Please welcome Sarah, an artist, as a guest blogger on The Perfect Pantry. Sarah's work has won numerous awards and fellowships, and has been featured in exhibits across the country. She is a dedicated urban gardener and coordinates a large multi-cultural community garden in Boston's South End.
Guest post and photos by Sarah in Boston
When I was a kid, my mom created a special scrapbook cookbook especially for my dad.
He was plagued with terrible headaches and swelling in his hands and feet, and assumed that he had food allergies. Through trial-and-error cooking, they concluded he must be allergic to eggs.
As a traveling salesman, my dad had to eat most of his meals on the road, so when he came home they tried to calm his system with all his favorite comfort foods.
It wasn’t until he was in his late sixties that he was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease, hereditary angioedema -- not food allergies -- and, after treatment, to his great joy he could eat anything. But two of those egg-free desserts, made with ingredients from my mother's pantry, remained his particular favorites: Wacky Cake (in the top photo), which my mother made for family birthdays, and Poor Man’s Cake.
I loved to help my mom make those cakes; I thought baking was a science experiment. I would poke my finger into the dry mixture of the Wacky Cake to create a hole for the baking soda and vinegar. Mom would add the baking soda and I would add the vinegar for a little Mt. Vesuvius reaction.
My father had a ritual with the Poor Man’s Cake (photo below). He would bring home freshly ground spices from his travels to large cities or ethnic neighborhoods around the Midwest. (I still think using spices at their peak makes the cake a particularly aromatic delight.) We would make the cake after dinner, because Dad preferred that the cake be eaten the day after it was made; he said letting it "sit" saturated the cake with flavor.
I can still see him smacking his lips as he sat watching the cake, waiting for it to saturate, the house filled with the aroma of ginger, cinnamon and allspice. But usually before bedtime we would notice a small slice missing from the side!
Back then people thought my mom was brilliant for creating such clever no egg-meals and desserts from what she had in the pantry. I don’t think she ever revealed where she got the recipes.
A couple of years ago I stumbled upon MFK Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf. Written to respond to World War II rationing, the book tried to show the value of enjoying home-cooked foods and how to create menus with ever-limited supplies. It championed the kitchen garden, foraging for wild greens and berries and, of course, hunting. The book is filled with recipes like roast pigeon, prune roast, and green garden soup, but her War Cake seems like it could have been the genus of my own Wacky Cake.
When I was young, we all looked forward to Mom's buttery, triple chocolate frosting. After my own near-religious conversion to natural foods, I tried to recreate this cake using healthy ingredients, but it just wasn't the same. My one concession: instead of the frosting, I make this with a fruit sauce. My favorite is cranberries; the tartness balances the rich chocolate taste.
1-1/2 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp vinegar
1/3 cup salad oil
1 cup cold water
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add remaining ingredients in order: vinegar, oil, and water. Mix well. Pour into a cake pan. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean. Frost with chocolate butter cream frosting.
Poor Man's Cake
My father's favorite.
1-1/2 cups raisins
1 tsp powdered ginger
1-1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp melted lard (I use canola oil)
2 tsp baking soda
All-purpose flour, enough to thicken the batter (approximately 1-1/2 cups)
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Boil raisins in 2 cups of water for 10 minutes, until tender. Drain, cool and add spices, sugar and canola oil. Then add 2 tsp baking soda and enough flour to thicken the batter. Pour into a cake pan and bake for 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean.
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