It’s What Liv Ordered

In May of 1951, diner owner, Bea Turner, was asked to make a birthday cake for Toby Bruce Robishaw who was turning one.  Toby’s mother, Liv, was an extravagant woman who loved to make a show of everything she did.  Her son’s first birthday party was no exception.

The people Liv invited to Toby’s party were simple folk living in the hills of West Virginia.  They had simple tastes and probably expected a simple dessert such as Crazy Cake.  However, Liv used the occasion of her son’s birthday to show off yet again.  The cake she came up with is lovely, but it was completely lost on the birthday guests.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind for the above-mentioned scene taking place in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles.  By tweaking portions of other recipes, I created a cake suitable for the splashy tastes of Liv Barrette Robishaw.

Now don’t get me wrong; the cake is delicious.  It’s not what one would serve at a child’s party.  Here’s a passage from my novel describing exactly what Liv requested of Bea:

Three, double-layer cakes were divided by pillars with plastic circus animals placed in the space between.  Red and blue icing crisscrossed the edges of the cake in every direction.  A handful of colorful flags exploded out of the top layer.  Every inch of the cake not already taken up with decoration had a piece of candy pressed into the icing like a gingerbread house.

Liv’s outlandish request is what prompted Bea to say, “It’s what Liv ordered.”  Bea’s statement was offered as an explanation and apology to the townsfolk who understood completely.

The quantities listed below will make one layer of the cake I described above.

Hazelnut Cake

12 oz. hazelnuts

2 t baking powder

6 egg yolks

5/8 c white sugar

6 egg whites

Toast the hazelnuts in a 350° oven for 10–15 minutes or until lightly golden in color.  Cool completely.  Remove the skins from the toasted nuts by placing in a tea towel and briskly rubbing them together or place them in a colander and swirl them around to remove the skins.  Grind the hazelnuts until very fine.  Add baking powder and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 325°.  Thoroughly grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan.

In a large mixing bowl, use a hand-held electric mixer to combine the egg yolks with the sugar until pale yellow in color.  Beat in the ground hazelnuts.  This mixture will be extremely heavy and sticky.

Wash your beaters to remove any traces of fats.  In a separate bowl, beat room temperature egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Carefully whisk 1/3 of the egg whites into the yolk mixture to lighten the batter.  Fold in another 1/3 of the egg whites taking care not to delate them.  Fold in the remaining 1/3 of the egg whites until no streaks of batter remain.

Gently pour into the prepared 9-inch springform pan.  Bake in a preheated oven for 60 minutes or until the top of the cake springs back when lightly tapped.  Cool completely on wire rack.

Cinnamon Crème Filling

1 c heavy cream, chilled

1 c powdered sugar

1 ½ t ground cinnamon

1 t vanilla

Chill a metal bowl and the beaters of a hand-held mixer in the freezer for ten minutes.  Pour the heavy cream into the chilled metal bowl and beat on high speed with a hand mixer until the cream is frothy.  Slowly add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla.  Continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Place the bowl of cinnamon crème filling in the refrigerator until needed or use immediately.

Whipped Buttercream Frosting

3 c powdered sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 T heavy cream

2 t vanilla

Beat the butter, heavy cream, vanilla, and one cup of powdered sugar with a hand mixer until they are completely combined.  Add the remaining two cups of powdered sugar one cup at a time.  Blend well after each addition.  The lighter weight of this buttercream frosting is perfect for the delicate hazelnut cake.

You can use this frosting immediately or chill for later use.

Assembling the Cake

Once the cake has cooled completely, cut it in half horizontally.  Place the bottom half (cut side up) on a cake stand  and spread the Cinnamon Crème Filling generously over the top with a spatula or knife to within ¼ inch of the cake edge.  Place the top layer of cake (cut side down) over the filling, taking care to position it correctly.

Using a knife or spatula, ice the top of the cake with the Whipped Buttercream Frosting.  Do not drag the frosting too hard across the cake.  Level the top with icing and proceed to ice the sides until they are completely covered.  Wipe any icing smears from the edge of the cake stand with a clean, damp cloth.  Chill for at least an hour before serving.

Enjoy!

SIDE NOTE:  If you’ve never folded egg whites into batter, I strongly suggest you watch the video I’ve provided.  It’s a delicate process, but don’t be daunted by it.  Regardless of how you whip your egg whites, it’s the folding process the chef demonstrates that is of the utmost importance.

