Spring is the season of celebrating abundance and seasonal renewal. From fresh green vegetables, colorful flowers and herbs in early spring, to shimmering berries later in the season, spring prompts us to shed our layers, preparing for the most marvelous months of the year. It is no wonder we celebrate spring so often with sweets that many of us look forward all year long. We researched three classic spring sweet favorites to find out more about their history, fun facts, and of course, the classic and new ways to prepare them.
Strawberry shortcake is one of the most charming and simple desserts of spring. It is easy to make, and with a few extra ingredients, can easily be transformed. Shortcake has been around since the 15th century, inheriting it is name for the amount of fat (shortening) used in authentic British recipes. At the time the shortcakes were more like soda breads, yet still as equally loved as the light treat is today. Even Shakespeare took enough of a shine to the dessert to name a character after it in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Eventually shortcake evolved into the sponge cake we know today, and is first recorded as being paired with sweetened strawberries and a buttered cake in the 1850’s. High-end restaurants in New York, always on the cutting edge of culinary advances, started to pair the popular shortcakes with strawberries and cream in the late 1860’s. With the invention of refrigeration and the newly designed railroad allowing produce to be delivered across country, strawberry shortcake has since become a must-make American classic spring dessert.
Key Lime Pie
Originating in sunny Key West, the key lime pie was created by using the indigenous floral flavored Key limes and as way to use up sweetened condensed milk. Being a tropical island with no refrigeration in the late 1850’s meant getting a ton of sweetened condensed canned milk, which at the time was considered a hot commodity. The canned milk was the island’s only source of dairy and was used for ice cream and sauces by those lucky enough to have it. It is widely believed that the first key lime pie was created by sponge divers, combining eggs, key limes, and the condensed milk. Most likely the earliest versions of the pie did not have a crust. Much like the great barbeque debate of the South, key lime pie is considered “traditional” with either graham cracker crust, or pastry crust, depending on whom you ask. It is one of the simplest, brightest pies you can make to bring a touch of warmth to your sweet palettes.
As our minds turn to Easter jellybeans and chocolate, it is easy to forget that the humble and nutritious carrot is one of the best ingredients for a spring favorite, carrot cake. In medieval times carrots were known more for their sweet qualities and were often included in sweet spiced puddings, more often than as a healthy side vegetable. By the 1900’s the carrot pudding had morphed into more of a quick bread, baked in loaf pans with added leftover raisins and nuts. Carrots were loved in the now baked cakes for their sweetness (carrots have the second highest sugar content of any vegetable, behind sugar beets) and the desirable moistness they added. In the U.S. after WWII there was a surplus of canned products meant to send troops, including carrots. A savvy businessman, George C. Page had the brilliant idea to use all the canned carrots in carrot cakes. He sold them packaged through a gourmet food purveyor, solidifying the cake’s popularity and accessibility. It was not until the 1960’s when Philadelphia Cream Cheese, releasing a series of recipes that included a recipe for carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, that these two became an inseparable pair. Now, what bunny or person could say no to that?