Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Pioneer Recipe

Grandma, 1965
An on-going project I am currently in the middle of is converting a bunch of family history stuff to digital format, which makes it easier to preserve and share.  So here recently I have been converting some cassette tape recordings my grandmother, my Mom's Mom, made of her life's history.  She was older when she did this.  She just sat with a tape recorder and reminisced about her childhood, growing up, going to school, how she got started on the violin, getting married, having kids, and so on.  She did five tapes, somewhere around five and a half hours of her soft, sweet voice relating all these memories from her life.  She even sang little bits of a few songs she remembered from her younger years. The wonderful things is that she did it.  The sad part is that she was not too careful to let the recorder get started before she began dictating, or other little details that would have made the quality of the recordings just a little bit better.  So there are gaps here and there, the sounds get a bit muffled from time to time, and here and there are background noises, although that's not always a bad thing.  Its just the sounds of life happening around her. I have only done three of the five tapes so far but its been real interesting.  My converter is such that I have to play the tapes as it captures the sound.  Then, when I'm done, I save it as a "wav" file.  Some really interesting stuff here.

My grandma was raised in a small, rural town.  She was born only about 40 years after the first settlers came to the area.  Her family home was one of the first to be built as families began moving out of the fort that originally was built to protect the new settlers. Later, as things began to be more settled, people began moving farther out from the fort and other small communities began to be established.  Grandma's family had some property about 40 miles from the family home where they often spent much of the summers.  They ran sheep and kept them at the summer place for the most part.  Free range sheep, I guess they'd be called now-days.  She spoke of going up to the cabin each spring and what they had to do to reclaim it from the vermin that had taken over during the winter.

Grandma, 1907
But I digress.  Anyway, as I was listening to tape two, Grandma began talking about a treat her mother used to make, one she remembered from when she was a small child, one that I'd guess she grew up with and made many times herself because she knew the recipe well enough that she included it in her history.  She said, after all, that she really liked it. Unfortunately, she didn't give it as a detailed recipe, she only mentioned the ingredients in passing, only giving the quantities of some of the ingredients, but not all.  As I listened to her talk about it for the few minutes she spent on it, it suddenly dawned on me that she was giving enough detail that I might actually be able to make the stuff.

So here's what she said:
"And there were gooseberries. And the gooseberries, of course, were the first fruit that came on that could be used in the spring and when mother baked gooseberry cake that was a real treat for us.  We'd go out and pick the gooseberries before they were ripe, when they were still quite green just barely getting ready to look like gooseberries because we couldn't wait for some kind of fruit.  And we'd pick them, at least a couple of cups she would want.  We'd bring them down and she'd make an old fashion cream cake and put the gooseberries in it.  The cake was made with - it didn't matter what measurement you used.  One measurement of sugar, one measurement of cream, and then enough flour with baking powder and so forth in it to make a good cake dough, just a regular kind of cake dough.  And the gooseberries were stirred into it just as it was put in the oven. And some vanilla was usually added.  And that was the best cake mother could ever make for us.  After it was cooked it was cut in squares and the squares set out in bowls for us and what was called "dip" was poured over it.  Dip was made from milk and vanilla and lemons and sugar to make it sweet.  And that was poured over the cake and you ate it like a pudding.  It was delicious, all of us enjoyed those cakes very much."

Now I'm not a stellar chef, but I can find my way around our kitchen so I began to figure out how I would make the stuff, how to fill in the gaps.  I have to admit that at one point it made me think of the movie Jurassic Park, how they used frog DNA to fill in the gaps missing from the dinosaur DNA they extracted from the mosquitoes embedded in the amber.  Fortunately, I knew that if I messed up the worst that would happen would be a poor tasting cake.  Nobody's life would be at stake.  Anyway, the other problem was gooseberries.  Not really the season for gooseberries right now.  I'm not 100% sure I'd be able to find any around here in the summer, much less late winter.  I ended up ordering some.  A little pricey and I ended up having to buy more than I needed for one cake.  But I really wanted to try this so I got them.