The Art of Folding

Plum Lucky

By spring of 1920, twelve year-old Johnny Welles had made up his mind to leave the only home he’d ever known.  As hard as it was to say goodbye to his beloved stepmother, Collie, Johnny was determined to escape the tragedies that marred his childhood.

His three older siblings, Stanley, James, and Eunice, supported Johnny in his decision even though it broke their hearts to see him go.  His Aunt Prudence, who would take over Johnny’s care, was thrilled by his choice to reside with her in Baltimore and even more so with his pronouncement that he wanted to become a doctor.

In the months after his youthful declaration, Johnny spent all of his free time with Doctor and Mrs. Hager.  The Hagers, German immigrants with no children of their own, welcomed Johnny when they discovered his passion for all things medical.  The Hagers, aware of and sensitive to Johnny’s heartbreaks, couldn’t resist the opportunity to share their medical knowledge with the young boy.

Whenever possible, Doc and Mrs. Hager included Johnny in consultations and examinations.  Between patients, the three would pore over medical journals and Mrs. Hager’s pflaumenkuchen (plum cake).  The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the scene above.  This rich, delicious cake is quick and easy to make.  The beauty of this recipe is that you can substitute any stone fruit for the plums.  Consider peaches, nectarines, or cherries as an alternative.

Little Italian plums are my favorite when making pflaumenkuchen with black plums as a close second.  Italian plums aren’t available in my area until July, so I’ve presented this cake with black plums which are also quite appealing.  If using Italian plums, cut them in half and pit them.  The same goes for cherries.  For large stone fruits, cut them in half, pit them, and cut into slices.

The Gibson household enjoys this cake still slightly warm and served with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Pflaumenkuchen

1 c sugar (I used raw)

½ unsalted butter

2 eggs

1 t vanilla

1 c flour

1 t baking powder

Plums, pitted and halved

2 T sugar (I used raw)

1 t cinnamon

Powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350°.  Grease an 8 X 8 glass baking dish.

Cream the sugar and butter.  Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat well.  Add the flour and baking powder, and mix thoroughly.  The batter with be thick like soft cookie dough.

Spread the batter into the baking dish and level it with a knife or spatula.  Place the halved plums (if using Italian) cut side down in even rows across the surface.  The same applies to cherries.  All other stone fruits should be placed in single-layer rows across the surface.

Combine the two tablespoons of sugar and cinnamon.  Sprinkle the mixture across the top of the cake and plums.  Bake for 50 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

When cooled, sift powdered sugar over the cake if desired.

Enjoy!

Wholesome Homecoming

August of 1945 should have been a time of celebration for Dr. John Welles. The Second World War was over in Europe and swiftly coming to an end in the Pacific. However, John’s homecoming wasn’t what it appeared to be, and the secret surrounding the circumstances were known only to him and his Aunt Prudence. While she was instrumental in helping her nephew make the transition from his experiences as an Army doctor back to civilian life, there was one painful secret of which even Prudence was not aware.

John’s family was seated in the kitchen eating when he arrived. He stood outside the row house and watched from a distance as they ate a simple breakfast that included oatmeal. I chose oatmeal because it is humble and solid just like the Welleses, and this basic breakfast food was representational of the support John’s family would provide during his first, difficult days home.

Long before experts started touting oats for the health benefits, oats have been used as a food source for people and animals. According to one source, only five percent of the oats grown in America are used for human consumption as breakfast food or oat flour. They are believed to be Asiatic in origin and appeared on the scene later than wheat with the earliest uses being for medicinal purposes. Then there is the debate on steel cut versus rolled oats, the explanation on the different types of oats, and the history on the most famous brand I know, Quaker.

The preparation of oats appears on the container, so I’ll focus on the toppings. This is where one has endless possibilities to explore. A favorite at the Gibson household is Zante currents, maple syrup, toasted, chopped pecans, a pat of butter, and cream that has been warmed. Some people keep it as simple as a pinch of salt while others go crazy with chocolate chips and a dollop of peanut butter.

When cooking oats, opt for water over milk as cooking in milk will make for stickier, thicker oatmeal. Save the dairy for a topping. Spices can be added during the cooking process and should be ground; picking out whole cloves and cinnamon sticks afterward is unpleasant. Don’t forget to add a pinch of salt to the water because that’s where seasoning begins.

