Friday, March 2, 2012
No Marijuana Required
I think I baked my first cake when I was in about the third grade. I am quite certain that by the time I was in the fifth grade, I had taken over all of the birthday-cake baking duties. And these were not from box mixes, no, they were from "scratch," as we said then.
I took to cooking and baking like nobody's business which was a good thing as (a) I loved to eat, and (b) my mother wasn't always very interested in cooking although she did it because back in those olden days, there really wasn't much of a choice for the woman of the house.
But me? I loved to cook and bake. It felt so real. Unlike the rest of my life which was mainly about secrets and pain and, okay, terror, the making of food was so prosaic and so dependable. You followed a recipe and the resulting product was something reliably delicious and wholesome (in a sense of the word) and it was like something that would happen in a real family.
My mother came to her first marriage, I suppose, with a cookbook just like this one:
That's what I started cooking from and to this day, I still consult it. The best gift my mother ever gave me was a copy of it that she found and it is my pride and joy.
1938 it was printed and there are terrific pictures in it of world long-gone but if you need to know how to make a white sauce or a baked potato or scrambled eggs or fudge or a rabbit casserole or salmon bisque, it's all there. Plus, instructions on how to can and preserve. Need to carve a ham?
"You cannot learn too soon. Carving by the host- old or young- is a gracious, hospitable gesture. There are rules for carving. (page 108). With ham or leg of lamb, have the fleshy side up, plant the fork firmly. Begin at the center, slice toward the bone. Sit or stand. Be comfortable."
Now hell yeah!
So it was from the pages of this book that I learned the basics. It wasn't until I was at a primitive encampment on a mountain-side in North Carolina though when I was probably about fifteen, that I had the epiphany that I really do love to cook. I was boiling vegetables in a pot over a fire for a stew and it just hit me like a bolt from the blue that this was one of the things I was put on earth to do. To cook. And cooking has always served me well. People like to eat and you can quote me on that.
When I was a young hippie those skills really paid off. We smoked a lot of dope in those days. And the smoking of marijuana will, without a doubt, lead to the munchies. And so inevitably there would be a roomful of people, stoned out of their gourds, wishing that they had something to eat and pizza delivery was still mighty iffy and a drive down to the Krispy Kreme was about as imaginable as a trek up Mount Everest. I, however, could slip unnoticed into the kitchen and in what seemed like no time at all to the assembled stoners (but to me, in the kitchen, seemed like oh, maybe a few eons) I could come back out with something for everyone to eat.
I could make something good out of almost nothing. And I did, over and over again.
One of the things I liked to make was an apple cake because the ingredients for it were in almost everyone's kitchen, and especially mine. I was probably basing this recipe on the one in that cookbook for applesauce cake which I had made a lot as a young girl.
I found that instead of shortening, though, I could use a little vegetable oil and instead of the applesauce, I could use chopped apples. Easy to mix up, fast to bake, delicious. Measuring the ingredients wasn't really necessary. I could (and do) "eye" things and use my palm as a measuring device for salt and soda and spices, etc.
This cake satisfied a lot of the hippie-cooking requirements in that I could use whole wheat flour and add wheat germ if I wanted, substitute honey for sugar, and it still came out lovely. Especially if I put some powdered-sugar on the top when it came out of the oven and no one was complaining about refined sugar by that point in the evening.
And this is basically the cake I made the other night and I baked it in one of my iron skillets, which is how I like to do it, and it was as good and moist and satisfying as I remembered it.
Mr. Moon always wishes for whipped cream for the top or better yet- ice cream- but I didn't have either and in my opinion, the cake doesn't need it. It keeps well, too, if you are not feeding a pack of hungry stoned people who in five minutes time will inhale (haha!) every last molecule of carbohydrate goodness.
That's what's left of mine this morning. It makes a good breakfast food, too, by the way.
So that's my Southern Hippie Grandma Cake is. It's southern because I cook it in the skillet and because I am southern. It's hippie because I made it so often when I was a young hippie. It's grandma because I am a grandmother. Oh hell, let's face it- I am a Southern Hippie Grandma. And now you can make it too, using that recipe. You can use the applesauce AND a chopped apple. Chop the apple pretty fine. You can use shortening or butter or do what I do and use Canola oil. You can use brown sugar or you can fool around with that too. When I made my cake the other night, I used a bit of brown sugar, a bit of honey, and a bit of cane syrup. I like to use molasses in it but I didn't have any. I also added some fresh-grated nutmeg and lemon peel and ginger and vanilla. I put a little milk in there too. Hell, you can even add smushed-up banana in it if you want.
Are you confused yet? As long as you have the bones of the recipe- the shortening, the flour, the baking soda, the egg, you can flesh it out however you want. I promise you. I mean, I used to make this cake so stoned I barely knew my name. Which didn't matter because when I would come out of the kitchen with that cake I was frequently called, "Goddess."
Which is another reason to cook.
I will never be a fancy baker or a chef and my presentation generally sucks but that is not the sort of cooking I was put here on earth to do and I know it. And personally, given the choice between a cake that looks like it was spun from sugar in heaven and which is served on fine china with a silver fork and a linen napkin, or that cake right there in that old black skillet, cut and served on a paper towel to eat with fingers (or toothpick- your choice), I'll take the damn apple cake any time.
But that's just me and I have to admit that I adore grocery-store bakery cakes with that Crisco (or is it lard?) and powdered-sugar icing too so maybe I'm not really the person to judge.
I'm just a southern hippie grandma who learned to cook and bake out of a cookbook printed in 1938.
Okay. Happy Friday, y'all.