As the last of the plates were cleared grandma disappeared from the table. A moment later she returned carrying with her an aged tin box containing over 50 years of collected recipes. The lid no longer able to close as hundreds of handwritten recipe cards and yellowed newspaper recipes packed tightly inside.
For the next hour I sat at the table oblivious to the squeals of the children around me and the conversation that continued as I tucked into the recipes already making plans to copy dozens of them. I held that box and imagined all the dinners that came from its contents. The cards themselves stained from the food that fed my dad and his four siblings.
I was holding a treasure. I felt the great value of that box and was so honored that grandma had thought to show it to me.
“Why don’t you take it?” She said.
I sat still for a moment reveling in her offer. It didn’t take much of her insistence before I held the box tighter overjoyed at this gift.
One of the reasons this blog exists is to create a similar sort of collection for my family. Instead of a tin box studded with blue and orange flowers this site houses our recipes as a sort of memoir of our meals. I am so eager to interweave in these pages the recipes that my grandma deemed worthy of feeding her family and entertaining the people who she graciously opened her home to.
Within minutes of riffling through the cards I found a recipe for Rhubarb Cake. It is no secret that I revel in the arrival of Spring mainly for the sake of Rhubarb so I knew this cake would be the first recipe I’d try.
What I find particularly endearing about these recipes is that there is little more than a list of simple ingredients. The few words written to describe the process show an assumed knowledge that is quite lost in our generation. I find the missing details freeing and the reminder that baking wasn’t always such a fearful act that required scales and a degree in chemistry. My grandmother’s and my mother knew how to bake by the feel of the batter and the way the dough reacted to their touch.
I creamed the butter and sugar by hand just as I imagined grandma did. There is something I find quite romantic about relying solely on a wooden spoon to bring a batter together. As the brown sugar and butter lightened in color and my arm felt a bit of a burn from the mixing I tossed in the remaining ingredients and sent the cake into a hot oven.
What emerged was a dense cake studded with tart rhubarb and scented with cinnamon making it the perfect cake to transition from Winter to Spring. I used its hearty texture and the presence of a vegetable as an excuse to enjoy it for breakfast – twice. And with an afternoon cup of coffee it paired quite nicely as well.
Grandma was wise to tuck this one away and now thanks to her, I’ve done the same.
The simplicity of this cake makes it the perfect solution when a sudden urge to bake emerges. I made a few adjustments to the original recipe – enough to make it feel more me while still maintaining the feel of grandma.
2 cups chopped (rough 1/2″) rhubarb
1/2 cup (not packed) brown sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, soft
1 cup (not packed) brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup semolina flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
Butter and flour a 8 or 9″ (2″ high) round cake pan.
Pre-heat your oven to 350*
In a small bowl add the rhubarb and 1/2 cup brown sugar. Let that sit for 30 minutes.
In a large bowl cream the butter and 1 cup brown sugar until light. Add the egg and vanilla. Add the rhubarb mixture and yogurt. Stir well. In another bowl whisk together the dry ingredients then add it to the rest of the ingredients stirring well to combine.
Spread in your prepared pan and bake for 50- 60 minutes or until the middle of the cake springs back when lightly pressed.
Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes before removing from the pan and cooling completely on a wire rack.
Store well-covered for up to three days.