Bringing the oats and water to a boil together makes for a creamy cereal whereas bringing the water to a boil and then adding the oats results in a chewier meal. I wouldn’t suggest trying this with steel cuts, however, as they are already springy in texture to begin with. Serve oatmeal in a deep bowl to keep it smooth and hot. A shallow dish will cool your breakfast treat too quickly, and you’ll end up with a gluey, unpalatable mess.

If you’ve never enjoyed oats, don’t curl your lip, raise an eyebrow, and pass up oats and oatmeal. They are delicious beyond their nutritional value and neutral appearance. Also, consider them for lunch or dinner, and if you really want to impress, offer them as a side dish to dinner guests with the inclusion of caramelized shallots and uncured turkey bacon or as a dessert made with saffron and cardamom.

“Oats.” Oats. Purdue University – Center for New Crops & Plants Products, Feb. 1999. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

Walsh, Danielle, and Kimberley Hasselbrink. “9 Ways to Totally Screw Up Your Oatmeal.” Bon Appetit. Bon Appétit, 23 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

**Read Easy Peasy to learn how to quickly generate citations.

Dark, Rich Secrets

Twice in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, I featured chocolate pie. The first time was in December of 1925 when John and his Aunt Prudence discussed the painful details surrounding his father’s death. Prudence kept trying to turn the conversation away from the truth of the situation even going so far as to use the pie as a diversion. The delicious dessert popped up again in a scene between John and his best friend’s wife, Babby, in June of 1964, as they worked through the awkwardness of not seeing each other for sixteen years.

As many of my followers already know, my food choices actually play a peripheral roll in my writing. In this case, chocolate pie is dark, not unlike the secrets about to be revealed in the above-mentioned scenes. In both cases, John’s past was dredged up for him to face yet again, and someone would try to smooth over the situation. Keep in mind that chocolate pie is exceptionally smooth. It is also rich and sweet which matched the outcome for John in his conversation with his Aunt Prudence as a young man and again with Babby as an adult.

The recipe I had in mind for the chocolate pie is simple yet elegant. It is a favorite at church bakeoffs and picnics as well as a top off to any family dinner. I hope you will enjoy it as much as my characters did.

Lucia’s Chocolate Pie

Single Crust:

1 c flour

¼ t salt

1 stick unsalted butter, cold and diced into ¼-inch pieces

½ c cold water with an ice cube

To make a bottom crust, combine the flour, salt, and butter. Work with your hands until the flour and butter combine to make pea-sized pieces. Add the water a tablespoon at a time and work through until you can form a ball. Wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap and chill for twenty minutes in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 425°. Roll the dough on a floured surface to fit a nine-inch pie plate. Crimp the edges and prick the bottom and sides of the shell with a fork. Line the pie shell with aluminum foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or baking beans. Bake at 425° for 10 minutes, remove the baking weights and continue cooking for 10 minute in 5 minute increments or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.

Pie Filling:

½ c cocoa

¼ c cornstarch

3 egg yolks, beaten

1½ c sugar (I used raw)

¼ t salt

2 c half and half

1 t vanilla

3 T unsalted butter

Sift the cocoa, cornstarch, and salt directly into a saucepan. Add the sugar** and half and half, and stir carefully to mix. Bring to a boil over a medium high heat, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute. Remove from the heat and spoon a small amount of the mixture into the egg yolks to warm them. Pour the warmed yolks in a thin stream into the saucepan taking care to stir them in thoroughly.

Return the pan to the heat and boil for two more minutes. Remove from the heat and add the butter and vanilla. Pour the mixture into the baked pie shell and allow it to cool for a few minutes before topping with a piece of waxed paper to prevent a skin from forming. Bring the pie to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator to cool completely. Whipped cream is the perfect topping for a chilled pie.

**If using granulated white sugar, sift it as well. The large crystals of raw sugar will not pass through a sifter. Simply break up any lumps before adding to the mixture.

~OR~

You can top it with meringue using the following recipe. Make the meringue while the pie is cooling on the countertop. Once topped with meringue set in the oven, you can continue cooling in the refrigerator.

