My younger son, Nick, was standing in the hallway outside the kitchen of our home on Sylvandell Drive with a piece of coffee cake the size if Kansas in his hand, when he stopped and became very serious. “Mom,” he said. “This recipe is written down somewhere, right? Because you can’t die until you write down the recipe.”
I assured him that the evolution of the family favorite was recorded, adaption by adaption, in the cover of my cookbook. Because the book with green-checkered trim is my favorite, I jot down my own, often-used experiments inside the cover.
No matter how carefully I record outcomes, there are some things that only experience can tell you. Applesauce can be subbed in if I’m out of eggs, water is better than milk for texture (but not if I’m trying to get calories in a sick child), and only I can tell if I use brown or white sugar in the batter.
I understood Nick’s concern all too well because, like a jigsaw puzzle missing a really annoying piece in the middle, my own childhood memories had a hole in them for years.
When my Grandma Sue Goeglein died, no one could find her peach cobbler recipe. Twenty or more years later, my cousin Tricia contacted me on a random afternoon because she’d been idly flipping through Great Aunt Clara’s cookbooks when she found my grandma’s recipe. I’m so lucky that she remembered my persistent queries at family gatherings–didn’t anyone have that recipe stashed somewhere?
“Somewhere maybe,” my cousins would say. “We’ll look.”
Tricia had found my heart’s desire jotted down on a loose piece of paper among seldom-turned pages. The cobbler recipe was the best gift she could have given me, but now it is doubly treasured because Tricia too has passed on.
I’m grateful my sons understand the power of food–tied into generations of celebration, grief, religion and tradition–because the right recipe can conjure a person, a place or a moment across time and distance. A virtually limitless power sprinkled with cinnamon.
WRITE-IT-DOWN-BEFORE-YOU-DIE COFFEE CAKE
Grease well a square or circular metal baking dish. (For 9×13 inch pan, double recipe.)
Mix batter ingredients:
2 cups Bisquick
2/3 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons powdered vanilla
Pour into prepared baking dish
Mix topping (can be doubled, depending on preference):
1/3 cup Bisquick
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons of butter slightly softened (not to the point of melting)
Mix topping ingredients well with a fork until crumble is clearly one consistency. This can be done with a fork or a mixer.
Score batter in a grid pattern with butter knife before spreading topping evenly over batter.
Bake at 400°F for 20 minutes.
Test with a fork, which should come out free of yellow cake.
GRANDMA SUE’S PEACH COBBLER
3 tablespoons shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup flour
Then mix in:
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoons salt
4 pints sliced peaches
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Grease baking dish.
Put half of the batter in the bottom, add peach mixture, then add rest of batter and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes.