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 here...so 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 make...so I guess I'll declare that a success, and share the result with you all.  The cake is hearty fare...no 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 did...so 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 effect...so "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 year...be 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!


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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.  




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