The Strawberry Shortcake Affair

ImageThe events that follow took place around the time Ronald Reagan was elected President and Mt. St. Helen’s erupted. I learned about a Hollywood actor winning the Presidential Race and a volcano erupting on mainland US,  from a cab driver in Lima, Peru.  I thought he was pulling my leg on both counts.

That trip to Peru was my first.  I stayed a year. I was working with Maria Reiche on the Nazca line drawings and since she was living at the State hotel, I also stayed there–particularly after my rented room in a  building on the outside of town was blown up one night. The Manager of the hotel and I became great friends. She grew up in the States when her father worked as a nuclear scientist in California.

One hot and lazy day we were sitting around trying to think of something to do when she told me she had just gotten some beautiful strawberries from a local farmer. We both had the same idea: strawberry shortcake!  Baking shortcake is easy and preparing the strawberries even easier. Just cut them in half and put in a bowl and add sugar.  We were missing one important ingredient though:  whipped cream. Cream was not to be found in Nazca or surrounding towns. In Peru back then you were lucky if you could get a glass of milk.

We considered sending me back to Lima, by bus, for the eight-hour trip to buy some cream and bring it back. Ginger and I scratched that off the list. So, Ginger decided to ask her mother in Lima to get the cream for us and send it packed in ice on a long distance taxi which squeezes in as many travelers as possible and their baggage.

The land-line telephone did not always work and there were no cell phones. However, Ginger had a telex machine. So, she telexed the company’s office and instructed someone to contact her mother. We waited a couple of days, hoping that everything went well in Lima. On that very day the taxi came to town and the driver was looking to deliver a package to Ginger.  Needless to say, we were thrilled.  Ginger’s mother included a note to the two of us about all the problems she encountered trying to complete the assignment.

Ginger and I went to the hotel’s kitchen and I started juicing the strawberries, while the Chef made the shortcakes.  Once the shortcakes were finished baking and the berries had juiced enough, Ginger instructed him on how to whip the cream, which he did in a cold, metal bowl with a wire whisk. We went outside to a table with the strawberry shortcakes and waited for the whipped cream. Ginger and Maria and I were gabbing, until finally we became concerned about the Chef.

We returned to the kitchen and discovered the Chef still whipping the cream. Only, it wasn’t cream anymore–it was butter!  Ginger did tell him when to stop whipping but the poor man had never seen whipped cream and thought it needed to be stiff. I took the bowl from him and dragged out Ginger before she could say anything unpleasant to him.  Dollops of butter-like whipped cream sat on top of our shortcakes.

There’s a lesson to be learned from all this, but I don’t know what it is.

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3 thoughts on “The Strawberry Shortcake Affair

  1. I didn’t know that, if you whipped cream beyond the point that it is whipped cream, it turns into butter. I thought butter had to be churned, not whipped. But then I don’t really know what churning is. I have an image in my mind of an old woman decked out like a milk-maid, sitting on a 3-legged wooden stool behind a tall, brown, wooden barrel-like thing (only narrower) with a brown, wooden handle (like a broom handle) sticking out of its top. The woman/milk-maid is pushing the handle up and down vigorously. That, to me, is churning butter. But maybe churning is a synonym for whipping. And I have heard of whipped butter.

    So is this a true story, or just another one of your pieces of macabre fiction?

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