Meringue:

4 egg whites

6 T sugar (I used granulated white as the raw is too coarse for this step)

Pinch of cream of tartar

Whip the egg whites on a high speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and a pinch of cream of tartar, and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Spread the meringue over the pie and seal at the edges of the crust. Set the meringue in a 425° oven for eight minutes or until it is golden brown. Cool the pie on a wire rack until you can handle the edges of the pie plate and serve warm, or chill the pie in the refrigerator for a couple hours and serve cold.

Tips for success:

Chill the beaters and bowl in which you will beat the egg whites for meringue

That pinch of cream of tartar is what will keep your egg whites from breaking down and becoming watery.

Enjoy!

Don’t Get Crabby With Me

dont-get-crabby-with-meI’m very excited to present today’s post for Edible Fiction in regards to my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Although I won’t be making this recipe because the main ingredient has yet to come in season, I couldn’t resist sharing. My research on blue crabs yielded a wealth of knowledge and an enthusiasm for the dish, so I decided to post for two reasons: 1) You’ll want to be prepared for the blue crab season, and 2) Depending on where you live and/or your finances, you may want to turn this into a vacation.

In June of 1925, John Welles and his Aunt Prudence were planning his high school graduation party. They did so over a dinner of blue crab. When I initially wrote this scene, I assumed because they were on the coast, Maryland specifically, they would have eaten crab legs, and I stated as much. Please forgive my inlander ignorance. I corrected my mistake because I am a stickler for details in writing (Who Is In Your Details?). Research on this subject prompted a quick edit from crab legs to blue crabs and a visit to my local fish market, Klein’s Seafood.

I visited Klein’s to see what a semi-landlocked gal like myself could do.  I say semi because my state borders one of the Great Lakes, but alas, there are no blue crabs coming from this water source.  Fear not, fellow Ohioans, Klein’s receives blue crabs from the coast.  Seafood shops can have the crabs shipped live, but as one shop employee explained, many die during the trip and no one wants to buy the dead crabs.  So, Klein’s orders their blue crabs already cooked and ready to go.  Since I couldn’t purchase blue crabs to prepare for you, I decided to offer the next best thing.  I also dined on a white perch sandwich with lettuce and tartar sauce and six of the tastiest hushpuppies I’ve ever had, but I digress.

I could write an essay on blue crabs and the preparation thereof based on the articles I researched, but it would be easier and more thorough to direct you there. Don’t think me lazy; I simply don’t want to miss a single important detail regarding blue crabs. Once you read the articles, you’ll see why I suggested a vacation to Maryland. Not only is Maryland a wonderful place to visit for the historical aspect, the seafood restaurants featuring blue crabs and other produce from the ocean are worthy of a visit, too.

dont-get-crabby-with-me-2The first article, Maryland Crabs: A Guide to the East Coast’s Essential Summer Feast by Eater DC contributor Jamie Liu from June 5, 2015, provides an in-depth explanation on blue crabs from the how to the where of the blue crab season. I found this one to be easily understood and good for a blue crab novice such as myself. The restaurants mentioned were a combination of old and new establishments and ownership, but all had history with the Maryland crabbing industry.

And because I’m a conscientious writer against the overharvesting of natural resources as well as someone who loves the science behind anything we eat, Brenda and Glenn Davis’s article on the Life History & Management of Blue Crabs is most beneficial.

Also from Eater is this post, Eight Maryland Crab Houses Worth the Drive, by Tim Ebner from August 19, 2016. Complete with restaurant names including a brief description and address, directions, and a map, you can’t go wrong with this tidbit of information for planning your tour of crab houses whether you’re a novice or expert in the knowledge and eating of blue crabs.

Perhaps you’re thinking this is overkill just for one mention of blue crabs in a novel. Maybe, but I’d rather be accurate with my information than make a glaring error. Besides, if it sends people to Maryland for a visit, or even more to my liking, encourages them to buy my novel, so much the better.

Enjoy!

 

Getting Out of a Jam With Marmalade

sweet-solution-4The character of Lucia in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, started out as one of peripheral importance. I created her simply to serve in the role of head cook to John’s Aunt Prudence, but she evolved into someone much more important. Just short of handling finances, it was understood that Lucia ran the household. She also ran Prudence with a style somewhere between a tough love guidance counselor and a wise, older mentor. Lucia also came to John’s rescue in the years following his brief service during World War II. John was unable to deal with the horrors he witnessed and most specifically for the one he caused that he kept secret from those he loved.

