Friday, December 11, 2015

One Room Schoolhouse Eastern Kentucky Jam Cake

Appalroot Farm is back!  I got so caught up in all the fun of fall that I'm a little later returning than planned...but better late than never.  Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  Here at Appalroot Farm it certainly was a great holiday.  My siblings and I surprised our mother by bringing her sister, Aunt Oh So Sweet, up north for the big day.

Mom and Aunt Oh So Sweet...sisters reunited!
 Mom's reaction to Aunt Oh So Sweet's arrival?...."Well, good nigh!"  Have you ever heard some of the older folks from Appalachia use that saying?  I grew up hearing both my parents say "good nigh" when they were expressing surprise or disbelief over something or other.  So mom certainly was surprised to see her sister...what a wonderful "gift" of reunion!

Christmas is just about I wanted to share with you a very special heirloom recipe just perfect for this season.  Every Christmas, starting in the 1940's and lasting as long as she was able to still cook, my sweet Kentucky mamaw would bake a jam cake.  She received the recipe while sitting in a little old one room schoolhouse listening to a cooking presentation by the home economics teacher from the county's local high school.  The program was sponsored by one of the county's agricultural groups and was just a way to bring the women in the mountain community together.  The home ec. teacher brought along copies of some recipes to share with the women.  Now mind you, this was the 1940's in rural Eastern Kentucky, so those recipes were written for an audience of women still cooking on old wood cookstoves.

My sketch of the little one room schoolhouse where my mamaw received her jam cake recipe.
The old schoolhouse is still standing today!
My mamaw rarely used written recipes to cook by.  She came from a long line of Appalachian women who cooked more by instinct and whim than by someone else's ideas. But something about the jam cake recipe she received during that one room schoolhouse presentation must have caught her fancy...and she latched onto it.  She did, however, manage to adjust it just enough to make it her own.  Luckily, Aunt Oh So Sweet passed the written recipe on to me, complete with the old metal bread box that my mamaw kept it in!

The old metal bread box where my mamaw kept her jam cake recipe.
And both my mother and Aunt Oh So Sweet have some clear memories about how my mamaw made her particular version of this wonderful cake. So I had a great deal of help when I recently took a stab at recreating her jam cake myself...with the biggest challenge being converting it to bake in a modern stove rather than an old wood stove.

The end result was a cake that I was told tasted rather close to what my mamaw used to I guess I'll declare that a success, and share the result with you all.  The cake is hearty light and fluffy Betty Crocker here!  It's a dense, old fashioned, stick to your ribs dessert...with a flavor so deeply spiced that it just shouts old timey mountain Christmas.  And, hope you're hungry, 'cause this recipe makes a huge cake!

Though the original recipe calls for a caramel icing, my mamaw always made her version of this jam cake without icing.  And that is what I did as well.  But if you are a die hard icing fan, don't worry, I will include the written icing recipe for you too!

So here are the directions to make my mamaw's "One Room Schoolhouse Eastern Kentucky Jam Cake."

You can bake this cake in layers, or in a single layer sheet pan...but my mamaw always used a large angel food cake pan, so that is what I did too.  If you use an angel food cake pan, or even a bundt pan, make sure you butter, grease, or spray your pan VERY well! I used PAM for Baking spray and it worked great.

After prepping your pan, in a very large mixing bowl, cream together two softened sticks of butter (I used unsalted) with 2 cups of dark brown sugar.  Set aside.

Next, separate 6 eggs.

Beat the yolks well with a fork. Set aside. (We will get back to the egg whites in just a minute.)

Measure out a cup of buttermilk in a liquid measuring cup.

Add two teaspoons of baking soda.

Stir and then set aside to allow the baking soda to dissolve.

In the meantime, beat the egg whites with a hand mixer until they can form peaks (like you would beat them if making meringue).  

After egg whites are beaten, add a heaping tablespoonful of the egg whites to the creamed butter and brown sugar mixture and fold in.  Set the rest of the egg whites aside.

Pour the beaten egg yolks into the measuring cup of buttermilk and dissolved baking soda.

