Chew On This

Chew on this: Family food traditions

aweigl@newsobserver.comMay 7, 2013 

Before I wrote about food, I covered the court system. I wrote stories about murder trials and the death penalty. I also got to know Raleigh lawyer Hugh Stevens.

Even though I no longer spend my work days talking to lawyers, I still occasionally talk to Stevens because he’s a food and cocktail aficionado.

A month or so ago, Stevens offered to let me borrow a few of his mother’s old cookbooks. He was most amused by a “Joys of Jell-O” booklet that his mother likely got from General Foods Corp. decades ago. You can’t help but laugh, like Stevens, or be grossed out, like me, by such recipes as “Ring-Around-The-Tuna” featuring lime Jell-O, chopped pimientos, stuffed green olives and a can of tuna.

But I was most excited to explore the recipes in a handmade cookbook among the ones Stevens loaned me. The book was a three-ring binder with thick, substantial sheets of paper between alphabetical dividers. Inside, Stevens’ late mother, Evelyn, had taped scraps of paper with handwritten recipes as well as recipes clipped from newspapers and magazines. There also were random recipes tucked between its pages. The book had long since lost its covers and required gentle handling.

Evelyn Stevens, who died in 2003, was known in her family for her cakes, especially her pound cakes. This cookbook is a testament to her specialty. The “C” chapter contains the most recipes. The splotched and stained pages were useful guides to her favorites.

I turned almost immediately to a recipe for Fresh Apple Cake that calls for three cups of diced apples and a cup of pecans. On a recent Sunday afternoon, I made that delicious cake, perfect for breakfast or dessert.

About that cake, Hugh Stevens said, “I remember it well.”

Stevens explained that he grew up for the most part in Burlington. His father worked for Burlington Mills and took a packed lunch to work every day. Besides a sandwich and an apple, there was usually a piece of homemade cake, wrapped in wax paper. Stevens’ mother made pound and Bundt cakes in every flavor, including chocolate, lemon and strawberry.

I really enjoyed the chance to spend a little bit of time with Evelyn Stevens’ cookbooks. I spent several recent Sundays baking cakes from some of the most-stained recipes. My husband even commented that he liked waking up from an afternoon nap to find a cake on the kitchen counter.

The experience reminded me of the importance of family food traditions. My paternal grandmother served dessert after dinner each night. My aunt in Florida continues that tradition with the three generations who gather at her dinner table most evenings.

I’ve been wondering what family traditions I will create that my daughter may one day try to carry on. Will it be making a cake on Sunday afternoons, if I can continue this streak? Will it be how I make potato pancakes – the way my paternal grandmother made them by grating the potatoes and frying the thin cakes in Crisco? Or will it be something I haven’t even started doing yet in my kitchen that takes hold for her?

This Mother’s Day week seems the perfect time to find those favorite family recipes. Or to have a conversation with a mother or grandmother about recipes, dishes or traditions that they recall. Those recipes and conversations may spark a new tradition for your family or revive an old one, a fitting way to spend a Sunday, especially this one honoring moms.

To see a printable version of the recipe, click on link below:

Fresh Apple Cake

Fresh Apple Cake Use a food processor to easily dice 4 peeled, cored medium apples. Adapted from Evelyn Stevens’ recipe collection. Butter for greasing the cake pan 3 cups flour, plus more for dusting the cake pan 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil 2 cups sugar 3 eggs well beaten 2 teaspoons vanilla 3 cups finely chopped fresh apples 1 cup chopped pecans

HEAT oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a tube pan or bundt cake pan. Set aside.

SIFT flour, salt and baking soda together in a large bowl. Set aside.

COMBINE vegetable oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla in the bowl of a standing mixer. Once mixed, add 1 cup of chopped apples at a time. Once all the apples are added, then add the pecans. Add 1 cup of flour mixture at a time, stirring until flour disappears into the batter before continuing with remaining cups of flour. The batter will be stiff. Pour batter into prepared tube pan.

BAKE cake for about an hour, until a skewer inserted into cake comes out clean. Once the cake is cooled, remove from pan and serve. Yield: 10-12 servings

Weigl: 919-829-4848

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