December 27, 2007
Out in the country (north of Omaha, south of Fort Calhoun), weakened by WiFi deprivation, I have been digging around in Most Moisturized Mom’s treasures.
The Ancestral Recipe Box. The box itself is not so ancient. It dates to the 1960s, when MMM was beginning her career as a master mixer of canned goods. She was training under her mother-in-law, Grandma Mabel (who in life was called Grandma Gardiner, which sounds less affectionate than it should). Grandma Mabel did not approve of combining (or doing anything else with) canned goods. She made an exception for Jello. In those pre-Julia Child days, everyone made an exception for Jello. Jello had it going ON. But apart from the Jello, Grandma was a scratch cook. She had worked as a restaurant cook in the Depression, so she knew what she was doing. (She worked at the Dundee Dell in Omaha, which I believe still exists, but probably no longer employs a tall taciturn lady to cook all the meals AND bake the pies.)
It’s the contents of the box that are the real treasure.
There are recipes in Grandma’s handwriting, like the one on the other side of this notepaper. This notepad sat for years on Grandma’s telephone table. Telephones used to have their own table. Grandma’s was a classic black-painted wire and stamped metal contraption with an uncomfortable Early Vinyl seat and a surface just big enough to hold the phone and a notepad. (Grandma could make a notepad last a long time. She had a bottle of Jergens hand lotion that lasted a decade.) Understandably, I was really happy to find this notepaper. I do not know what up-to-the-minute banking was, but it sounds like something a person would have wanted.
Since I am really coming out of seclusion for the sole purpose of getting the cinnamon briquets off the top of the blog, I will share a recipe. This is the recipe that will cure you of cake mixes forever (if you suffer from cake mixes). Grandma told me that this cake is just as easy as a cake mix and twice as good, and I heard her loud and clear: You Will Let Us Down If You Ever Use a Cake Mix. Once when I was 9 or 10 I got up at dawn to make a surprise Never Fail Cake for Mother’s Day. I was a bit puzzled by the “sour milk” ingredient, so I put some juice from a pickle jar into the milk. It worked just great. (I think I earned a Camp Fire Girl bead for this project.)
(I retyped this recipe in the 1970s when I got a portable Smith-Corona typewriter for typing term papers. It was a terrible typewriter. I can only imagine what kind of shape the Never Fail Cake recipe was in before I retyped it.)
This is the best recipe ever for cupcakes. So quick! Get the boys baking. Be sure to tell them about the pickle juice trick.
P.S. I have also been knitting. I made 3 more pairs of Fetching mitts, 2 in Malabrigo and one in the remains of the cashmere (sob). I also made a hat for a boy to whom I owe a hat. I didn’t have a pattern, so I made the Never Fail Hat that’s in my head:
The ribbing is in 2-round stripes of 2 shades of Noro Silk Garden. The crown is in one of the 2 shades. I started with 104 stitches, joined to knit in the round, striped until I had a generous fold-over cuff (for warmth and size flexibility), then switched to stockinette. The first round of stockinette was *K11, K2tog, repeat from * all the way around. Then I worked even for a couple of inches (judging the size from the 9 year old and 11 year old heads I had on hand). Then I worked 8 evenly spaced K2togs on every other row until I was down to 8 stitches, gathered those stitches, and fastened off.