I have to begin this post by confessing that I am actually a “Pie Person”. There are Cake People and there are Pie People and I am sure you know which side of the kitchen you land on. I also know that some of you swing both ways, and would be loath to pledge your troth to either the pie or the cake camp. I came to the Pie Lovers Club via a one-way ticket from my Grandmother Fern (of Fern’s Tomato-Rice Soup fame). Fern could knock out pies that would have you on your knees begging for another slice; gooseberry, rhubarb, raspberry-peach, blackberry, lemon, Shoofly, raisin, custard, sweet potato, pecan, chocolate and my childhood favorite…Lemon with Mile-High meringue. LORDY! My mother,( Fern’s second daughter), was not a pie baker but did make an occasional cake with chocolate being her hand’s down favorite. She also liked her cakes with many layers and a lot of whipped heavy cream, which I think was her Germanic heritage coming to the fore. While I was really a stellar child in so many ways, I know that I did disappoint my mother in that I did not share her love for all-things-chocolate or the rich cream laden cakes and desserts that she loved. I was more of a fresh fruit gal, except for my grandmothers pies. I wish I could tell you that I had a natural talent for making the perfect pie crust, but that would not be true. What is true is that I spent HOURS with my grandmother making batch after batch of pie crust (both butter and Crisco based) until I got it right (‘right’ here being defined by when my grandmother thought it was “good enough to serve to company”) I went through pounds and pounds of flour that summer and my brother ate most of the rejects that made it to the filled pie stage. Many batches never got out of the starting gate, but took the dive right from the bread board to the garbage sack *sigh*. I think I can say, if somewhat immodestly, that after almost fifty years of practice, I make a dang respectable pie. Fern would be proud. My three adult children always wanted Birthday Pie instead of Birthday Cake when they were growing up –and they got it from a smiling me.
In case you were wondering, NO, I have not forgotten that I am really writing about cake here. Just wanted you to have a historical context as I do not hand out stamp of approvals for cake recipes gratuitously. One note of caution here–if you are a person who is expecting something light and fluffy with heaps of icing or a deluxe whipped cream filling, STOP READING now. You will be disappointed and we don’t want that to get in the way of your confidence in my opinion of what consists of a recipe worth sharing. If, however, you are looking for something that has a long history of its own, is easy and thrifty to make, and is just the thing on a cold damp February evening, then read on, as I have JUST the thing for you.
I don’t know who Tillie was, but I have seen many recipes similar to this one, which are variants of the boiled raisin cakes of the Depression years and after into WWII. In those times when our world was filled with uncertainty, this was the kind of dessert that could take the edge off of a not-so-nice day and the average person had most of the ingredients already at hand. No extravagances here, just plain deliciousness.
TILLIE’S HARDTIMES CAKE (circa 1920- something)
I do hope Tillie will forgive me for making a couple small adjustments in the original recipe. I couldn’t help myself.
1 Cup water
1 Cup white sugar
1 Cup golden or dark seedless raisins
1 TBSP finely grated fresh lemon zest (organic if possible)
1/2 Cup softened butter
2 Cups flour (*I use 1/2 white and 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 tsp Powder ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt (I use kosher)
1 tsp baking soda
1 well beaten large egg
1/2 to 3/4 C. chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 X 13 ” baking pan (I spray mine with regular “PAM” baking spray) In a medium saucepan, combine water, raisins, sugar and lemon zest. Bring to a low boil and boil for two minutes. Remove from heat and stir in softened butter, stirring until butter melts completely, let cool a bit. * Original recipe said to SIFT flour, baking soda, spices and salt together three times. I do not do this. I just put all of the dry ingredients in another bowl and stir them together really well. Now add somewhat cooled raisin, water, sugar and zest mix to the dry mix–next add in the well beaten egg. Stir for at least a minute to make sure it is well mixed. Fold in the walnuts and pour into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake tests done (I start checking after about 20 minutes) While cake is baking prepare the following glaze:
Easy Does it Lemon Glaze
Juice from ONE large fresh squeezed lemon
1/2 tsp fresh lemon zest
2/3 to 1 Cup sifted powdered sugar
Beat the lemon juice, zest and powdered sugar together in a small bowl. Stir really well to avoid having undissolved lumps of powdered sugar sitting on top of your cake. This will not affect the taste, it just doesn’t look that great. Pour the glaze over the hot out of the oven cake while it is still in the pan. I like to poke the cake a few times with a toothpick to make sure the glaze seeps down into it. Cool cake in the pan and serve to your happy loved ones. This keeps really well for a couple of days if you can stop yourself from eating chunks of it over the sink when no one else is around to share it with you.