Skillet Upside Down Cake

Oil and line a 9″ skillet with parchment paper. Drizzle in 1/4 cup melted butter, and layer with sliced pineapple and cherries. Sprinkle chaotically with light brown sugar. Pour in vanilla-flavored sponge cake batter and bake until sides have pulled a little from the pan. Cool well before inverting; refrigerate before slicing and serving.

Willadeen’s Spoon Bread

Willadeen Monahan and her sister Geraldeen used to sing on the local radio shows in north Mississippi back in the 1950s. They were pretty and could sing up a storm, but the act never went anywhere. In time they both married and settled down, Geraldeen in Kosciusko and Willadeen in Como, where I became her neighbor.

Panola County gets mighty cold in the deep Delta winter, and when the north wind came whipping down on us like a blue devil, Willadeen would call us up and say, “Y’all come on over and get some of this spoon bread to keep you warm. You know I make the best in the world!” And she did. Here’s her recipe.

Preheat oven to 400. Sift 1 cup cornmeal into 2 cups of lightly salted boiling water. Lower the heat and stir vigorously to a stiff gruel. Remove from heat and mix in a cup of cold milk or cream–this is best done with a whip.

Add 2 well-beaten eggs and 2 tablespoons melted butter. Blend until very smooth and ladle into a heated, well-oiled 8-in. baking dish. Willadeen used a skillet, which gives a nice crust. Bake until firm in the middle and nicely browned, about 40 minutes, less if you’re using cast iron. Serve hot from the oven with molasses or honey.

No Churn Ice Cream

Line a lightly buttered loaf pan with parchment paper, and place it in the freezer.

Pour a 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk into a mixing bowl, add two teaspoons pure vanilla, and refrigerate. Whip two cups of heavy cream to stiff peaks. Working quickly, GENTLY fold the whipped cream into the sweetened condensed milk, along with any additions—mashed macerated fruit, chocolate syrup, or crushed cookies or nuts—until well blended.

Pour into the frozen loaf pan and cover with plastic wrap. Freeze for at least four hours. Some recipes will tell you to stir the mixture after about two hours (while you still can) but you don’t have to.

A Proper Fool

Some people make a fool with yogurt or (Lord help us) instant pudding, but to make a proper fool, you must make custard.

For six servings, scald two cups milk. When warm, and add to a blend of two well-beaten eggs with a half cup sugar and a teaspoon vanilla. Pour into a double boiler. As it begins to thicken, add a tablespoon of corn starch blended very well in a tablespoon of milk. Once very thick, refrigerate.

To two cups sliced fruit, add a quarter cup sugar and macerate for at least a half hour. Stir if you can think about doing so. Layer fruit and custard, top with stiff cream. Chill and garnish–a dust of nutmeg is a nice touch–before serving.

Bugs Bunny’s Carrot Cake

This recipe is the only one you’ll ever need. Many might consider the dark rum optional, but it’s essential to the recipe. Even if you’re a teetotaler, the alcohol burns off in the cooking, and good heavens you’re bound to know someone with a bottle.

I like a mix of gold and dark raisins, and prefer salted pecans to walnuts. Like so many great cakes, this one is best made the day before.

Mix thoroughly ¾ cup vegetable oil and ¾ cup warm buttermilk with ¾ cup white and ¾ cup light brown sugar (you don’t have to pack it). Set aside. Sift together 2 ½ cups plain flour, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 2 teaspoons each ground cinnamon and ground ginger, and a couple dashes of nutmeg.

Add half the dry ingredients to the oil/buttermilk mixture, and the rest alternately with 4 well-beaten eggs at room temperature. Add two cups grated carrots, about ¾ cup raisins, ¾ cup chopped nuts and a cup of drained crushed pineapple. Finish off with a tablespoon of vanilla extract and a generous slug of dark rum (okay, three ounces).

Pour batter into a Bundt or two 9 in. layer pans and bake at 375 until fragrant and springy. For the frosting, mix a pound of cream cheese and ½ stick butter at room temperature with powdered sugar to texture, a teaspoon almond extract and grated orange zests. Sprinkle with nuts.

