and the dashers fitted in, after which the top was put on securely. That was set in a wooden pail with ice and salt packed around it. Then came the long, arduous labor of turning the dasher crank slowly and steadily so the resultant cream would be smooth. Of course the end product was not as hard as todays ice cream but it was cold and sweet and we loved it.
While all this was going on, other folks were stringing lines for the paper lanterns. The ever present crowd of boys was pressed into service to bring out chairs and tables from the church, under strict supervision of the Pastor, of course. Clean white sheets served as tablecloths on this occasion.
The afternoon air in the parsonage kitchen was redolent of lemon as dozens of that golden fruit gave up their juices. The lemons were washed and sliced, then pounded with wooden potato mashers before being put to steep with sugar and cold spring water.
Women's fingers were stained crimson as strawberries were washed, hulled, and sliced. Covered with sugar, they were set aside to make rosy sweet syrup. Some berries would be added to the lemonade to make it pink and tasty.
As the day progressed, there would be much gazing into the sky and speculating on the possibility of rain. Pastor would be confident that all would be well and go happily about reassuring everyone.
When evening finally arrived the ladies who were to cut the cakes and serve the berries, and the Willing Helpers Class girls who were to pass the cakes, appeared in their flowing, white, lace and ruffle trimmed dresses. The ladies covered their dresses with crisp white aprons and wore large hats, while the girls leaned more to butterfly bows and flowers in their neatly coiled, glossy curls.
Mrs Bloomer, a stately woman stiffly confined in black satin, regardless of the heat, sat at a small table to collect money and issue the yellow tags which proclaimed that you had paid your pence and could eat your fill.
One table was set apart for dishing up the ice cream. Behind it, two or three white-shirted men with right sleeves rolled to the shoulder, dipped ice cream into dishes. Generous lashings of berries were added and the customer carried this in one hand and his lemonade in the other to the table of his choice. Girls threaded their way among the tables with huge plates of cake slices.
As usual the ladies tried to out-do each other in the cake department. There were rich chocolate and golden yellow cakes, white cakes like drifts of snow, and marble cakes combining the deep flavor of chocolate with colorful yellow to make an eye appealing and tongue tantalizing fork full.
At least one glass of lemonade was spilt, one piece of cake tumbled to the turf, and at least one child spilled his saucer of ice cream or dribbled strawberries on his best bid and tucker. It wouldn't be a Strawberry Social without that happening.
The Strawberry Social was an occasion for chatting with friends you hadn't seen since yesterday. It was a time for courting or the budding of a new romance. The unending feud between the two would-be leaders of the Ladies Aid usually found some incident to feed upon. If one had charge of the lemonade or the strawberries the other was sure to mention their lack or over abundance of sugar. Such acid remarks in sugared tones continued the feud which kept the church ladies in a ferment and the Pastor earning his keep trying to promote peace and sisterly love.
Occasionally entertainment was supplied by some of the men singing barbershop harmonies. Most of the ladies were too distracted to sing, having their minds on either the cakes they had made or how their children were making out with ice cream, strawberries and white summer clothes.
At the end of the evening everyone would depart replete and happy. There would be a goodly sum toward the new roof or what ever was needed, the rain had held off, every bit of ice cream, cake, lemonade, and strawberries was gone, and everyone was satisfied. Next day mothers would compare notes on their respective children's stomach aches and suggestions for getting strawberry stains out of various articles of clothing and those long suffering white sheets that had covered the tables.
There are many ways to serve strawberries but I think my favorite is the way grandmother did it. She would bake biscuit dough in a large round pan, split it and dab butter all over the hot, steamy lower layer. Then sugared berries were ladled over that, the top replaced and covered with the remaining fruit. From an old blue blowl, she'd spoon golden yellow whipped cream to cover the whole towering arrangement, and stud it with whole berries. This was cut in huge wedges and served for our evening meal. The combination of hot, crumbly biscuit, cool sweet berries, and rich whipped cream was a delight to the senses.