Our Hardy Ancestors II


You know what all these guys had in common? (Well, besides a gene pool and a fish dinner.)  They all liked cake. And, they all liked bacon. These “Hardy Ancestors” posts are dedicated to recipes that had their best days a lifetime ago, with my great-grandfather (an HA if there ever was one)  at the far left on the sofa. Days when food was abundant if you didn’t mind the lack of variety, and work was hard and long enough that you didn’t. And then there was dessert.

My father liked a “planned dessert”. I don’t think my mother had ever heard of such a thing growing up, but it was an ongoing topic of discussion at the dinner table all their married lives. A planned dessert implied something thought out and prepared long before the meal: apple pie, butterscotch layer cake or bread pudding studded with raisins and served with hard sauce. The category did not include ice cream, store-bought cookies or instant pudding. Occasionally there would be a recipe that would satisfy both husband and wife – the perfect blend of yin and yang for ingredients, formality and ease of preparation. I give you:

Cinnamon Bacon Sponge

1 egg, beaten, 1/2 C sugar, 1/2 C molasses, 1/4 C melted bacon fat, 1/2 C boiling water

1 tsp soda, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 and 1/8 C flour (a heaping cup)

Mix the bacon fat with the boiling water. Stir, and when slightly cooled add the egg and sugars. Add to the dry ingredients and mix well. Place into a greased 8 x 8 pan an bake 35 to 40 minutes at 350. Serve with whipped cream.

I like to add chopped apples or raisins, and I use the pan drippings from our best pepper bacon for extra kick. Bon appetit!



It is your face that I keep within my heart, the sound of your voice that I keep within my mind, the days of your youth that rise in my dreams, give shape and color to my words, my sentences.

Whatever theme I touch, whatever thought I utter.

C. P. Cavafy

Raspberry redux



We have a lot of raspberries, even in the worst year in memory for any kind of produce. They are soft – almost too fragile to pick – and seem to progress from hard pink to overripe in a matter of hours, but there are plenty of them. I’m sure part of the reason is that I have two hives of local pollinators who managed to get the job done even through near constant rain and below-average temperatures.

Today I went out immediately after work and picked about 2 C before the rain caught me out. I actually heard the wall of water rushing through the trees, but didn’t make it to the house before I was soaked through and the bowl of berries was wet. I didn’t have enough for a batch of jam, so I mixed in some blueberries and made:

Martha Louise Miller Barnard Synder’s Berry Delight

1/4 C butter, 1/4 C flour, 3/4 C brown sugar, 1 C white sugar, 2 Tbs lemon juice, 1/4 tsp. salt, 4 C berries (divided) Adjust the proportions up or down for the amount of berries you have on hand, and feel free to add a dash of allspice or cinnamon.

Put all the ingredients except 2 C of the berries in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. I put all the ingredients in first and the berries on top, but I remember my mother and grandmother putting the berries in first. Cook, stirring often, until everything is melted together and the sauce is bubbling. Let it simmer for 3 – 6 minutes, depending on how thick you like your sauce. Empty the sauce into a serving bowl and let it cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Stir in the reserved berries and serve warm, over vanilla ice cream. Or use as pie filling in a baked crust, or just eat with a soup spoon over the kitchen counter.

My Grandmother (Martha Louise) had a house on a hill in New Hampshire where we spent summers picking blueberries into peanut butter tins, collecting the brass casings from .22 ammunition and swimming in Newfound Lake. The mothers stayed up late doing laundry on the wringer washer and making pots of Blueberry Delight, which is also very, very good with raspberries.

Raspberry Jam

Tonight we celebrate the first batch of raspberry jam from Garden 2009. We’ve had rain nearly every day this summer and the berries are soft and fragile. The canes have been blown off their supports so much of the fruit is hidden beneath overlapping branches or resting on the ground. Picking is a lot thornier this year as a result, and the mosquitoes add insult to prickliness.

I like to use a large, plastic bowl for picking raspberries.  That way, when I jump back and let out a girlie scream because of the leopard toad (or fox sparrow, or grass snake) that just leapt up my leg, I don’t break the bowl and spillage is minimal.

First, lay out your equipment. 2 Quarts of berries (5 C mashed) needs 7 C of sugar, 1 package of commercial pectin and makes about 9 Cups. You’ll need 4 pint jars, lids and screw tops, a canning funnel and  a jar lifter (both optional but make life a lot easier), a large kettle and a wooden spoon. Clean everything, including the kitchen counter where you will be working. Use clean dishtowels. Wash the jars out with ammonia and dish soap and leave them upside down in the dishrack until ready to fill. raspberry-jam-2Or hey – keep them in the dishwasher if you have a dishwasher. You probably do; I think I may be the only person I know who doesn’t. And you’ve seen my kitchen – if I had one I’d have to put it outside in the yard. Anyway, place the lids under water in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, turn the heat off and let them sit in the hot water. Or, you know, dishwasher. I don’t have a dryer either. Make sure your wooden spoon is clean and aroma free, since the last time you used it was making black chili made with coffee and beer and you don’t want your jam redolent of either.

So, 2 quarts of berries comes down to 5 Cups mashed in your good steel kettle.

raspberry-jam-1Yes, there are a few blueberries in there. It happens.  Turn on the heat to medium high and stir a little until you get a small amount of juice forming. Add the pectin and stir until absorbed.

This is all on the package directions, but you’ll want to wait till this mixture boils and add the sugar all at once.

I agree, this looks like a lot of sugar.raspberry-jam-3

What can I say? We’re preserving food here, folks, and before sugar was a problem involving weigh gain and rotting teeth, it was a preservative.