Stir, and then pour this buttermilk mixture into the creamed butter and sugar mixture.  Stir together.

It will appear to separate some when you stir, but that is okay.  Set this aside.

Next, whisk together 4 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 2 teaspoons allspice, 2 teaspoons cloves, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, and 3 tablespoons cocoa...I happened to use Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa, but regular would likely be more traditional.

As you whisk this, the spices will start to smell amazing...I did warn you that this cake was deeply spiced!

Then alternately fold in the flour and beaten egg whites to the butter/sugar/buttermilk mixture.

When all combined, the mixture will be a thick cake batter consistency.

Now comes the time for this cake's namesake...good old blackberry jam!  Of course, my mamaw (as well as most of the women of her day and location) used her own homemade blackberry jam. And this jam consisted of nothing but berries and sugar...and it included the seeds.  Alas...I had no homemade jam when making this cake.  And good luck finding a jam in the stores that just contains sugar and berries!  So I found the closest jam I could...settling for one labeled "homemade", which included the seed, contained no corn syrup, but did have some pectin and citric acid thrown in.  It would have to do...I think Mamaw would've forgiven me.

Add 2 cups of the blackberry jam to the cake batter and fold in until mixed.

Next you can fold in 1 cup of black walnuts (or any other nut if you don't care whether you are being authentic or not), and up to 1 pound of raisins.  As for my cake...I left out both of these.  I was serving it to someone who has a tree nut allergy, and no one who would be eating it liked raisins.  So in this regard my cake strayed majorly from Mamaw's original one (as she included both nuts and raisins), but again I think she'd forgive me.  She was sweet that way!

Pour the batter into your cake pan (or pans if you choose to layer it to have with icing).

Give the filled cake pan a couple of "whacks" on the countertop to reduce air bubble formation and pop it in your heated oven.

Now remember how this recipe was written for an old wood cookstove?  Well, all I had to go by was that the recipe said to bake it slowly!  Lord help me!  So I took my best guess...and to be fair, my mother's best guess too...and baked this big old cake at 325 degrees for about an hour and a half.  Keep in mind that I was baking mine in a bundt pan just like my mamaw you may need to adjust times if you decide to use layers.  Anyway, the cake is done when a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean.  (Oh...and here's a public service announcement, if you use one big pan to bake this cake, place some foil under it to catch the drippings.  Yes, that happened...and yes, you are welcome for the heads up! Teehee!)

I allowed my cake to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes before turning out on a plate.  Looking back, this cake was rather sturdy and would have likely popped out as pretty as a picture after 10 minutes.  But I was a little on the paranoid side having endured some past cake mishaps.

Cool the cake completely and then you can add icing (I will include the original icing recipe in the full cake recipe I have at the end of the blog...but keep in mind that I did not test it), or you can leave it plain Jane and rustic like my mamaw did.

I opted to leave it plain, but did dust it with some sifted powdered sugar to give it a pretty snow-topped "Christmasy", and so down home at the same time!

I promise that a bite of this cake will bring a sense of old timey mountain Christmases to your celebration this sure to check out the full recipe below, and click here for a printable version!  No wonder my dear mamaw kept returning to this recipe every Christmas.

A slice of One Room Schoolhouse Eastern Kentucky Jam Cake (and a dollop of sweet whipped cream)
with a beautiful vintage photo of my mamaw!

Hope you enjoy, and I'm wishing you and yours a blessed and merry Christmas...

...and may the beautiful hope we have in Jesus' birth fill your hearts with joy this season!  See you all back here in the new year!