Poppy Seed Pound Cake

A friend from Texas—east Texas, mind you—now living in Maine said their neighbors considered pound cake Southern because the ingredients are cheap.

Well, dear hearts, those are the very reasons Americans have baked this cake well before Burr shot Hamilton. This recipe is a felony with fruit, a mortal sin with ice cream.

Preheat oven to 350 (a crucial step). Grease, line, and set aside a 10-inch loaf pan or Bundt. Cream 2 cups sugar with a cup of softened butter. Stir in two tablespoons of poppy seeds, a cup of buttermilk, 4 beaten eggs, and at least a tablespoon of vanilla extract.

Sift 3 cups of plain flour with a teaspoon each of baking powder and soda. Gradually blend with liquid mix until smooth. Bake for an hour, then turn the oven off and leave the cake in until the oven has cooled. Rest on a rack an hour before slicing.

Atomic Brownies

After WWII, “atomic” was a synonym for “great” or “super.” Even strippers billed themselves as “Atomic Bombs.” Recipes for atomic brownies started appearing in cookbooks at the same time, but they’re about as atomic as a stripper.

Brownie Base

1 cup unsalted butter
14 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¼ cup milk
1½ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cups coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted

Chocolate Drizzle

1/3 cup heavy (whipping) cream
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the butter and chocolates in a large saucepan over low heat, stirring until mixture is melted and smooth. Whisk in sugars, eggs, vanilla extract and milk, blending until smooth. Add flour and salt just until mixture is combined, stir in nuts and spread into 13 x 9-inch baking pan lined with greased parchment paper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or so. Cool pan completely on a wire rack. For the drizzle, bring cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Remove pan from heat and add chocolates, whisk until smooth and cool until thickened. Pour over brownies, and cool in the refrigerator until firm before cutting into bars.

Chocolate Pudding

In a quart pot, stir together a half cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, and a quarter cup of unsweetened cocoa. Using a whisk, mix the yolks of 3 large eggs and 2 ounces finely chopped dark chocolate in a cup of whole milk and a cup of whole cream. Gradually add to dry ingredients with a whip, blending very well, and bring to heat slowly, whisking continually until mixture begins to thicken. Use a spatula to scrape the bottom of the pot and prevent sticking and scorching. When thick, blend in two pats of butter and a tablespoon of pure vanilla extract. While still warm, pour the pudding through a strainer into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until cold. Use a fine whisk to cream pudding before spooning into serving containers.

Magic Pie

The Southern boomer table—for which, I might add, I barely qualify—is peppered with dishes fabricated in company test kitchens.

Green bean casserole is likely the most conspicuous example, but there are dozens of others. Many commercial dessert  recipes include the word “magic,” as if merely waving your hands over the ingredients would produce a cake, pie, or cookie.

This recipe is from The Country Gourmet, distributed by the Mississippi Animal Rescue League in 1983. The book features a short forward by Eudora Welty, who writes, “Guarding and protecting, trying to save, all life on earth is a need we all alike share.”

Beat six ounces of whipped topping with a thawed can of lemonade concentrate and a can of condensed milk. Pour into a graham cracker pie crust and chill (in the freezer, jly) one hour before serving.

Scripture Cake

Scripture cakes constitute culinary evangelism, yet even those with the most enlightened knowledge of the written Word might have to consult chapter and verse.

1 1/2 cups Judges 5:25
2 cups Jeremiah 6:20
2 cups 1 Samuel 30:12
2 cups Nahum 3:12
1 cup Numbers 17:8
2 tsp. 1 Samuel 14:25
4 1/2 cups 1 Kings 4:22
6 of Jeremiah 17:11
1 1/2 cup Judges 4:19
2 tsp. Amos 4:5
a pinch of Leviticus 2:13
season to taste with:
2 Chronicles 9:9
Follow Solomon’s prescription for unruly boys in Proverbs 23:14.
Bake at 350 until springy and toothpick-dry.