After you dump this huge bowl of sugar in the pot and stir the lumps out the mixture will begin to look like JAM. Bring the mixture to a full boil that will not “stir down”, that is, will not stop when you stir into it. You’ll notice a complete change when this happens – the jam will appear to be made completely of tiny bubbles and it will grow up the sides of the pot. Lower the heat a little and keep stirring for one minute.

Now allow the jam to sit while you grab those beautifully clean jars out of the dish rack/dishwasher and line them up on the clean cutting board with the pristine canning funnel in the first one. At this point you can take a metal spoon and skim the foam off the top of the mixturWe. This is probably a good idea if you don’t grow your own fruit – the foam can contain dust and impurities – but I skip this step. Give it one more stir to move the larger pieces off the bottom of the pan and pour into the jars, leaving about 1/4 inch head space. This is where an actual canning funnel comes in handy – there will be a line on the inside surface at exactly the right height. When all the jars are full, and you’ve dumped any leftover jam into a spare coffee cup or whatever, wipe the tops quickly with a paper towel to remove any splatter. There shouldn’t be much, but it will interfere with the seal of the lids.

Carefully drain the lids without touching them with your fingers (I use the jar lifter to hold them in place). Place the lids on the jars without touching the undersides and screw the “screw top” down lightly. Move the jars to a towel or trivet using pot holders or the jar lifter – they’ll be very hot (ask me how I know) in a draft free place, close together but not touching. After a few minutes I turn them upside down for 10 minutes or so. Folklore says this improves the seal and the “mix” of heavy pieces in the syrup. I never have a problem with those things, so I keep doing it this way – experiential learning has its place, eh? Tighten the lids after the jars have cooled. The next day, check the seal – the top depression should be sucked down, not bowed up, and there should not be any leakage around the lid. If you have any doubt, refrigerate and use that jar right away.

Be sure you mark the jars somehow. People can and do make lovely labels to celebrate the fruits of their labor, but I tend to grab a Sharpie and write the month and year on the lid. If there’s something different about the batch I write that too – I filled out the necessary amount with strawberries, or used ground oranges with this batch of peach preserves. All this is good to know when you grab a jar out of the canning cupboard to put on the waffles next Christmas morning, but you won’t necessarily need a beautiful label.

Next, clean up (because there’s is nothing stickier or more beloved of ants than a batch of jam) and sample the leftovers from that coffee cup. And think about what to preserve next – lekvar? Rose hips? Mint jelly? The world is just waiting for you to cook it down and pour it into a clean jar.


No, he does not sell rats.

RATS clamsThis is the sign at the bottom of our road. RAT sells great clams, mussels and cherry stones (a small, dark clam) but his signage is maybe not as clear as it could be. We live half a mile up this road and RAT lives a little ways further on. Every summer we explain the sign, and the lack of rodents, to tourists who stop by the driveway while we’re out gardening.  You were going to ask, right? No, you cannot buy rats here. No. Today I had TWO cars stop and ask about the rats. It’s going to be a long summer.

And the clams have to drive slowly, too.


Poverty Cake



Tonight we’ll have a central Asian rice stew (because I have everything on hand, including two cups of cooked rice from last night’s curry), with Poverty Cake for dessert.  Poverty Cake was a staple of my mother’s family during The War and was too good to let go when times got just marginally better in the fifties and sixties. I remember this cake sitting on the counter at the house on Tunxis Avenue, the dark brown of the cake showing through the brilliant white frosting on one slice – because my mother liked her’s plain.

This recipe is for the dark, rather chocolately version that includes cocoa. You can skip the cocoa and up the spices a little bit and it will still be very good. Some people prefer it this way. My family used Crisco, but my uncles preferred it sans cocoa and with bacon fat or lard for the shortening.  My own variation is to add chocolate chips, and I’ve made it that way for decades so that’s how my family expects it.  Obviously this recipe is a blank canvas on which to paint your wildest cake dreams, or something. It also packs well in a lunchbox.

Poverty Cake (from a recipe card in my mother’s handwriting)

Grease and flour a tube pan, regular size – not a Bundt pan. This isn’t a huge cake, which is another of it charms.

In a medium saucepan combine 1 C water, 1 C sugar, 1 C seeded raisins (can you buy non-seeded raisins nowadays?), 1 heaping Tbsp shortening (whatever), 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cloves, 3 Tbsp cocoa (optional) 1 tsp salt. Boil without stirring for 5 minutes. Cool. (The cooling part is important. If you’re in a hurry go out and put the pan in a snowbank or something like I’m going to in a minute. If the mixture is still hot when you put in the flour and baking soda you’ll end up with little white sour clumps in the finished cake.)

Add 1 3/4 C flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp vanilla and about a cup of chocolate chips (optional). Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes, or until firm and glossy.

Frosting: A heap of confectioners sugar (about half a bag), add 3 Tbs melted butter and enough milk to make it spreadable. If you’re planning a vegan version, use Earthsource or another soy margarine and almond or soy milk, or follow in my mother’s footsteps and enjoy it without frosting.

Weather post

The snow begins tomorrow, 5″ or so during the day (no school cancellation) and another 9″ or so overnight. Maybe a late start tomorrow. Our narrow gravel road is already down to one rutted lane in places, another foot of frozen water will just add to the fun.  I have a whole series of drawings and photos from the last storm, to be titled “Big Snow, Little Tree”.  The woods are full of ’em.

Deep in the woods

Deep in the woods