One Room Schoolhouse Eastern Kentucky Jam Cake

1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups dark brown sugar
6 eggs (separated)
1 cup buttermilk
2 tsp. baking soda
4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. nutmeg
3 tbsp. cocoa powder
2 cups blackberry jam (with seeds)
1 cup black walnuts (optional)
1 pound raisins (optional)

Ingredients for Optional Icing
2 cups light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup milk 
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease or spray a large angel food cake pan, or other pan/pans of choice.  In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  Separate eggs. Set aside egg whites.  Beat yolks until mixed.  Set aside. In a measuring cup, add baking soda to buttermilk and set aside to dissolve.  In the meantime, beat egg whites with a hand mixer until peaks form.  Add one heaping tablespoon of the beaten egg whites to the creamed butter and sugar mixture and fold in. Set aside the rest of the egg whites.  Next, pour beaten egg yolks into the buttermilk mixture.  Stir and pour buttermilk mixture into the creamed butter and sugar mixture.  Mix together.  In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg and cocoa powder.  Then alternately fold in the flour mixture and beaten egg whites to the butter/sugar/buttermilk mixture until combined.  Next, fold in the blackberry jam.  Finally, fold in the nuts and raisins, if using. Pour into the prepared pan/pans.  Bake for 1 and 1/2 hours (will need adjusted if using multiple pans) or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Allow to cool in pan for at least 10 minutes before turning out on a plate or rack to finish cooling.  Leave plain, dusted with powdered sugar, or iced.  
For the optional icing, in a medium large sauce pan, cook sugar, salt, and milk together on stovetop--stirring until all lumps are dissolved.  Add butter and continue to cook to 110 degrees. Remove from heat. Add vanilla and beat until the icing will hold its shape on the cake.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rise & Shine, It's...Suppertime? (And a Recipe for Shortcut Fried Chicken with Gravy)

Fall is here!  You can sort of feel it in the air hereabouts....brisk winds and shorter days.  There is something about fall that gets me thinking about gatherings of family and friends.  Summer's busyness is over, and the holidays are not terribly far around the corner. Pretty soon there will be celebrations of the season to begin prepping for.  So now is a perfect time to start storing away ideas for the inevitable occurrence... "Company's a-comin'!"

If, like me, you spent your childhood taking trips back to Appalachia to visit may have more early memories of BEING the company, rather than prepping for company!

Mamaw's house...the destination for my trips back to Appalachia, and the source of so many sweet memories!
 I always marveled at the hospitality offered up so selflessly to visitors by my family in the mountains.  It has blessed me repeatedly over the years, and taught me multiple lessons in what it means to be truly giving and gracious.  And much of that graciousness often turned up in the form of meals: delicious mountain fare prepared by the most loving and skillfully experienced cooks you could imagine.

Having eaten my fair share of traditional Appalachian meals in my day (all thanks to those loving and skillfully experienced cooks just mentioned), there is an interesting phenomenon that I have noted through the years.  Traditional Appalachian cooks have often possessed a more open minded approach to breakfast than you may find in much of America.

Eggs and bacon are great...but somehow or other, a wider variety of "non-breakfast" type foods have held an important place on many a mountain breakfast table through the years.  Items the rest of the country would primarily consider suppertime foods, have frequently played a significant role in the first meal of the day in Appalachia.  Maybe these foods began showing up on mountain breakfast tables out of necessity, because they were what was available at the time someone needed to serve up the morning meal...but they certainly continued showing up because they make for a downright delicious start to the day!

Pork tenderloin is one of my favorite breakfast items from Appalachia that doesn't fit the mold of mainstream breakfast food. Have you tried it for breakfast?  It is amazingly delicious when well seasoned...fried to a golden color in an old iron skillet!  I've eaten many a pork tenderloin in my day, served up alongside biscuits and gravy.

And then there was my papaw...oh my, did he ever love himself a can of Jack Mackerel salmon for breakfast!  He'd eat it covered in gravy...and sop up every last morsel of the concoction with biscuits.  I never had the nerve to try that myself for breakfast, but Papaw certainly ate that stuff like it was going out of style!

Grandad, on my other side, was known for trapping rabbits...and then my granny would fry them up for breakfast, and serve them with a fine rabbit gravy.  One time as a kid, my dad remembers he and one of his brothers trying to act real big and going out in the woods in the early morning to check the rabbit trap for my grandad (their father). They got to the location and sure enough found a rabbit in the live trap.  Now Grandad would take the rabbit from the trap, knock it in the head, and then carry it on home through the hills as if it was the easiest thing in the world.  So my dad and his brother were feeling pretty confident that they could do the same.  Well, the second they opened that trap to grab hold of the rabbit...that animal took off like nobody's business.  Sure enough, nobody had fried rabbit for breakfast that morning!

