Chew On This

Weigl: Chatham County woman honors late mother with family cookbook

May 20, 2014 

Correction: A recipe for Lemon Sour Cream Pound Cake did not say when butter should be added to the batter and incorrectly referred to an ingredient as granulated flour. Add butter at the same time as granulated sugar, flour, salt, baking soda, sour cream, eggs, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Like many people, I have a small collection of handwritten family recipes – in my case, from my grandmother Anna Weigl – that I hope one day to type up and share with relatives.

So far, I’ve typed up at most three recipes. I can never seem to find the time to dig into the task.

Well, Ruby Hart, 63, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Gulf, a small unincorporated area in Chatham County, gives me hope.

Hart spent about 18 months typing up her mother’s collection of recipes and gave a 2-inch binder filled with them to each family member last Christmas. And Hart faced a much more daunting task than I do with my slim folder of recipes.

Hart’s mother was the late Pauline Powers, who spent most of her life in Siler City as a homemaker and seamstress. She died two years ago at age 93.

Powers loved to cook. She was known for her pound cakes, her Southern-style green beans that no one in the family can replicate and her fried chicken, which was a popular dish at the annual dinner on the grounds at Oakley Baptist Church in Siler City.

“Pauline’s fried chicken would be the first thing to go,” Hart recalled.

When her mother sold her house before going into assisted living, Hart said the family counted 240 cookbooks to sell, and those were the leftover books after her mother and family members took the ones they wanted.

“She read cookbooks like I read a novel,” Hart said about her mother. “You could call her and say, ‘I need a recipe for such-and-such.’ She’d tell you to hold the phone or would call you back. She knew exactly what recipes were in each book.”

Those books don’t include all the handwritten recipes that Powers tucked into folders, notebooks, even her Bible. She passed those along to Hart, and urged her to someday turn them into a family cookbook. Hart recalled the conversation they had less than two years before her mother died.

“Do you still have all my recipes?” her mother asked.

“Yes,” Hart replied. “They are in my big brown picnic baskets.”

Her mother responded: “You are going to make a book out of them? If I saved them, it was for a reason.”

Those baskets sat in her living room for several years. “After she died, I kept looking at those baskets (and thought) ‘There’s Pauline’s life right there,’ ” Hart said.

So Hart began the task. She reviewed other cookbooks to figure out how the recipes were categorized. She divided the recipes into folders for each chapter, and then went back through to alphabetize them and eliminate duplicates.

Then came the heavy lifting. For the next 18 months, Hart spent about an hour each night typing recipes. She tackled the pound cake chapter first because it had the most recipes, at 83. She reasoned that at least if she went no farther with the project, that chapter could be shared with the family.

While Hart is modest about the undertaking, her brother, David Powers, is as proud of his sister’s project as he is of his mother’s cooking.

“Many family members say that they wish someone would compile this information for future generations but rarely do they follow through,” he said. “Like photos, they are put away in a box and rarely, if ever, brought out. Ruby has given me a gift from Mom that will always be visible on the shelves and a tangible item that will be a constant reminder of Mom’s love for family and friends.”

I don’t know if there is any greater gift. I hope Ruby will inspire many of us to do the same.

Lemon Sour Cream Pound Cake

This pound cake is delicious with summer berries, such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. From Pauline Powers’ family cookbook.

1 cup butter, softened, plus more to grease pan

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting pan

3 cups granulated sugar

1/3 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 (8-ounce) container sour cream

6 large eggs

4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided

1 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided

1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon lemon zest

BUTTER and flour a 10-inch tube pan. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

PLACE flour, sugar, butter, salt, baking soda, sour cream, eggs, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl. Beat at low speed with a mixer for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Spoon batter into the pan.

BAKE cake for 1 1/2 hours or until a long wooden stick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake on a wire rack for 10 minutes; remove from pan and cool on wire rack.

MAKE lemon glaze: Stir together powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and lemon zest until the glaze is smooth. Drizzle evenly over cake.

Yield: 10-12 slices.

Weigl: 919-829-4848 or aweigl@newsobserver.com; Twitter: @andreaweigl

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