One day over a breakfast of popovers and orange marmalade, Lucia suggested that John go on a journey taking him away from his family so he could deal with the ghosts haunting him. John’s Aunt Prudence was heartbroken at the suggestion, but Lucia knew John needed time away to heal his mind and body. Besides, she would still be in Baltimore tending Prudence more as a close friend than as an employee. Prudence would only admit if pressed to say, but her relationship with her feisty cook was exactly how she liked it.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene. There are some nice orange marmalades on the market in upscale food shops, but nothing quite compares to the flavor of homemade orange marmalade. Not only will your house smell wonderful while it’s cooking, the taste of homemade orange marmalade on toast, vanilla ice cream, or whole grain pancakes defies any description of deliciousness.

Lucia’s Orange Marmalade

6 large oranges with thin skin

1 lemon

6 c water

8 ¼ c of granulated sugar

Approximately 14 – 6 oz. canning jars, lids, rings

Water bath canner with canning rack

Wash the oranges and lemon using a mushroom brush or another type of soft, clean brush. Cut the oranges into 1/8 inch slices. Remove any seeds. Cut the stacked slices of orange into quarters. Trim any thick pieces of rind into slivers to use. Place the oranges in a large cooking pot. Zest the lemon and juice it. Add the zest and juice to the oranges in the pot along with the water. Bring to a boil over a high heat. Reduce the heat and maintain a bubbling simmer. Stir frequently and cook for forty minutes until the rinds of the oranges are tender enough to cut with a spoon.

sweet-solution-3While the orange/lemon mixture cooks, bring a large pot of water to a boil and place the canning jars in the water. Sterilize the jars by boiling for ten minutes. Turn off the heat and add the lids and rings. Let everything sit until the marmalade is ready. You may need to do this in two separate pots due to the quantity of jars.

After the orange/lemon mixture has cooked for forty minutes, add the sugar and return to a full boil. Stir frequently so the sugar doesn’t burn and the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Boil until the mixture reaches 223° on a candy thermometer. This process should take at least twenty minutes, but depending on your stove and/or cooking pot of choice, it may take longer. Keep a close eye on your thermometer and watch as the mixture darkens, turns glossy, and thickens. Adjust the heat if needed to keep it from boiling over.

To test the readiness of the marmalade, place a saucer in the freezer to chill. A small dollop of the marmalade placed on the chilled plate and allowed to cool should gel and move slightly. Anything runnier and the marmalade isn’t ready. Keep cooking, and watch your thermometer.

When the marmalade is ready, remove the jars from the water and drain on a clean towel. Carefully ladle the marmalade into the jars to just below the threads of the jar. Using a ladle and slotted spoon ensures that you don’t end up with too much peel or too much liquid for the jars at the end. Keep the juice to rind mixture balanced in each jar. Wipe the rims and threads of the jars with a clean, damp cloth and top each with a lid. Add a ring and tighten securely. You may use fewer jars than the recipe called for, but I suggest having fourteen ready just in case.

sweet-solution-2

Cooling Jars of Marmalade

Bring water to a boil in a water bath canner (approximately half full). Using the canning rack, add the jars of marmalade to the boiling water. Add additional hot water to the canner if needed to cover the jars at least one inch. Boil for ten minutes. Carefully remove the rack of jars and set on a clean towel in a cool, dry place to come to room temperature. You should begin to hear the lids pop indicating the jars of marmalade are sealing properly. Do not move for 24 hours. Refrigerate the marmalade once a jar has been opened. Unopened marmalade will last for up to six months.

Enjoy!

sweet-solution

Javaaaah!

Coffee features quite often in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Whether my characters consumed it with dessert, dinner, or by itself, coffee plays an important role in the scenes as much as the food I’ve chosen for them to eat. Rather than bore you with the entire history of coffee or mention trivia such as how many cups are consumed in the world a day, I’ll focus on how coffee was prepared during the years my novel takes place.