My dad during his young "rabbit trapping" days  in Eastern Kentucky
Then there are the stories I have heard about the legendary goodness of fried chicken breakfasts, served years ago in the mountain community from which my family hails.  If a family had company that came and then stayed overnight, it was quite common for the company to arise the next morning to a freshly cut up and fried hen.  And obviously, this fried chicken was served with chicken gravy...made from the "post-frying goodness" left over at the bottom of the cast iron skillet that was being utilized to its utmost potential.  Aunt "Oh So Sweet" herself even swears up and down that fried chicken makes the absolute best breakfast gravy!

Aunt "Oh So Sweet," who has convinced me of the glories of chicken gravy for breakfast!
Mmmmm!  The idea of fried chicken for breakfast certainly makes my mouth water.  But, I must sadly admit...I don't see myself ever waking up in the morning eager to fry big old raw chicken pieces. Our busy lifestyles today have robbed us of some of the things in life that produce the best results...because we just rarely can afford to take the time needed to get to that end result.  But something as great as fried chicken for breakfast is just too wonderful of a mountain tradition to let go by the wayside completely!  So I have found an alternative that is very doable for today's busy homes.  It may not produce an identical outcome...but it is a delicious imitation, and a great nod of remembrance and honor to that tried and true old Appalachian practice of fried chicken for breakfast time!

My papaw's old chicken house in Eastern's been home to many a frying hen in it's day!
My recipe for Shortcut Fried Chicken, just perfect for breakfast (whether you have company or not), starts out with prepackaged (and precooked), boneless, skinless rotisserie chicken pieces.  Now, I know what you are thinking...skinless?  Yes, skinless!  I know that the skin of chicken has a great deal of flavor...but we are going for easy here....and this recipe makes fried chicken as easy as can be.  And remember, we are using rotisserie chicken...which is generally filled with flavor.  So you may miss the skin a little...but this has plenty of great taste, without the extra fat found in chicken skin.

You can use the rotisserie chicken of your choice, but if you have a Costco in your area, I highly recommend using Costco's prepacked Rotisserie Chicken Breast Meat.  It is what I always use to make my Shortcut Fried Chicken...and it turns out delicious!  It comes in a 42 oz. if need be you can make quite the mess of Shortcut Fried Chicken!  Now of course, you could always use leftover cooked chicken you have made yourself (and my mother even uses a similar method to perk up leftover Thanksgiving turkey pieces)...but I like how juicy and flavorful the fried rotisserie chicken turns out.  It is perfect for breakfast...and pairs wonderfully with homemade biscuits! Use this Costco Warehouse finder to see if there is a location near you.

Here is what you will need to make Shortcut Fried Chicken...a recipe just perfect for breakfast.

Boneless, skinless rotisserie chicken breast meat pieces, all purpose flour, salt, pepper, onion powder (optional), garlic powder (optional), and oil or fat for frying.

Get a large cast iron skillet (a nonstick pan will work in a pinch...just not as well).  I use a number 10 iron skillet for this recipe.

Add between three-fourths to one cup of oil, or other fat, to the skillet.

Heat the oil in the skillet on your stove top on medium, until hot.

In the meantime, in a gallon size ziplock bag, place one cup of all purpose flour.

Add one half teaspoon salt (or to taste). Since rotisserie chicken is already salted, you won't need as much salt as when frying from a fresh hen.

Then add about three-fourths teaspoon of ground black pepper, depending on your taste.

If desired, add about two teaspoons of onion powder and a half teaspoon of garlic powder.  The Costco rotisserie chicken is plenty yummy without these...but if you go with another option, these will help add some flavor to skinless chicken.

Close and shake the bag to mix the flour and spices.

