One-hundred-year-old Strawberry Soft Custard Recipe

Strawberry Custard 2

Fresh, juicy strawberries at the peak of the season are best served in simple desserts that celebrate their natural sweetness and nuanced tart undertones. If you are looking for the perfect summer dessert try Strawberry Custard. This classic soft custard has the consistency of a rich cream, and is heavenly when spooned over luscious sliced strawberries.

Here’s the original recipe, in a hundred-year-old cookbook:

Strawberry Custard Recipe
Source: Lowney’s Cook Book (1912)

I found this recipe to be more challenging  than I anticipated. The first time I made it, I ended up with a curdled mess.  After doing a little research I realized that I’d overcooked the custard. I think that I was picturing that the custard would get firm, like modern puddings – but this custard is quite soft and really a sauce (which probably should have been obvious from the name of the custard recipe, Soft Custard — but, somehow that slipped by me the first time around).

The second batch, I watched like a hawk when I cooked it, and removed the custard from the heat the instant the hot liquid coated the spoon that I was using to stir it. This time the custard turned out perfectly.

Here is the recipe updated for modern cooks.

Strawberry Soft Custard

  • Servings: 5 - 7
  • Difficulty: difficult
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2 cups milk

4 egg yolks

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

sliced strawberries

Put the milk in a sauce pan (use a double boiler, if available), and using medium heat,  scald the milk. This is done by stirring the milk continuously until steam begins to rise from the milk and small bubbles form along the sides of the pan. (Do not allow the milk to boil). Remove from the heat.

In a mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks, sugar, and salt; beat until the mixture is smooth and lemon-colored. While continuing to beat, slowly pour the scalded milk into the mixture.  (It is important not to add too much milk at a time since the hot milk could cook the eggs into scrambled egg clumps.)

Return the mixture to the sauce pan that was used for scalding the milk. Using medium heat, heat the mixture while stirring constantly. As soon as the mixture coats the spoon, remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Put the hot custard into a bowl and refrigerate until cold.

To serve, put sliced strawberries in a serving bowl or dessert dish; spoon the desired amount of custard over the strawberries and serve.

The original recipe calls for using only 1 cup of strawberries. For modern tastes, this recipe needs to be adjusted so that each serving lots of strawberries, so I didn’t specify the amount of strawberries.

Old-fashioned Strawberry Muffins (Strawberry Cups) Recipe

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, June 20, 1914: Am having quite a time working these days. Hardly take time to eat my dinner.

strawberry muffins

strawberry muffinHer middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma sure has been keeping busy picking strawberries. I hope that she was well paid for her hard work.

What did she have for her rushed dinner? . . . well, she probably was eating seasonal foods, so maybe one food was Strawberry Muffins.

The June, 1914 issue of Good Housekeeping had a recipe for Strawberry Muffins–though back then they were called “Strawberry Cups”.  Here it is—slightly adapted for modern cooking methods and ovens.

Strawberry Muffins (Strawberry Cups)

Preheat oven to 400° F. Separate two eggs; beat the yolks and add one cup of milk, one-half teaspoon of salt, and a tablespoon of melted butter. Add two teaspoons of baking powder and one and a half cups of flour, and beat well. In a separate bowl whip the egg whites until stiff, then fold the whites into the batter. Put a tablespoon of the batter in each of 12 muffin pan cups. Add a layer of thinly sliced strawberries; then fill the cups two-thirds full of batter, and bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned. Best when served warm.

Old-fashioned Strawberry Tapioca Recipe

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, June 13, 1914:  This is Saturday. Not much doing.

Strawberry Tapioca

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Since Grandma didn’t write much a hundred years ago today, I’ll share an old seasonal recipe that I really like. Strawberry Tapioca combines the classic taste of tapioca pudding with the wonderful taste and texture of fresh strawberries.

Strawberry Tapioca

1/2 cup small pearl tapioca

2 cups water

2 1/2 cups milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs, separated

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups thinly sliced strawberries

Soak tapioca in room temperature water overnight. Drain.

Heat milk (preferably in double boiler) until warm, add drained tapioca and milk. Cover, turn heat to very low and cook for one hour. Stir occasionally. Watch to make sure that the mixture doesn’t boil. (It will boil over very easily—and also has a tendency to burn on the pan bottom if care is not used).

Beat egg yolks and sugar together. Add a little of the hot mixture to the egg mixture and blend thoroughly. Then add the egg mixture to the hot milk mixture, stirring constantly. Reheat over medium heat and cook while stirring until tapioca mixture is very thick, about 15 minutes.

Beat egg whites until stiff. Fold egg whites into hot tapioca mixture. Stir in vanilla, and then gently stir the sliced strawberries into the hot tapioca. Chill and then serve.

Makes 7 – 8 servings

Old-Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, June 12, 1911: Started to pick strawberries this morning. Of course it will mean some early rising and loss of sleep, but just look at what I can earn.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

It sounds as if Grandma got paid for picking strawberries. I wonder if she worked for a neighbor who raised the strawberries, hired workers to pick them, and then sold them in town—or if her parents raised berries for sale (and paid their own children to harvest them).

Regardless of who owned the berry patch, I bet that the Muffly family enjoyed eating strawberries.

I don’t know how Grandma’s family served strawberries, but when I was a  child we ate shortcake muffins with strawberries and milk almost daily during June. I would guess that they also ate strawberry shortcake a hundred years ago.

We ate strawberry shortcake for supper—and it was part of the main meal (not a dessert). The  menu consisted of shortcake, and meat or fried potatoes.

It seems a little strange today—but back then on those hot June days we’d typically have a heavy meal for lunch (we called it dinner) and a relatively light meal with strawberry shortcake in the evening. In June on the farm we’d being baling hay—and there was lots of hard, hot labor required to get the hay baled and then stacked in the barn—so it seems even more amazing to me now that we ate a relatively light meal (that many today would consider a dessert) in the evening.

Here’s a traditional recipe for strawberry shortcake:

Strawberry Shortcake

1 1/4 cups flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4   teaspoons salt

1/4 cup butter, softened

Scant 1/2 cup milk

Sliced strawberries

Additional milk (optional)

Preheat oven to 420 degrees. Stir the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Cut the butter into the flour mixture . Add milk and stir just enough to combine using a fork. Grease muffin pan and fill each about 3/4 full. Cook about 18-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve with strawberries and milk (optional).

servings: 6 muffins