Monday, June 7, 2010

Sour Cream Rhubarb Coffee Cake: An Heirloom Recipe

About 5 years ago I hijacked my mother's recipe boxes, and combed through them in an effort to compile the recipes of my childhood. There were scalloped potatoes with ham, always prepared in mom's yellow bowl. And Grandma Nan's marinated leg of lamb, a fixture on Easter Sunday, with little Irish potatoes, peeled and roasted to a mahogany brown in the rich pan drippings. Something in me knew that it was critical to possess this knowledge, to be able to recreate the flavors and cooking smells of these recipes, long after their authors are gone.

One thing led to another and soon aunts, uncles, and cousins were filling my inbox with recipes that begged to be arranged in a family cookbook. We all knew the taste of Grossmamma's Lebkuchen cookies, or Grandma Louise's Springerli. And what about Grandpa Bill's barbecued chicken, prepared on his cast iron kettle grill at the cabin in West Branch? These are the Midwestern, no-nonsense flavors of our family tree. A salamagundi of our German and Irish heritage, heavily influenced by the hearty home cooking of our beloved Great Lake State.

It became a yearlong project, and finishing it has proved to me over and over that sometimes our greatest contributions involve no income or fame. I typed up over a hundred recipes, including any family history or anecdotes available. I received wonderful stories about hunting camp, and the hotel where my mom, aunt, and uncle grew up while their dad was running it. I was given recipes I had never tasted, but that were a part of our parent's childhoods. I bought binders, tabs, and sheet protectors, and set up an assembly line on our dining room table. They were finished just in time for Christmas.

My relatives tell me that their copies of the Family Cookbook are well-used, as is mine. It was the first place I looked when I discovered the stalks of ruby red rhubarb growing in the yard of our new home. If anyone would know how to resourcefully use it up, and in a way that could be shared with friends and neighbors, it would be my Grandmothers and/or Great Grandmothers. They didn't like to let things go to waste, not even a patch of rhubarb. I'm pretty sure I recognized Grandma Louise's scrawl on the recipe card, but she didn't directly take credit. Maybe it was one of those recipes shared by a friend, after they enjoyed a piece of cake together with a cup of black coffee. I'll have to call my mom, and ask her if she remembers her mom baking this delicious cake. If there is a story there, I can't wait to collect it for my own recipe box.

Sour Cream Rhubarb Coffee Cake

This cake has a surprisingly thick batter, almost like cookie dough. It yields a moist, dense cake, that perhaps accounts for the very high water content of rhubarb.

1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped nuts-- chef's choice (I used walnuts)
1 Tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup shortening or butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch lengths

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

In a small bowl combine first 4 ingredients for topping. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the shortening or butter with brown sugar and egg. In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to creamed mixture, alternating with sour cream. Mix thoroughly. Add rhubarb and stir to combine. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle with topping and bake 40 to 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.


eleni said...

This surely must be a great companion to coffee or tea... nicely done!!

zerrin said...

Sounds yummy with these flavors. Would be great with a glass of milk in the morning.

Andrea @ Fork Fingers Chopsticks said...

Sweet post. I'm working on some recipes for our family cookbook, so this post resonated. I'm thinking I should get my momma's strawberry rhubarb jelly recipe to include.

Cassandra said...

How did you know I am up to my eyeballs in Rhubarb? Thanks for this recipe, I'm going to try it this week.

Sippity Sup said...

One of my most treasured items is a collection of my mother's recipes that my brother bound into a book after she passed away. GREG

Food-G said...

Thank you for the comments, all. I would have to agree with zerrin on the notion of a tall glass of cold milk alongside a piece of this old fashioned cake.

Greg- I knew you would get this one, after reading your posts about cooking your mom's recipes. Beautiful, and inspiring : )

P.S. Just got an email from Cassandra. She made this and gave it two thumbs-up. Nice to get feedback from reader recipe testers. Thanks C!

Dorothy form Shockinglydelicious said...

This is a "must make!"
I also learned a new word:
salmagundi (had to look it dict. has it with an i instead of a y at the end).

Appreciate both recipe AND word!

Food-G said...

Thank you for the comment Dorothy. And for the proper spelling!

There's a story behind Salamagundi. It was a dish my Grandma Louise used to make when she was babysitting us. We dreaded it. I think Salamagundi means a little bit of everything, and her version was basically a meatloaf with whatever kitchen scraps and leftovers she could find. There were bits of corn, ketchup, rice, all kinds of stuff. It's definitely in the family cookbook, strictly for posterity.

She was a great cook and I'd surely have more of an appreciation for it now, but we still laugh about her Salamagundi.

Lentil Breakdown said...

Nice meeting you at camp B. I've been making rhubarb desserts lately too. Yours looks good!

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