Posts Tagged ‘family memories’

Steamed Jam Cake

February 17, 2013

photo-9Dan and Nadara sent me a tattered brown notebook from Aunt Margie’s keepsakes. With frayed pages and faded writing, this listing of household expenses, journal entries, and a few recipes dates from the 1860s and 70s.  At the same time I was reading Laura Engalls Wilder’s Little House On The Prairie, a novel taking place at this time, to my granddaughters. While Wilder’s family traveled from Michigan to Missouri, my grandparents moved from Wisconsin to Colorado.

Life for all these early pioneers was rustic. As Leslie and Alexis looked around their comfortable house with its state of the art kitchen and we read about cooking in a “spider” over an open fire, I asked them to imagine how early settlers might have baked a little cake or their cornbread. As the girls and I paged through the old booklet of nineteenth century accounts, we found a recipe for steamed cherry pudding. The next day I met them after school with a small cherry cake steamed inside a saucepan, and we had our answer.

Based on the traditional Irish steamed jam pudding, this cake can bake in a saucepan on a quiet burner of the stove and provide a tender teacake or a warm winter dessert without heating up a big oven. The batter is simple enough for a child to mix, and although it takes an hour to slowly steam, the anticipation brings our pioneer history into today’s kitchen.

Steamed Jam Pudding

Raspberry, cherry or strawberry jam
1 oz. finely chopped dried cherries, currants, raisins or cranberries (¼ cup)
1 ½ oz. soft butter (3 tablespoons)
2 oz. sugar (5 tablespoons)
grated rind ¼ lemon (optional)
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 egg (large*)
2 ½ oz. all purpose flour (½ cup)
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons milk

*If using an extra large egg, subtract 1 tablespoon milk.

Choose a pudding basin, a small soufflé dish, a glass beaker or Pyrex pint measuring cup, or a deep ovenproof soup bowl that will fit on a small rack inside a deep saucepan or Dutch oven.
Butter the dish and line the bottom with a circle cut from a waxed paper butter-wrapper placed print-side down. Spread 2 tablespoons jam over the bottom and a little up the sides of the dish. Fill the saucepan with a quart of water and bring to a simmer.

In a mixing bowl cream the soft butter with sugar, lemon peel and vanilla until fluffy. Add egg and beat vigorously with a whisk or beater. Sift over the flour, baking powder, salt, and mix. Blend in milk and beat again 10 seconds. Stir in dried fruit of choice and spoon batter into prepared mold. Smooth the top and cover with a piece of waxed paper or parchment, then clamp on a square of aluminum foil secured with a rubber band. Lower the ovenproof mold on to the rack or a saucer in the simmering water, cover and allow to steam at a gentle gurgle for an hour and 15 minutes. If using heavy pottery, cook the pudding 15 minutes longer. Remove from saucepan, lift off foil and paper and test for doneness.

Loosen edge of cake and invert onto a serving dish. Peel off butter wrapper circle and glaze the cake with more warmed jam thinned with a little water if needed. Cool slightly before cutting into wedges and serve to 4 or 5 with whipped cream.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at

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Cheese ‘n’ Biscuits

June 7, 2012

My dad had callused hands, cracked heels and a temper that could split stone. He rose early, knew the hours without looking at the clock and clung to the land. He defined himself by his work whether it was selling cars, picking raspberries or pruning peach trees, and travel made him eager to get home. His voice rose with “ Holy, Holy, Holy” at First Presbyterian, and I didn’t know whether to relax or tremble in his presence. When he cooked breakfast for everyone, he opened a hidden door to a generous side, and his blue eyes twinkled.

His specialty was a homespun version of Welsh rarebit served on hot homemade biscuits with fruit, jam or bacon. Most people don’t think of the “cheese on toast” idea as something for breakfast, but it is indeed delicious and serves as a simple supper equally well. While his tender drop biscuits were in the oven, Dad melted a hefty amount of grated cheddar in milk and stirred in a couple of beaten eggs just before serving.

