Paying Da Bills

My friend Margaret preserved her family legends of hospitality and food in her own family heirloom cookbook. With each recipe she told a story to go with it. She recalls the following story about her grandmother’s cakes.

My parents were born in 1924. When I asked them questions about food and their childhood, their memories were vivid and clearly influenced by the Depression. My favorite story was about my maternal grandmother’s cakes. My grandmother, her sister-and-law and a friend sold cakes, pies, cookies and fresh fruit at a little stand my grandfather built near his brother’s farm. They set up on Fridays and Saturday mornings. My grandmother also paid the family’s doctor bills with angel food cakes. For years, she baked an angel food cake each week and took it to the family physician as payment.

I wonder if our kids will be talking about memories of food? Hope so!

Esther’s Spice Cake

This was one of the cakes Margaret’s grandmother sold at her cake stand during the Depression. The mocha icing probably made it a best seller. Cindy Dyer photographed the cake I baked from Esther’s recipe with the Depression-era milk glass cake stand.

  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon mace
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup molasses

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour two eight-inch round cake pans.

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, mace, and cloves. Sift together and set aside.

Put the butter, sugar and eggs in a large mixing bowl.  Cream the butter, sugar and eggs until smooth and well blended.

Stir the milk and molasses together in a smaller bowl.

Add the milk-molasses mixture into the creamed butter mixture in two stages alternately with the flour mixture.

Beat until the batter is well blended and smooth after each addition.

Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean.

Cool for 5 minutes. Turn out the cakes from the pans onto a cooling rack. Cool completely.

Photo by Cindy Dyer.

Read more about Margaret Barkers family cookbook in the Winter 2013 Celebrate Home Magazine, page 54, “Green Chicken: Creating a Family Heirloom Cookbook.”

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