While I was waiting for my gooseberries to arrive I also spent time looking online for similar recipes, recipes that sounded similar to what Grandma had described, to see if I could fill in some of the gaps.  So by the time the gooseberries arrived I knew what else I was going to use and had it all ready to go.  The last step was to write it all out, like a regular recipe, because I'm that kind of cook - I like to have a recipe.
When I was ready to bake the cake I gathered all the ingredients together.  Gooseberries are smaller than I imagined.  Yes, I must confess that I don't remember ever having seen gooseberries before.  From the pictures I'd seen of them I thought they would be grape sized.
So anyway, I got the pan all greased and floured, and got the oven set to warm up.  Then I started tossing stuff in the bowl.  Grandma had said to add flour until you had enough to "to make a good cake dough, just a regular kind of cake dough." So I was trying to remember what normal cake batter looked like.  The last cake I made was for my son about five months ago. I did the cake but everything after that was a community effort.  Well, I had a very good helper and I was pretty much the supervisor.  Turned out pretty good.  That was a from scratch cake so I was trying to remember what the batter had looked like, since that isn't normally something you pay a lot of attention to, as long as it doesn't look terribly out of the ordinary.  So I added the flour and until it looked good to me, which ended up being just short of a cup.
Then it was ready to go in the oven.  Since Grandma said "the gooseberries were stirred into it just as it was put in the oven" I gently folded them into the batter at that point.
Then I turned the batter into the pan and slid it into the oven.  Of course I had to lick the spatula.  That wasn't too bad, though it was a little sweeter than the last cake I made.  But as an early indicator of how it was going to turn out, it was promising.
The recipe I had found that seemed most similar to what Grandma described said to cook it for 35 minutes so that's what I set the timer for.
While the cake was baking I made the Dip so it would be ready when the cake was done.  Grandma hadn't really said whether or not to zest the lemon but the recipe I was sorta patterning all this after said to so I did.  Grandma also hadn't said anything about portions for the sauce so I was using something along the lines of the pattern recipe for that, too.
I also squeezed all the lemon juice out of the lemon and put all of that in, too.  I was a little worried it might turn out to be too lemony but in the end it was okay.
When the timer went off I checked the cake.  I poked a knife into it and it came out clean but the cake still looked a little under done to me so I gave it an additional five minutes before pulling it out of the oven.  It sure smelled good.  And it looked pretty yummy, too.
I gave it a few minutes to cool and then was going to take the cake out of the pan but decided that might not work too well.  It looked done enough but it just didn't look like a normal, solid cake.  Grandma had described eating it in a bowl with the sauce, like a pudding.  I decided that might be the better choice so I cut a piece, put it in a bowl, and poured the dip on it.  It turned to to be pretty good!  I would call it a success!

So here's the recipe for the cake and sauce as I made it.

1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4/5 cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
15 oz gooseberries

grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350, grease and flour a 9.5" inch pan
Combine ingredients in the order listed, except the gooseberries.  Stir until smooth.
Gently fold in the gooseberries, then pour the mixture into the pan and place in the oven.
Bake for 40 minutes or until a knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Mix all the sauce ingredients and stir until smooth.
To serve, place a piece of cake in a bowl and pour the sauce over the cake.

Not too complicated, if I do say so myself,  Now here's what I'll change when I bake this in the future.

  • I'd increase all the ingredients so that there it makes more cake. That may require additional cooking time.  It seemed to me that the final cake was pretty thin.  While that's not entirely bad, I just thought it ought to have been thicker.  No good reason, it just seems that way to me.
  • I'd leave out the lemon zest and cut back a little on the lemon juice.  I like my flavors a little on the strong side but the lemon flavor was a little stronger than it needed to be.
  • Grandma hadn't really said anything at all about the portions for the sauce so I was guessing on whether we'd end up with too little, too much, or just right.  We ended up with sauce left over when the cake was gone.  So maybe the whole sauce recipe could be cut by a third.
  • If you'll remember, Grandma had said vanilla, whereas I would try it with almond extract.  That's just personal preference.  I like the flavor of almond better than vanilla.
It is also my plan to check with the local berry farm once summer rolls around to see if they have gooseberries.  If they do I am for sure trying this again with fresh gooseberries.  It'd be interesting to see how that affects the flavor.  My pattern recipe said the gooseberries needed to be "topped and tailed" but coming from a can, I didn't have to worry about that this time.