Then add about three-fourths pound of boneless, skinless rotisserie chicken breast pieces to the flour mixture in the bag.  The pieces may be all different sizes...and that's okay, because it's all precooked.

Close the bag and shake well to thoroughly coat the chicken pieces. And yes, I know a ziplock bag would not be what my granny would have used in the process of frying anything...but it sure makes cleanup a cinch!  And I think she would have been alright with that.

Once your oil is heated, add pieces of coated chicken to the skillet.

Cook, turning occasionally, until a nice golden brown.

The beauty of it is, your chicken has already been cooked.  So you can truly get the outside fried up to whatever crispness you desire, with hardly a care at all about what the inside of the chicken pieces look like.  It's pretty stress free, which is what makes it a great breakfast option.

I might add here, that if you are absolutely dying for some gravy, you can make some to go with your chicken if you have used an iron skillet to fry with. The chicken is great alone...but we all know that a mountain breakfast is just not truly complete without gravy.

Now, this gravy will not be anywhere near as good as authentic Appalachian gravy that you have likely been used to (after all, for heaven's sake, we used skinless chicken)...but if you're feeling desperately nostalgic, you can give it a go.

To make the gravy, leave all the golden brown bits of fried goodness in your skillet.

Break apart 3-4 small pieces of the fried chicken and put them back into the skillet for added flavor.  If the oil has dried up out of your skillet, add a little more oil or fat until you reach about 4 tablespoons in your skillet, then toss in 4 tablespoons of all purpose flour.  (Just try to have approximately even amounts of fat to flour and your gravy should come together well.

Heat over medium, stirring constantly until the flour turns a deep, rich golden brown color.  The darker you can get it, without burning it...the better your gravy will be.  Just brown the dickens out of it if you can!

Gradually pour in about two cups of milk. And then add salt and pepper to taste.

Stir constantly until desired thickness.  It will likely take only a couple minutes to really begin thickening.

Serve the gravy with your chicken...and, of course, some good old fashioned biscuits!

It might not be your granny's fried chicken, but it's not too shabby either!  In all sincerity, though, it is so important to find ways to keep our traditional culture alive in these ever changing and crazy times.  If we have the chance to go in the kitchen and fry up a fresh chicken (skin and all) for a special occasion breakfast treat every once in awhile, then we really should.  But if we know traditions like that are not going to happen with our hectic lifestyles, finding ways to adapt the traditions to our current circumstances can be so rewarding.  After all, I think adapted traditions are better than lost traditions.  Our culture is too precious and rich to just allow it to fade.  I sure hope this little post has inspired you to try to keep mountain traditions alive and well in your own home, even with today's busyness.  Shortcut fried chicken is a great place to start!  The recipe is below, and you can click here for a printable version.

Blessings...oh, and happy fall!

Shortcut Fried Chicken with Gravy
(serves 3-4)

3/4-1 cup oil, or fat of your choice for frying
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. of onion powder (optional)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder (optional)
Approximately 3/4 pound boneless, skinless precooked rotisserie chicken pieces, like Costco brand

For Gravy
4 tbsp. chicken pan drippings
4 tbsp. all purpose flour
2 cups milk
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large cast iron skillet, heat oil over medium heat on stovetop.  In a gallon ziplock bag, place flour, salt, black pepper, and onion and garlic powder if using.  Close bag and shake well.  Then add chicken pieces to the bag.  Shake well to coat.
When oil is hot, place chicken pieces in skillet.  Cook until golden brown and crisp, turning occasionally. Remove chicken from the skillet, and keep warm until serving.
For optional gravy, use remaining pan drippings (add more fat or oil to reach about 4 tbsp. if you do not have enough left in the skillet). For additional flavor, break apart and add 3-4 of the fried pieces of chicken back into the skillet as well. Next add flour to the drippings in the pan.  Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly until the flour mixture becomes a deep brown color.  Slowly pour in milk and add the salt and pepper, continuing to stir constantly until the mixture begins to thicken.  Serve the gravy with chicken.  Goes great with biscuits too!