I’m refining the process here by thickening the milk first with a little cornstarch to guard the melting cheddar against curdling, which really isn’t a problem outside of appearance. If I don’t have biscuits on hand, some good whole grain toast will suffice. Rather than breakfast, I’d choose this cheese dish for supper or a starter with a dab of chutney or salsa. Now that I live far from the apricot tree out the back door, a side green salad will complete the plate.

Father’s Day beckons us to remember; I’m thankful my dad cooked.

Joe’s Cheddar Rarebit

1/3 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon cornstarch

2 oz. grated sharp cheddar (3/4 cup)

salt, pepper, cayenne, dry mustard (optional)

1 farm fresh egg, well beaten

Bring milk to simmer in a small saucepan. Season with pinch salt, pepper and optional dash of cayenne and/or mustard powder. Liquify cornstarch with a teaspoon of cold water and stir into scalded milk. Simmer stirring until milk thickens to the consistency of heavy cream. Add grated cheese and stir with wooden spoon until cheese melts.

At this point the milk and cheese will look thin. Blend three spoonfuls of the hot cheese into the beaten egg; pour the tempered egg back into the cheese in the saucepan and continue to stir with wooden spoon in a figure-eight pattern. Cook, stirring gently over low heat until the spoon leaves a dry path on the bottom of the pan and the cheese has thickened to a soft, dolloping sauce.

Spoon cheese onto split, hot biscuits or over crisp, buttered toast. Serve with a dab of spicy tomato chutney or salsa and a green salad. Makes a light first course for 3-4 or supper for 1.

Sally’s Gingersnaps

October 14, 2011

Throughout my school years, I wished for a best friend. I didn’t find her until I was well into my 30’s and had school-age children of my own. We met over flats of pansies, Ruth’s coffee and the university women’s sewing circle. We shared favorite books, family dinners and sent postcards from travels. We grew as close as blood sisters and sometimes each wished for what the other accomplished. We visited on her back garden bench, pondered life’s great questions and saw our young ones begin to forge the reality of their own experience.

Decades passed, her knees weakened, her shoulders asked for replacement, she fell, she forgot. Light started to leave my talented and dignified friend. I spoke but she no longer answered. I felt alone when I knew her fluttering eyelids had closed. As we left her earthly dust in a quiet churchyard where yellow leaves swirled at our feet, I clutched my gift, my memory of the best of friends.

Her Mennonite heritage brightened each autumn with pumpkins, apples and Pennsylvania Dutch Gingersnaps.

Sally’s Gingersnaps

 4 oz. unsalted butter (1 stick)

3 ½ oz. sugar (½ cup)

6 oz. unsulphured molasses (½ cup)

1 small egg or 2 tablespoons beaten egg

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon powdered ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground allspice (optional)

¼ teaspoon dry mustard powder (optional

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

10-11 oz. all purpose flour (2-2 ¼ cups)

Cream butter and sugar mixing in molasses and egg. Stir in salt and all spices. Dissolve soda in vinegar and add to mixture along with enough flour to make a stiff dough. Scrape the dough into the center of a sheet of plastic film, wrap and chill several hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°. Divide chilled dough into 6ths and roll each small piece on a lightly floured surface to a thin circle; aim for 1/16th inch thickness. Cut into rounds or other shapes. Place on parchement covered baking sheet, sprinkle with sugar and bake for 9-10 minutes. (Add the scrapes from one rolling onto the next segment of fresh dough before another rolling.)Take care during baking since molasses cookies burn easily.

If thin rolling is too difficult, roll each segment of dough into a long snake about ½ inch in diameter; cut into cherry sized lumps and roll in balls. Place balls on parchment covered baking sheets and press with oiled, flat bottom of a small glass dipped in sugar. Redip the glass in sugar for each cookie. Makes 6 to 8 dozen gingersnaps.

Note: Photo shows both cut-out and hand shaped cookies.