Grandma, 1933
From a family history perspective, I think it's cool that Grandma gave enough detail in her description of this favorite treat that I was able to "reconstruct" it.  I'm not sure I ever had it growing up.  And I certainly don't remember it ever being a tradition or even talked about.  There was another traditional favorite that Grandma did make.  She called them Easter Lillies and made them for Easter all the time.  We knew that if we ever had an Easter dinner or any kind of get-together at Easter time at Grandma's house there would be Easter Lillies.  And they were really good.  She was a remarkable woman, but that's a whole 'nother story.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Memory Stirred

A few days ago there was a big storm in California that blew a big sequoia tree down.  Those trees are so big and old that it made the news. They're big, old, and unique to California.  I don't think they grow anywhere else in the world. Blaubeere saw it and commented that it was unfortunate because she would have liked to have seen it.  The article had made the news all over the place and I had seen the headline but hadn't read any of the articles.  So when Blaubeere said that I commented that she had seen it already.  Then I read the article and realized that the one she had seen was not the same one that had come down.  She had seen some in southern California.  This tree was in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, a ways west of Sacramento.  The park and trees we visited when Blaubeere was three was Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, a ways west of Fresno and south of Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

Anyway, Blaubeere was only three and may not have much memory of the trip.  I thought it was a good time.  We camped in the park for two or three days with family.  And of course, while we were there we had to visit all the sights around the park.
They had tree tunnels at the park we visited, both downed trees as well as through trees still standing.  The tunnel through the standing tree that I remember had a tunnel too small for a modern car. It had been carved through back when wagons were the prevalent mode of transportation so the hole was a bit smaller.
The monster tree we saw was the General Sherman, considered the tallest tree in the world.  It currently stands at 275 feet call, measures 36 feet in diameter at the base, and weighs an estimated 2.7 million pounds.  It is a sequoia, not to be confused with a redwood, which tend to grow more to the north and more in coastal regions of California.  Sequoias tend to live longer than redwoods as well; 3,000 years as opposed to a mere 2,000 years.  The National Park Service claims the General Sherman is the world's largest living organism but that is subject to dispute.  Pando, the trembling giant, weighs an estimated 13.23 million pounds and covers 107 acres.  But anyway, that's a whole different story.
They had another tree that had fallen and been leveled so that you could drive up on it.  There was a short line and we, of course, took a turn.
At the time our family was much smaller, we only had two little girls.
One of the sights in the park was a big, granite dome rock formation called Moro Rock.  Very impressive.  The rock out-cropping has a set of stairs cut in some parts, poured in others, that is 797 feet long with 400 steps that follow natural ledges and crevices to the top.  That's just a few more steps than up the Statue of Liberty.
Yes, some of us did make the trek up to the top of the rock.  Quite a view.
While I remembered that my parents had been on this camping trip with us I had forgotten that my whole family had been there.  This was a family reunion with all my brothers and sisters there, along with all the grandkids.  Fourteen people. Not huge but cool nonetheless! We like family reunions!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Modern Technology in an Old Way

The other day Blaubeere brought  a couple of her kids over and we all went to the local childrens' museum for a while.  As the kids were playing and having fun we noticed an interesting thing happening.  Dragon, who is six and doesn't remember ever a time when stores didn't scan purchases, was playing with his little sister in the grocery store section of the museum.  His sister brought a basket full of groceries to where Dragon was pretending to check her groceries.  His register was an antique, mechanical calculating machine, old enough that it had individual keys for each number, one through zero, in all the columns up to the seventh or eighth place.  The biggest number you could punch in was 99,999,999.99.  The way those old machines worked was you'd punch in your number and then pull the lever down to "enter" it.  Then you'd punch the function key and then do your next number.  They typically only did the four basic functions, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  Lots of key punches to do very limited calculations.  Certainly no scanning as is found on modern store registers.  So young Dragon had to fill in the gaps with his imagination.  The place where the adding machine paper feed out with a "tape" of your calculations became the scanner.  Never mind the lever, it served no purpose.  Nor did the keys get much, if any use.  But the "scanner" was sure busy.
It was a hoot to watch him and suddenly realize what he was doing.  Neither he nor his sister skipped a beat, it was groceries on the counter, scan them, and into the bag with them.  They were moving along at quite a pace, just like at the grocery store.  It was fun to watch.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

