Old-Fashioned Cooking: Red Velvet Cake and Butter-Rich Frosting


Photo Credit: http://www.mccormick.com/Recipes/Dessert/Red-Velvet-Cake-with-Vanilla-Cream-Cheese-Frosting

In this modern-day-take-it-out-of-the-freezer-and shove-it-in-the-microwave world, we often lose sight of what real food tastes like. Not too surprising, when you look at the ingredient lists on most prepared foods. Many so-called foods have more chemicals than food ingredients. I figure if you can’t even pronounce half the ingredients, you shouldn’t rely on it as a major food source. On the other hand, just think about beef stew or chili simmering slowly through the day, ready to warm the cockles of your heart – not to mention your cold hands – come dinner time. Or home-made breakfast burritos or Cornish pasties, stored in the freezer for those mornings when you can barely find the kitchen, let alone think up a menu.

Photo Credit: http://www.instructables.com/id/Red-Velvet-Cake/

When I was much younger than I am now, I first made my husband his favorite birthday cake — Red Velvet Cake with Butter-Rich Frosting. I got the recipes from his mother, who was the sort of experienced cook who made many foods from scratch and by eye. I carefully followed her written instructions, presented the finished product to hubby, who tasted and allowed as how it didn’t taste like Mom’s. It was good, he hastened to add, seeing the glint in my eye; it just didn’t taste quite the same. Thus began repeated experiments. I doubled-checked the recipes with my mother-in-law, tried it again and got the same response. Then I watched her make it, taking notes all the while. Then I made it while she supervised. Each time, the response was the same: “It’s good, but it doesn’t taste quite the same as when Mom makes it.” The implication being, I simply wasn’t the cook his mother was. Thoroughly fed up, I finally snarled, “All right, you make the next one!” Hubby, a very competent cook, proceeded to do so. He then took his first bite and a very strange expression stole over his face. He laid down his fork, looked at me, and muttered, “It’s good, but it still doesn’t taste like Mom’s.” We laughed, but I was determined that the day would come when I got the ultimate accolade, so I searched for new versions and tried them all. Thirty years later, the cake below earned the honors. Happy Birthday, dear!


As Good as Mom’s Red Velvet Cake

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

2 Tbs cocoa powder

½ cup raw milk butter

1 ½ cups sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup raw milk buttermilk from making butter (I suspect this is the key; it was not until we had our own milk cow that I baked with real buttermilk and butter)

2 Tbs red food coloring

1 Tbs vinegar

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup chopped nuts

Mix dry ingredients. Cream butter and sugar, add eggs, one at a time; beat in vanilla. Mix food coloring and vinegar into buttermilk. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with liquids; begin and end with dry. Stir in nuts. Bake in greased, floured 9X13 pan or two 9-inch layer pans for 25-30 minutes.

Photo Credit: http://www.instructables.com/file/FII45MNH5TUC4JH

Butter-Rich Frosting

1 cup flour

1 cup milk

1 cup sugar

1 cup butter

1 ½ tsp vanilla

Beat flour into cold milk with wire whisk until VERY smooth. Cook flour and milk over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. DO NOT try to hurry the process, as it will quickly turn to large lumps. When thick, remove from heat and let cool. Cream sugar and butter, add vanilla. Beat in flour mixture and beat until smooth and light.

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I Need a Clone!

Future chickens, eggs, chickens, eggs, etc.

Future chickens, eggs, chickens, eggs, etc.

Those of you who hang around here may have noticed that my posts get pretty irregular sometimes. It’s most likely to happen in late summer, when schedules collide. The garden is producing like mad, the tree fruits are getting ripe, it’s haying and wood-cutting season and the kids are back in school, which means bus runs.  Although I try to stay flexible (to the point I sometimes feel like Gumby!) there are times when something has to give. As an example of what I’m dealing with here, here’s a rough idea of my daily schedule.

Ranch workhorse.

Ranch workhorse.

I spend at least four hours a day on some form of food production. These activities include milking the cow, collecting eggs, feeding and watering animals (I have to haul water to two sets of chickens, the pigs and sheep), watering the garden, irrigating (so the cows, horses and sheep will have grass to eat), working in the garden and processing the food that comes out of it. I make butter, cheese, ice cream and yogurt, bread and assorted other foodstuffs. Those are the regular-every-day chores. In addition, there are the major production kinds of food-related activities. Under this heading we have butchering a cow, pig, sheep or chickens, processing all those ripe whatevers and getting them canned/frozen/dried or getting a year’s worth of hay hauled and stacked.

Let's see the wind get that tarp off!

Let’s see the wind get that tarp off!

I spend another four hours a day writing – the kind of writing that puts money in my pocket. This includes research, rough drafts, and proofreading, final drafts and – sometimes – rewrites.

Chalk off another four hours a day (sometimes more) to ranch projects such as mending fence, building new chicken pens or putting a roof back on the sheep pen because a severe windstorm ripped it off.

Winter goodies for toast!

Winter goodies for toast!

So now I’m up to a 12-hour day and I haven’t even started on things like dishes, laundry, housework or this blog. And I refuse to short-circuit my sleep, because if I do (not being a spring chicken any more), I quickly lose the ability to keep up the pace. Add in the occasional consulting project (another way I make money) and one day a week in town, and it becomes pretty obvious that something periodically has to give. The two things most likely to wind up on the bottom of the list as housework and writing for fun, i.e., writing for the blog. If you think that means my house is often grubby around the edges — and at times, right down the middle — you would be 100% right. I figure the housework isn’t going anywhere. What I try to do with the blog is write extra when I do have some spare time, which is usually in the winter. Recipes, for example, are easy to stock up, but that means I might post a couple in a row when things get really hairy. I shoot for a post about once a week. So if it seems I’ve been quiet a little longer than usual every so often, I can assure you, it isn’t because I’m lounging around eating bon-bons and reading trashy novels…

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Agroterrorism at the Library


Did you know that if you convince your local library to develop a seed library, you could be accused of agroterrorism? Me neither, but apparently that’s what happened to the Joseph T. Simpson Public Library in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. The library passed out open-pollinated seeds to local gardeners, who could plant them and harvest both crop and seeds, as long as they returned a donation of seeds to the library. Seems the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture got wind of the situation and told the library that it could continue the program only if they kept extensive records (in quadruplicate, no doubt) and tested the seeds brought back to the library to be sure that they really were Waltham Butternut Squash or Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes. Seems the library was in violation of a state seed act meant to ensure the purity of seeds grown by big companies, and had to jump through these hoops to prevent nefarious folks from returning a packet of some nasty, invasive plant for distribution to the next unwitting gardener. Big Brother in the seed business is nothing new, but that’s the first I’ve heard of Big Brother in the library business.

What’s really stupid about this — aside from the officiousness of some government bureaucrats — is that a disseminated population of gardeners growing open-pollinated seeds is one of the best defenses against agroterrorism the U.S. could have. Think about it. Right now, our food comes from a few places. In 2006 (my source document is a little old, but I’m betting things haven’t changed much), 75 percent of U.S. food came from 6.7 percent of the 2.1 million farms in the U.S. Iowa, North Carolina and Minnesota produced 53 percent of the pork Americans ate. Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama produced 41 percent of the meat chickens. Any half-smart terrorist isn’t going to bother with some dinky little library seed collection –he’s going to go after the big targets where he can cause a lot of destruction in a very short period of time. While the Pennsylvania DofA might see it as a victory, in my opinion, all they did was look stupid. The library still has a seed bank and lending program, but they don’t accept returned seeds. They’re going to organize an informal seed swap instead. I say more power to ‘em!

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