Friday, August 17, 2007

Rhubarb Cake

One of the true treasures of my cookbook collection isn't Baking: From My Home to Yours, Tartine, or even the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. It's an old plastic bound collection of worn-and-torn pages between two laminated pieces of yellow construction paper. The title quotes Psalm 37.3 in black script, fancier than everyday handwriting but by no means calligraphy. "You Shall Be Fed" it proclaims. This was the fundraising effort of the United Methodist Women of Zion United Methodist Church of Denmark, WI. The purpose was to raise funds for a new addition for the church, a hand-drawn picture of which is there for your inspection, on the dedication page just past the front cover. There are no full colored, highly styled photographs but the page dividers do have little black magic marker doodles illustrating the subject of the pages that follow it. The recipes are terse. These are not instructions, these are formulas. There are no sidebars explaining terms and techniques, no science lesson on the Maillard reaction. It is expected that you know how to 'cook' because why on earth would you be buying a cookbook if you have never been in a kitchen before?

These old books, passed over many times in used book stores for the Food Network production overruns, are truly treasures. Has Rachel Ray ever included a recipe for ice?

1 empty 1/2 gal. milk carton (preferably Lake to Lake)

Pour water in 1/2 gallon carton and put in freezer until firm. Can be broken apart for crushed ice or left whole and used to keep things cold in cooler or box. May be refrozen.

Does "Whoever has a heart full of love always has something to give." sound like a quote from a Tony Bourdain book? Of course not.

But I have to admit it's more than just kitsche that brings me back repeatedly. Many of the names that appear throughout this book are the same names that appear throughout my family tree. Plus, it has notes on the recipes, and a few more grandmother.

recipes in the blank space, in the familiar hand-writing of my

Take, for example, this recipe for rhubarb cake from my great-grandmother.

Rhubarb Cake
Elsie Schneider

1/2 c. shortening
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 lg. egg
1 tsp. soda in 1 c. sour milk or buttermilk
2 c. flour
1 tsp. vanilla
3 c. rhubarb (cut in pieces)

Use well greased pan. Cream shortening, sugar, salt, and 1 large egg. Add soda, buttermilk, flour, and vanilla.

3 c. rhubarb - cut in pieces. Sprinkle 1/2 c. sugar.

That's it, that's the entire recipe. It was assumed you would know things like oven temperature for baking cakes and times. My grandmother wrote "Bake 350° 45min" in the margin (that would be a 'Moderate Oven' according to the helpful oven chart included at the book's beginning).

I've made this cake several times now, first with just rhubarb and with a rhubarb-cherry mix. Both times it was delicious. The cake, though sweet, highlighted the fruit without overpowering it. The cherries and rhubarb worked well paired, and I think I could have even reduced the sugar in the topping by a quarter cup or even all of it.


Lisa Kendrick said...

I love church fundraising cookbooks! Great blog!

Paul said...

Thank you very much!