From the Past

In between everything else that was going on today I spent some time looking for some specific old photos.  While I did not find the ones I was looking for I did find some others that I thought were pretty interesting.  They were mostly pictures of Blauebeere, from various times and events when she was a little kid.
Like this one - its her and her Mom, still at the hospital after being born.  Granted, you can't see much of her in this picture.  But you can see what a head of dark hair she had when she was born.  It caused quite a sensation on my side of the family where most babies were born with little or not hair.  Then along came Blaubeere with her head of long, dark hair.  Caused quite a stir.
This one is a few years later.  She was a month past her first birthday.  Her dark, thick hair was still thick but it had gone lighter and lighter all the time, until she ended up nearly a platinum blode at one point before slowly beginning to go a little darker again as she grew up.  Brombeere had sewn a big pillow out of old denim, material from jeans she'd been collecting for a while.  It was three or so feet long and a couple feet wide.  Blaubeere's favorite use for it was to do belly flops onto it.  We called it the "jumping pillow".  One day she was doing that with the pillow but it was a little too close to a low table we had sitting in front of the couch... she caught the corner of the table in the eye.  Needless to say, that put an end to the jumping for that afternoon.  And she got a pretty good shinner out of it.  Its kind of hard to see in this picture, but its her right eye.  She got over it pretty quick.  And it didn't put an end to her jumping on the pillow.
A couple of years later Erdbeere was born and Blaubeere got a little sister.  That can be traumatic for the first child, when the second one comes along.  Suddenly the child that has not had to share the parents or anything else suddenly has someone else with whom they have to share, and someone who gets all the attention at first.  Blaubeere's had a thoughtful aunt, who lived only about 40 or 50 miles away,  On the first day we took Erdbeere over to visit, this kind aunt had a present all ready for Blaubeere, a big, blue teddy bear.  Needless to say, Blaubeere was quite pleased.
This is Blaubeere, riding her trike in the driveway of the appartment complex we were managing at the time.  Pretty much any time I was outside working you could usually see Blaubeere riding her trike up and down the driveway.    It was a 12-unit complex, with the resident parking at the back of the two buildings but Blaubeere was real good about watching for cars and getting off to the side, out of the way, any time a car came.
A few years later Blaubeere was six and we had made another interstate move.  One day we went to the zoo with a bunch of family that lived nearby.  It was a fun day, Blaubeere enjoyed seeing the animals and having fun with her cousins.
Two years later my parent's family had a big family reunion.  One of the last ones they held at that level, one of the last ones we ever made it to.  It was held in a valley near where most of the extended family lived.  There was an old fashion steam engine train ride nearby that we all rode on.  This is Blaubeere with her grandpa, riding on the train through the mountains.
The next summer we had made another interstate move and no longer got to see the grandparents or cousins as often.  Fortunately, they came to our house now and then.  Here is Blaubeere in our back yard, with her grandma.

I like looking through these old photos.  I had kind of lost track of them and now recently I have found them.  Its fun to look through them and remember the good times.  Now I just need to find the ones I was looking for today.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

More Goodies!

They know my weakness!  The other day when Blaubeere and her kids were here they came prepared and planning on making cookies.  And not just any cookies, mind you.  They were planning on making my all time favorite cookie, frosted sugar cookies!  And she brought a really good recipe, too!  Of course, most stuff that Blaubeere makes is really good!  She's a "scratch" chef - almost everything she makes is from scratch and she has a collection of excellent recipes, some she knows so well she does them out of her head!  I'm impressed!
So they got out all the stuff and got to work!
This young man is getting pretty good all on his own.  And he enjoys it - a good combination!
She brought everything with her, much of it pre-measured, so it didn't take very long at all before we were rolling out dough.
Everybody pitched in, cutting cookies is, after all, pretty fun.
Some of the cookies were just smashed into shape.  We learned a valuable lesson about how much to "soften" the butter before adding it.  Liquefying it does have an affect on the dough.
Grandma has lots of cookie cutters so everyone got a wide variety to choose from.
I got some valuable instruction in the art of cookie sprinkles from an expert.
She was also the quality control specialist, have to sample the product to make sure we're turning out good cookies.
Of, course, its hard to go wrong with sugar cookies.  Smile!
When you get them cut and cooked you're only half done.  A proper sugar cookie, much like good brownies, has to be frosted to be complete.
Good, thick, done just right, sugar cookies!  Perfection! Among the foods eaten in heaven!
When all the cookies were through the oven then out came the frosting and decorating stuff.  Time for the art!  We were limited only by the fact that the only frosting we had was chocolate.  Of course, that's not entirely bad.
In the end, we ended up with some very fine looking cookies.  And they were every bit as yummy as they looked!
I like making cookies, its especially fun when there are kids involved.  And I like when Blaubeere cooks when she's here.  Its always so delicious!  Good people, good food, good times!  We need to do this again!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

'Tis the Season!

When referring to Christmas we often speak of it as being a season.  More than a single day.  In our family we like to put the Christmas tree and decorations up as soon after Thanksgiving as we can get to it. We begin listening to Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving. Its a fun time of year, with the anticipation and all, the good will that seems to pervade most of society, and the sparkle and excitement that fill any little kid that's around for Christmas time. Everyone has their favorite family traditions to observe that include insane and excessive baking, favorite movies to watch, service and visits to make, advent count-downs to do, treats and goodies to deliver, traditional meals and drinks to prepare and consume, caroling rounds to make, scripture readings and re-enactments to do, work, church, and other parties and performances to attend, and a host of other family traditions and practices to observe during the season.  Our family is no different.

As we reach the point of having three fourths of our children married, and over a dozen grandkids, we are exploring the new territory of observing and celebrating Christmas as an extended family, as in us with our kids and their kids.  As our kids marry, leave home, and establish their own family traditions, we are excited to be able to participate with them and their families in their Christmas celebrations and continuing to have them be a part of our Christmas celebrations.  Especially since right now most of them live relatively near by and are much easier to visit than it has been in years past when they were scattered across the nation and lived far away.

For the last several years, as kids have left home, putting up Christmas decorations have gotten down to just the two of us, with Brombeere engineering the majority of the decorating and me helping out here and there as assigned.  This year, however, we had lots of help.  We had Erdbeere, Heidlebeere, and Maulbeere and their families visiting for Thanksgiving so we decided to get our tree out while they were all here and enlist their help.  It was a lot of fun to see the kids getting excited and helping!
Maybe it was because it wasn't their own decorations so they were new and different.  Maybe it is that way anyway at their own homes because the tree and decorations are special and only come our once a year, but the kids were really exited to see and help put it all together and on the tree - it was a lot of fun!
I personally like lots of lights on the tree and since we had plenty of help we got lots on.  Brombeere had replaced a bunch of our lights that had worn out and quit working last year.
So, because we wanted to have the kids help before people started heading home, our tree went up two days after Thanksgiving, on that Saturday.  Then, because we knew we were going to be traveling for Christmas day, we had Schwartzbeere and Maulbeere back over again a couple of weeks later to open presents.  This was Duckie's first Christmas, which is always interesting.  At that age they don't know what they're supposed to be interested in and often are more taken by the wrapping and paper than the actual gift.
With lots of prompting, he got the job done.
While we could and have mailed gifts to the kids, its always so much nicer to be there and watch as they open their gifts.
So we sat around the living room taking turns opening gifts, a tradition from the family I grew up in that has been carried on in our family.
As seems to be normal, the littlest one got behind because he was too busy playing with the paper to be interested in opening anything.
Himbeere was there for the festivities, he cheered right up for the day.
Right in the swing of things.
The Maulbeeres were in on this "first opening".  Always the Christmas socks first.
That's another tradition at our house - socks first, then the gifts.
Despite the efforts of some, there are always some real surprises in the gift opening.
This year Brombeere got surprised a couple of times by the things she got.  It was a lot of fun to watch.
A nice "wreckage" picture - despite the efforts to contain the mess, by the end of the gifts there is always a mess.
That was it for opening gifts in the middle of December.  A couple of weeks later we were off to Moosebeere's house to spend a few days.
They had a really nice tree, lots of decorations, lots of presents, lots of anticipation among the kids.
Some found it hard to observe the "hands off" rules that usually accompanies Christmas.
As it was, we were there on Christmas day, which was a Sunday.  So present opening had to wait until after church.  But then it was full steam ahead!
Christmas is best with little kids.  They are so fun to watch!
They get so excited, especially the ones that are a little bit older and remember what its all about.
Young Miss E really wanted a "rainbow scarf" - she was so excited to see it!
The hat goes right on!
Nice to see I wasn't the only one taking tons of pictures.
Everybody was getting into the act!
Now I have some reading to catch up on.
After a Christmas session at Moosebeere's house it was back home to our own house and tree.
A few days after we got back from visiting Moosebeere, Blaubeere and her kids came over for the last Christmas session.
These presents had been sitting under our tree all the time we were celebrating with the other kids, just waiting for the time Blaubeere could make it over.
There's something to be said for spreading out the fun of Christmas.
By the time we got to this session of Christmas it had gotten to be so long since we wrapped the gifts that we had forgotten what some of them were.  Double the fun of opening them!
Bromeere, who does most of the gift shopping for the grandkids, does such a good job.
Its so fun watching each of the kids open their stuff.  They have such a variety of reactions.
All in all, it was another very good gift session.
There's a lot to be said for stretching out the Christmas season like this. This year we got to be there with all but two of our grandkids for a session of Christmas gifts. That was nice. I don't know if this year will turn out to be unique or if we will repeat it next year, or some other year in the future.  We'll have to see where the kids live and how it works out with taking turns between our house and the other side of each family.  But for now, this was a real fun year in which we got to see so many of our kids and grandkids as they celebrated Christmas and opened their gifts.  If the opportunity were to present itself again it would be worth doing again.