This post is part of the blogging event Apples and Thyme, hosted by Vanielje's Kitchen. It's a celebration of time spent with our mothers and grandmothers. My grandmother lived on a working ranch most of her life and grew nearly everything she cooked. Her garden was a year-round venture (California is nice that way), and her freezer was full of the beef she and my grandfather raised.
My sister, Lisa, and I spent a lot of time on the ranch as children-- long lovely days with exactly the same routine. In the mornings we were wakened early by my grandfather, who had already been out on horseback to check on the cattle and open or close the many irrigation ditches. Grandma would serve us a breakfast of whatever fruit was in season (I remember the strawberries and raspberries with cream most fondly) or her "CrÃªpes Suzette " which were really just very thin pancakes rolled around strawberry preserves and dusted with confectioners' sugar. Grandpa would urge us to finish up so we could go and collect the horses for a morning ride.
Lisa and I were given our first horse when I was eight and she was six... a Shetland pony named Cricket. Cricket wasn't the nicest pony, frankly--she had a habit of trying to scrap her rider off of her back by bolting to low-hanging tree branches. Consequently, Lisa mostly rode behind Grandpa while I rode Cricket, struggling not to let on that I considered the daily ride a grim struggle of will. But I loved those morning rides in spite of the fear of being scraped off or regular detours through a field of shoulder-high thistles. My favorite moments with Cricket were after our ride, when she was tired, and I'd offer her a bucket of oats after unsaddling and brushing her down. I rather liked the taste of the oats myself, and would often take a handful to munch on.
Lunch (or supper, as they called it) was the main meal of the day and Grandma spent the morning getting it ready for us. We nearly always had Black Angus beef in some form, accompanied by produce from the garden. My absolute favorite was a dish of tiny baby carrots in a delicate cream sauce. I also loved Grandma's way of cooking green beans-- with bacon fat until they were deep olive green and falling apart.
Grandma really pulled out all the stops for holiday meals, Thanksgiving and Christmas in particular. In addition to the usual turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, she served her watermelon pickles tasting of cloves and vinegar; hot fluffy biscuits, a souffle-like casserole of corn and pimentos, and a creamed onions dish I am still passionate about.
Then there were her cakes... like many of her generation she moved easily between scratch recipes and the convenience of Duncan Hines. The two I remember best and make for myself and company alike are Elvetta's Prune Cake, a dense, moist and spicey multi-layered scratch cake with mocha frosting; and Heaven and Hell Cake, made from a box of golden cake mix with homemade fudge frosting. Being a lady who seldom swore, she always giggled a little when she spoke of Heaven and Hell Cake, and she always hastened to explain the name. "It tastes like heaven but it looks like hell!"
Here are her recipes:
Creamed Baby Carrots
This recipe isn't written down anywhere-- it was in my Grandma's head and I've extracted it from my mother's head pretty much as she told it to me.
"Slice and boil the carrots until they are tender. In the meantime make a cream sauce, except that when you melt the butter and before you add the flour, saute finely diced onion because this is what makes all the difference and what makes your grandmother's creamed carrots different from anyone else's creamed carrots. Then finish the sauce and pour it over the cooked carrots."
(It occurs to me that I have a lot of unwritten recipes floating around out there. I tend to rely on the telephone as a way of retrieving the ones I haven't memorized and I really ought to write them down before there is nobody to call. I've already lost my ex-husband's grandmother's hamantaschen recipe. I can only remember that she always started by saying, "You make a nice cookie dough..." and then I'd pester her for details.)
Yet another unwritten recipe extracted from my mother's head and written in a more traditional format.
2 cans creamed corn
1 large jar of chopped pimento
1/2 pack saltines, crumbled
minced onion, to taste
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk, adjust as necessary
Place the corn and pimento into a casserole dish, fold in the crushed crackers, milk, beaten eggs and pepper. Add additional milk as necessary, but don't make it too soupy.
Bake at 350F for one hour.
Creamed Onion Casserole (in my Grandmother's own hand)
Elvetta's Prune Cake
2 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups crisco (or butter, if you're me)
3 well beaten eggs
3 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cooked sliced prunes
1/8 cup prune juice
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon allspice
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Combine dry ingredients. Cream sugar and shortening (or butter) and add eggs. Add prune juice and flour mixture alternately. Add vanilla and prunes. Bake in 3 pans for 30 minutes at 350F.
When cool, frost with Mocha Frosting:
3 - 4 teaspoons instant coffee
3 tablespoons boiling water
2/3 stick of butter
1 box confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pour boiling water over coffee and butter. Mix while gradually adding the sugar and then the vanilla.
Heaven and Hell Cake
Prepare a yellow cake recipe of your choice or a yellow cake mix according to instructions. Let cool and slice each layer in half horizontally. Place the first layer on a plate, cut side up, so that you're ready to assemble as soon as the fudge frosting is ready. This is very important. If you don't organize the layers now your fudge will harden while you do it later.
Make the Fudge Frosting as follows:
Pour a little of the hot fudge over the first layer, smoothing it across the top with a spatula. Repeat with each layer, letting the fudge you pour over the top and last layer drip down the sides. The fudge inside of the cake will remain moist, while the fudge on the top and the drips along the sides will harden.