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Day 538: Connections...

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My mother's mother was 20 when my mother was born; my mother was 20 when she had me. I've written of my grandmother (and even my great-grandmothers) before.

I don't think I've written much about my other grandmother, my father's mother.

My paternal grandmother was nearly 40 when she had my father - he was the baby of the family. Hence, my other grandmother was almost the same age as my mother's grandmother.

Back to today:

I'm sorting papers. There are so many boxes of papers. My mother kept EVERYthing: old cash register receipts... a brochure handed out through AT&T (where my Dad worked) in 1960... newspaper clippings... instructions for long-gone appliances... birth announcements and Christmas cards and schoolpapers &c.

It will take the rest of my life to go through it all, because (as crazy as this drives Himself) I want to check everything before I toss anything. You never know, right?

Back to today, take 2:

At the bottom of a box of unrelated ephemera, I find a small batch of handwritten recipes.

I'm pretty sure - sure enough I would bet money, and I'm not a betting woman unless I know I'll win - they are from my father's mother. My parents lived with her (she was widowed by then) for the first few years after they married, and as a young bride my mother learned to cook from her more than from her own mother, and it makes sense that my mother ended up with many of them.

I don't really know my grandmother's handwriting, but I'm reading through recipes with titles like "Ruth's Cake" (Ruth was Gram's sister-in-law), or "Florence's Sugar Cookies" (Florence was her best-friend from school), or "Gertrude's Dill Pickles" (Gertrude was a next-door neighbor). You can understand why I'm confident where these came from.

They are not on cards: I doubt my grandmother ever had a recipe box, as such. They are written on scrips and scraps of paper - the back of an envelope, the bottom of a torn-off paper, and even on the back of a "Bill of Lading." The few that bear dates are from 1924 and 1929 and 1917.

I came across a recipe labelled "Mamma's Coffee Cake." I cannot help but think it came from my Great-Grandmother Crawford. The handwriting matches that of the others, and that my grandmother wrote it down from a recipe of her mother's seems plausible.

My Great-Grandmother Crawford was the youngest of seven or eight; her parents emigrated from Germany in about 1850; the oldest kids were born there, but the rest were born in America. I've wondered if my great-grandmother spoke German, or at least understood it.

Back to Mamma's Coffee Cake: if this recipe came from my Great-Grandmother Crawford - was it her own? copied from someone else? might it have been her mother's, based on a German recipe?

Mamma's Coffee Cake

1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
1 cup sour milk
1 cup cold coffee
1 cup shortening
3 cups flour
2 T.P. (presumably "teaspoons") soda
cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, salt

That's it. No pan size, approximate temperature, how-to's, nothing.

Gramma cooked on a woodstove, and wouldn't have had an assortment of baking pans. She'd have used the broomstraw-test for doneness, and experience would've taught her when the oven was at the right temperature. In other words, no surprise that she didn't bother writing those details down.

I'm tempted to try this recipe, out of curiosity if nothing else, although it nags at me that there are no eggs. It reads like a 'Depression Cake,' or one of the eggless cakes from WWI / WWII, except that those often rely on dried fruit for moistness and to help them stick together - no fruit here.

Still, I might experiment with this one day, if only to see how it turns out.

And it doesn't matter where the recipe originated: I choose to believe it's a link to that distant, great-great-grandmother. At the age of about 25 with two toddlers and another child on the way, she and her husband packed up some meager household items and a few clothes, leaving everyone they'd ever known to make a new start in uncharted territory.

Courage comes in all forms.

Hope you're having a good 'un, Sparklers - carpe diem!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    It sounds like a scary quest you have taken on to sort all those papers especially if scribbled recipes catches you that much emoticon

    IMy food obsession makes me want to try that recipe although cakes is what I really donĀ“t need for the moment... but that "coffee" ingredient speaks to me!
    2489 days ago
    LOL---COURAGE!!!-----Good for you to bake that--HOPE IT TASTES GOOD!--- hI kASEY---LYNDA
    2501 days ago
  • no profile photo CD14049861
    I loved reading your words and having you share family history and memories. I found several recipes from my grandmother and great-grandmother a few years ago. They, like yours, were written on paper and backs of envelopes. I made copies of them and then framed the originals pictures of the grandmothers and had them hanging in my kitchen for a long time. I took them down last time I washed the walls and haven't put them back up - I need to because they remind my of my heritage every time I look at them.
    2502 days ago
    Should be an interesting experiment---good luck---probably for an 8 in cake or 2 or for a 9 by 13 type pan---most had the round pans and the rectangle one.
    You never know what you will find in there---like the recipes---a real find!
    2502 days ago
  • PHOENIX1949
    What a great treasure trove!

    I have just recently returned to sorting through the many boxes of items from my parents' home (to my home in 2002) after an almost-two year break. Originally there were 30 boxes of 'stuff' dating back to items saved diligently by my great-great grandparents.

    Somewhere I've seen a cartoon that says 'Packrats make great ancestors.'
    2502 days ago
    Now I'm not a bake by no means, nothing I bake from scratch ever turns out, but maybe the shortening takes the place of the eggs???? Heck yeah I would give it a try too if I were you.

    I think you might like these websites :

    www.kitchennostalgia.com - check out the magic cake recipe on this one.

    www.oldetimecooking.com - looks pretty good too

    Enjoy !!!
    2502 days ago
    Courage in many forms, indeed. What a great connection, across years and generations! Hope it turns out well, when you do the experiment.
    2503 days ago
    350 degrees seems like a safe bet for the temp. and guess you'd have to keep an eye on it to see when it looks done (the old toothpick test, perhaps?). As for the size pan? See how much batter it makes :) As you can tell, I'm no pro. Good luck and I'd love to know how it turns out. Love old recipes that are passed down...treasures. emoticon
    2503 days ago
    Loved your blog. Let us know how the cake turns out.
    2503 days ago
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