By the time my novel opens in 1907, one of the simplest methods of brewing coffee involved placing grounds and water in a heat-proof container and bringing it to a boil over a heat source. It was that inelegant sometimes. Most of the containers were actually metal pots with a handle and spout intended for coffee, however, brewing coffee in a cooking pot wasn’t unheard of.

javaaaah2I imagine Johnny’s stepmother, Collie, might have brewed coffee in a pot without a filter, heated on a wood-burning or coal stove. I envision it looking much like the speckleware version pictured to the right. Careful pouring ensured that most of the grounds stayed in the bottom of the pot. Another name for this simple process is cowboy coffee. Riding the plains and herding animals didn’t lend much time for the more sophisticated methods of brewing, and in Collie’s case, neither did running a farm.

Perhaps Collie was lucky enough to own a percolator. She still would have heated it on the stove because electricity wouldn’t have been available as far out as the Welleses lived on their farm. The advantage to the percolator would have been a separation of the spent grounds from the final product, making a much more palatable beverage.

Percolating coffee pots consist of a chamber at the bottom with a vertical tube leading from the lower chamber to the top of the pot. Resting on the vertical tube is another chamber with a perforated bottom. This is where the ground coffee is placed. The water level should not touch the bottom of the coffee chamber. There was also a lid with a clear knob.

javaaaahThe heat source beneath the percolator heats the water in the lower chamber. Heated water starts to boil, and the boiling makes the water rise up the tube and spill over into the coffee chamber. The heated water seeps through the grounds, out through the perforations at the bottom, and back into the water chamber. This process is repeated until the desired strength of brew is achieved. Those using a percolator would check the clear knob on the lid to see if the brew has reached the right color and strength.

One source credits James Nason of Massachusetts with patenting a percolator design in 1865. Another says on August 16, 1889, Hanson Goodrich, a farmer from Illinois, received his patent for the percolator. Still another gives American-born, British physicist Count Rumford, AKA Sir Benjamin Thompson, the acclaim for the invention of the percolator somewhere between 1810–1814. Regardless of who invented or patented it first, earlier models used glass construction, but percolators made from the 1930s on were made of metal, mostly aluminum and copper.

javaaaa3Only John, his Aunt Prudence, and some of the wealthier characters would have had access to restaurants that served espresso, the result of making coffee with steam pressure, or friends who owned a French press, a pot that brews coffee then separates the final product from the grounds by use of a plunger. The classiest method the others might have encountered would be filter drip brewing invented in 1908 by German housewife, Melitta Benz, in an effort to eliminate the bitter taste produced by boiling loose coffee grounds

After experimenting with various types of filtration, Melitta Benz ended up using blotting papers from her son’s exercise book. The ensuing result was met with enthusiasm, and she patented her invention, started a company, and hired her husband and two sons. Melitta coffee filters and pots are still around today.

So the next time you enjoy a cup of coffee from your favorite establishment, whether it’s a simple cup of joe or a fancy latte, keep in mind coffee’s humble beginnings and that, as of this post, it’s still the world’s favorite hot beverage.

A Crazy Little Thing Called Cake

In May of 1951, Dr. John Welles attended the first birthday party of Patty Ann Hoffman whom he had delivered the year before. The doctor was friends of Patty Ann’s parents, Morris and Lorraine, but he also had a soft spot for the spirited little girl since the day she was born. For this reason, he willingly attended a child’s party.

The Hoffmans weren’t well off, but they made do with what they had. The ingredients for the cake Lorraine served were items she probably had on hand. Furthermore, as parents they would forgo the special treat of cake and ice cream to ensure plenty for their children and guests.

The cake I had in mind when I wrote this scene was a cake I grew up with: Crazy Cake. Also called Wacky Cake, this chocolatey cake had its origins during the Depression when milk, eggs, and butter were expensive. For this reason, you may know it as Depression Cake. I have found that most people are familiar with it by one of these names. A little ingenuity solved the problem of making cake without the pricey ingredients, and following generations were none the wiser.

img_20170205_182131906Because it is so rich and delicious, and because so many children these days have dairy and egg allergies, Crazy Cake is one of the old fashioned recipes to have survived until today. Even if one is financially stable, Crazy Cake is not to be missed.

Although Crazy Cake is tasty enough to eat plain or dusted with powdered sugar, I’ve provided a frosting recipe and a fudge recipe as toppings for the cake. The frosting is a titch more elegant if you’re serving the cake to guests. The fudge is the old fashioned kind that you can pour over the cake and allow to drip and puddle down the sides until it sets. There is no other way to describe this magnificent concoction other than to say it is a hillbilly delicacy. But then that’s where my experience with this cake has its origins.

One of the things you’ll find if you conduct your own research on Crazy Cakes is that they were often made right in the baking dish. All the dry ingredients were combined, and then three depressions were made in which the vanilla, vinegar, and oil were placed. The water was added, and everything was stirred into batter. I suspect because my mother learned how to make this in school, her recipe calls for greasing and flouring the baking dish. Either way, the results are the same. You’ll also find recipes for other flavors of Crazy Cake. I cannot testify to how good they are, and they do look good, but I can’t seem to make it past the chocolate version.

Enjoy!

Crazy Cake

1 ½ c flour

1 c sugar (I used raw)

3 T cocoa (heaping)

1 t salt

1 t baking soda

1 t vinegar (I used apple cider)

1 t vanilla

6 T oil

1 c water

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour an 8 X 8 baking dish. Mix the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients. Stir thoroughly. Pour into the baking dish, and bake for 25 – 30 minutes. A knife inserted in the middle should come out clean. Cool completely in the baking dish before frosting. This recipe can be doubled and baked in a 9 X 13 baking dish.

Cocoa Frosting

4 c powdered sugar

¼ t salt

⅓ c cocoa

⅓ c unsalted butter, room temperature

⅓ c milk

1 t vanilla

Mix the powdered sugar, salt, and cocoa. Warm the milk slightly and add the butter and vanilla, then add to the dry ingredients and combine. Blend until it is smooth using either a stand or hand mixer.  This recipe is enough frosting for a 9 X 13 cake. Half it for an 8 X 8 or make two and fill in between the layers.

Old Fashioned Fudge

1 ½ c sugar (I used raw)

¼ t salt

⅓ c cocoa

¾ c whole milk

2 T unsalted butter

1 t vanilla

Mix the sugar, salt, and cocoa in a large saucepan. Add the milk and stir thoroughly. Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches a full, rolling boil. Boil without stirring until the mixture reaches 234° on a candy thermometer (the bulb of the thermometer should not rest on the bottom of the pan). If you don’t have a candy thermometer, after about twenty five minutes of boiling, test a small drop of fudge in ice water. The fudge should form a soft ball which flattens when removed from the water.

Remove from the heat and add the vanilla and butter. Do not stir. Rather, swirl the pan until the vanilla and butter are mixed in. Allow the fudge to cool to lukewarm (110° on a candy thermometer). Stir the cooled fudge with a wooden spoon* until it thickens and loses some of it gloss. Pour the fudge over the cooled Crazy Cake. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

*There is some debate on the Internet from professional cooking sites to blogs such as mine regarding the use of metal versus wooden spoons for stirring fudge. Both present logical arguments, however, I’ve used wood and metal with success.

All Aboard the Gravy Train

all-aboard-the-gravy-train-2Well-made gravy is food for the gods. Gravy deserves to be its own food group. In fact, I move that gravy receive as much recognition as the main courses and side dishes that end up on our plates. Naturally, gravy is mentioned in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles.

In the scene where Johnny’s Aunt Prudence barges in on the family as they’re sitting down to dinner, I wrote that Collie served mashed potatoes. Everyone knows that mashed potatoes can stand alone as delicious comfort food, but with the addition of gravy, it’s like eating the clouds upon which cherubs rest.

I’m going to focus on chicken gravy for the sake of this post because that’s the gravy accompanying the mashed potatoes in the above-mentioned meal. I prefer to use drippings directly from the chicken I’ve cooked, whether it’s a whole roasted chicken or baked thighs, but a can of quality broth can be substituted. The amount/size of the chicken you prepare will determine the quantity of drippings you achieve. This can be stretched especially if you’ve placed butter under the skin of your chicken or are using canned broth to baste.

all-aboard-the-gravy-train-1

Perfectly seasoned drippings waiting to be thickened.

As for seasoning gravy, I like to depend on how I seasoned my chicken. This will determine the flavor of your gravy. One of my favorite seasoning combinations that I use on a roaster or thighs, both beneath and on the skin, ensures delicious drippings for gravy:

1 t sea salt

¼ t oregano

¼ t black pepper

¼ t garlic powder

¼ t onion powder

¼ t paprika

¼ t thyme (not ground)

all-aboard-the-gravy-train-3Collect the drippings from the baking dish or pan you cooked in and be sure to strain it through a fine mesh sieve. Place the drippings in a saucepan over a low heat.

My preferred thickener for meat dripping based gravy is corn starch. Sometimes flour is too lumpy, tastes too pasty, and looks too cloudy. Also, you can use less corn starch than flour when thickening which means fewer calories.

Always mix the cornstarch in equal proportions with a cold liquid, milk or water, and stir thoroughly to prevent lumps before whisking into the hot drippings. Cornstarch placed directly in hot drippings will seize up and create inedible food glue. The rule of thumb is two tablespoons of cornstarch per cup of liquid to attain a gravy-like consistency.

Stir constantly and bring your mixture to a boil. Boil for one minute. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed.

When using canned broth, the same seasoning will flavor the broth nicely. Opt for a low-sodium variety since you’ll be adding salt. Thicken in the same manner, just remember to strain out the large particles of oregano and thyme.

Enjoy!

Do The Mash

do-the-mash-1Mashed potatoes figure in to my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, in a couple places. As I mentioned when I started Edible Fiction, I love to feed people whether real or imagined. For real people, it’s because I enjoy watching them appreciate what I’ve prepared. For my characters, I have discovered that food is an extension of the scene taking place and/or their personalities.

For Marian Watley Welles, wife of Johnny’s older brother, James, she attacked several mounds of mashed potatoes tipping off her mother-in-law, Collie, to the fact that she was pregnant. In fact, Collie’s suggestion to have another helping and Marian’s willingness to comply was what made Collie so sure of her daughter-in-law’s pregnancy. What hungry first-time mother could resist one of the ultimate comfort foods?

Another instance where I employed mashed potatoes was during Prudence’s first visit to the Welles Family Farm. Along with the other items Collie prepared for dinner, mashed potatoes featured on the menu. I wished to convey a homey setting complete with all the family favorites. Prudence forced herself into this scenario, upsetting the Welles Family, because deep in her heart, it’s what she longed for.

A high starch potato like Yukon Gold or Russet makes the fluffiest, smoothest mashed potatoes. They absorb flavors well (chicken broth when boiling, dairy when mashing). Avoid waxy potatoes like Red Bliss or fingerlings which have a tendency to turn gummy or gluey upon mashing. Choose one large potato per person when deciding upon quantity. I include one or two extra potatoes in case someone wants seconds or leftovers.

I didn’t used to believe it myself, but salting the water truly makes a difference. It’s the first step toward seasoning, so don’t skip it. Also, start with cold water to ensure even cooking. On the other hand, when adding your butter and cream, they should be warm. I do this in the cooking pot while my cooked potato chunks are draining in a colander. Your potatoes will absorb all the deliciousness of the dairy and you’ll have to work them less to incorporate the butter and cream. This means lighter, creamier potatoes.

Weapon of Mash Destruction

Weapon of Mash Destruction

And since we’re on the subject of overworking mashed potatoes, put down the hand-held mixer, place the food processor back on its shelf, and tell your standing mixer you’ll see it later. These devices are too aggressive and will turn your potatoes into grainy food glue. Pull your potato masher from the drawer and gently mash your potatoes. Remember, lumps are not a bad thing in mashed potatoes; they add to the homemade quality. If you insist on completely smooth taters, non-electric ricers or food mills are the only acceptable, alternative tools.

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Yukon Gold or Russet Potatoes

1 stick unsalted butter (This quantity for a full pot. Adjust to taste as needed.)

Sea Salt

Freshly cracked pepper (I use quad-colored peppercorns.)

Whole milk or heavy cream (Amount of liquid also dependent on quantity of potatoes.)

Choose one large potato per person. Fill a large cooking pot with cold water and about a teaspoon of salt. Wash, peel, and cut the potatoes into evenly sized chunks. Place the chunks into the water while working to keep the potatoes from turning brown or gray.

Bring the water to a boil and cook the potatoes until the biggest chunk is tender. Pierce with a paring knife to check for doneness. Drain the potatoes but do not rinse.

Melt the butter in the pot over a low heat and stir in the milk or cream. You may need to adjust the liquid based on the quantity of potatoes, but keep in mind that you want the potatoes creamy without being too dry or too runny.  Add the cooked potatoes to the butter and milk or cream.  Mash gently with a hand-held potato masher.

Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Enjoy!

do-the-mash-3

%d bloggers like this: