Arkansas classics

May 9, 2013

Do this. You'll thank me.

Do this. You’ll thank me.

One of the culinary marvels of Arkansas is the Arkansas strawberry (there are two quarts of them, macerating in sugar and balsamic vinegar, in my fridge right now. Whether you eat it with creme fraiche (my preferred treatment), with whipped cream, in a strawberry pie, in a fruit bowl, covered with chocolate, whatever — for these few brief weeks in the spring, there is just not much that’s any better.

And every Arkansan, indeed every Southerner, grew up with a version of strawberry shortcake, the dessert so ubiquitous it spawned its own, very cheesy, doll. The shortcakes differ from region to region, cook to cook.

I grew up with the sponge cake style of strawberry shortcake. You bought the package of six or eight four-inch cakes, concave on top, essentially the same thing as a Twinkie, minus the cream. You piled the strawberries, which you’d capped, cut in half or sliced, and sprinkled with sugar, so they created a luscious sweet juice, into the the concavity. You topped it with a scoop of Cool Whip or a squirt of whipped topping.

I upgraded that, when I commenced enjoying the finer things in my culinary life, to strawberries over slabs of pound cake, topped with home-whipped cream or sweetened creme fraiche. And I learned you could top the strawberries with a dollop of sour cream and a healthy sprinkle of brown sugar, and that wasn’t half bad, either. I’ve had shortcake which was something like a biscuit, but sweet. I’ve had berries and cream ladled over a circle of baked pie crust. I’ve had them on angel food cake.

I wouldn’t throw any of ’em out.

And then I went to the Bulldog Restaurant, in the thriving metropolis of Bald Knob, Arkansas, to which I have referred of late. And I discovered the Bulldog Drive In’s strawberry shortcake.

I had occasion to revisit the Bulldog yesterday. I’d mentioned the Big Bayou market, one of BK’s other culinary gems, to a friend here in the Spa City. “How far is it?” she asked. “M’mmm, maybe a two-hour drive,” I replied. “And we can have lunch at the Bulldog while we’re there.”

So yesterday, equipped with ice-filled cooler in the back seat, we set out on a road trip northeastward across Arkansas. It was a great day for a drive and conversation. I directed her off the expressway, and around the turn that led to the Bulldog. “There it is,” I said.

“My God,” she said. “Everyone in the world is here.”

Well, yes. It’s noon, and it’s strawberry season. The Bulldog parking lot is full most any noontime, but particularly so during strawberry season.

We went to the counter, ordered, got our number, and grabbed the last empty table. My friend made a pilgrimage to the restroom to wash up, came back, and sat down. “This is really a happy place,” she observed. “It feels like home.”

She’s from Texas. I think that’s a compliment.

Shortly, our dinner arrived — barbecued chicken plate for me, country-fried steak fingers for her. We finished those off in short order, and I bore our receipt back to the counter to retrieve our shortcakes.

Have mercy. Sweet Baby Jesus. Exercise other superlatives as they occur to you.

They began with ice cream, in the bottom of a foam bowl. They ladled the fresh, sliced, sugared strawberries over the top, They stuck four business-card-sized wafers of true shortbread — think rectangular Girl Scout Trefoil cookies, but a tad sweeter — around the edges. They topped it with a healthy squirt of whipped topping.

Our eyes rolled back in our heads.

There are no words to do this confection justice. So I won’t try. You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em get in your car and go, right now, to Bald Knob, Arkansas, to the Bulldog, and get you a strawberry shortcake. Quick, before the season’s over.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: