Since moving to Southern California with my husband, we see a lot of his Grampa! It’s priceless time that we share with him, cause we won’t live in California forever! If there is one thing I have learned about the man, it’s that he loves to spend time with family around food. He is always planning a big meal of comfort food. The staple side dishes of deviled eggs, potato salad, and cucumber salad, always accompany a tasty meat and a dessert! No one makes ribs like Grampa! Honestly, they are the most tender, fall off the bone, ribs you’ll ever have. I’m not a picky eater, but I am a critical eater, so that tells you something!
My other favorite part of these classic meals, is the stories. Stories of his rebellious years, stories of his marriage, and his kids. Quite frequently squished in-between these stories is one about his attempt to make his mother’s Spice Cake. He loved when she made it for them as kids, and recalls begging her to make it on several occasions. Recently he has tried to make it, following her original recipe, with no luck. “It turns out like a hard rock, every time!” After hearing the story a few times, I decided that it might me a little hint for me to give Granny’s recipe a try. So one day I dug up the ‘ol recipe to see what I was getting into. It’s a spice cake, how hard can it be, right?! This is the hand written recipe I found:
2 cups sugar
1 cup shortening
3 cups cooked raisins
1 cup juice from raisins
2 tsp baking soda
4 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp clove
1 tbsp vanilla
1 cup walnuts
pinch of salt
Her instructions say “Mix all ingredients together and bake in an oven of moderate temperature for about 2 1/2 hours.” What?! Nothing about this seems right to me. You have to remember, I really don’t know what I am doing in the kitchen half the time. I just work by trial and error. So to me, “cooked raisins”, “juice from raisins” and baking a cake for 2 1/2 hours, sounded like failure. I decided to make 1/2 the recipe incase I did fail and resulted with a hard rock.
I researched what “cooked raisins” might mean, and how I should go about cooking them. The majority of my research lent me the thought that I should bring the raisins to a boil with 1/2 as much water as raisins, cover and then turn them to simmer for 10 minutes. I also learned that, back in the day, the raisin liquid was often reserved and used in baking to act as a preservative, keeping the baked good from going moldy too soon. Huh, who would have known!
Following the instructions, to a T, I throw everything in a bowl and start to mix it… It’s a big lump of dryness. Great, well I know this isn’t gonna bake well for 2 1/2 hours. So I decided to scratch it and start over, using a bit of what I think I have learned from baking and my own experiments.
Start by cooking the raisins. Bring 3 cups of raisins to a boil with 1 1/2 cups of water. Cover the raisins and lower the heat to simmer for about 10 minutes. Strain the liquid from the raisins, reserving the liquid. It should measure about 1 cup, which is what you need! Beat the shortening together with the sugar till fluffy. Add one egg at a time, making sure they mix in well before adding the next. In a separate bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients. (flour, baking soda, spices and salt). Slowly add the raisin liquid till well combined, then add the flour mixture a little at a time till incorporated. Add vanilla, then stir in the cooked raisins and walnuts. Pour into a bunt cake pan that has been oiled then lightly dusted with flour. Bake in a preheated oven of 300 degrees for 1 hour or when a toothpick inserted, comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack before removing from the pan.
The cake is traditionally baked in a bunt pan, and served without any icing, but I (making only half the recipe) choose an 8 in round cake pan, cut it in half and iced it. Cream cheese icing goes well with the spices in the cake, and a dusting of cocoa powder for garnish!
The look on Grampa’s face when he realized I had made his mom’s recipe was priceless. He almost shed a tear! I’m so glad he liked it! I’ve decided to make it a tradition to have Granny’s Spice Cake every Thanksgiving, and let her recipe live on! She probably had no idea, the day she wrote her recipe down, the impact she would have years later! That is precisely what I love about food, and baking. It brings people together, creates memories, carries on tradition, and creates legacies.