Depression Era Poor Man’s Cake, Courtesy My Grandmother (and a Coupon Code For You)

My grandmother, Mary Barnard, with my niece, Rose, my son, Robert, and my husband, Bill, circa 1991, at her Little Sebago Lake cottage in Gray, Maine.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandmother lately.  I often think of her in challenging times for so many reasons.  At the moment I am realizing that I can no longer realistically run Parris House Wool Works as alone as I have been, because I am running myself ragged (no, threadbare) keeping up with all of the wonderful opportunities I’ve been given.  I have one fantastic helper, a virtual assistant, already started, and two other people waiting for me to get my act and timing together in a smart enough way to hand them some work.  So really, not catastrophic, but the overwhelm is a bit much right now.  Additionally, and more actually truly sad, the canine love of my life, Corgi Tru, was diagnosed with cancer last week and is not expected to live the summer.  She is twelve and she’s had a fantastic life, but I wasn’t ready to face letting her go so soon.

I think about my grandmother in stressful times because I loved her so much and she was such an enormous influence on who I am today.  The very best times of my childhood were spent at her summer cottage on Little Sebago Lake in Gray, Maine.  I was a stressed out child, mostly due to circumstances at home but also because, well, I seem to have been born Type A (I’m working on it). The summer cottage time in Maine with my grandmother was the antidote to that stress.  There were no crazy expectations at the cottage.  I was always good enough.  In fact, I was great, or so my grandmother told me.  We played cards, swam in the lake, climbed hills to find wild blueberries, hiked to an abandoned cellar hole and cemetery, and ate.  We ate ice cream every night at 8 o’clock on the dot.  My grandmother didn’t scoop it out like most people do.  Nope.  She took the paper wrapping off the half gallon – a true half gallon back in the ’70s – and then cut the ice cream in to perfectly even bricks.  I will never know whether she did this just to have nice equal servings or because she had been a Depression era mom and this was the most efficient way to divvy up a box of ice cream.

As I said, my grandmother had been a Depression era mother to three children, my Uncle Courtland, my Aunt Dorothy, and my mother, Elizabeth, all born between 1920 and 1928.  She knew what difficulty really meant.  She lost both of her parents before she was forty herself, and she survived the indescribable worry that must have come with having a son and son-in-law serving in combat during World War II.   As a child I never gave any of these things a thought.  I just knew that this was the sunny grandmother who made my life a dream in the summers and had introduced me to Rudyard Kipling, Lewis Carroll, Grape Nut ice cream, daily diary keeping, Canasta, and, perhaps most pivotally, Maine.

I would often awake in the summer time to the delicious aromas of whatever my grandmother was already baking in the kitchen.  Sometimes it was homemade fried donuts, or cookies, or the recipe I’m going to share with you now, Poor Man’s Cake.  Poor Man’s Cake was a Great Depression recipe and I’d bet there are variations of it, if not this same recipe, in your family too.  It may even be older because my copy of the recipe from my grandmother says, “Poor Man’s Cake, World War,” which may indicate World War I.  Her brother, my great uncle Winfield Martin, had fought in France during the Great War and nearly died.  Thankfully, he recovered in a hospital in France, came home and lived a long and good life.  You will notice that this recipe has no milk, no butter, no eggs.  But don’t be put off.  Either this cake is the most delicious and addictive old recipe ever, or…it just is to me because so many memories are attached to it.

Here it is for you to try.

1 pound raisins in 2 cups water, boiled 15 minutes

Add to the raisins…

3/4 cup shortening and mix together

2 cups sugar

1 cup cold water

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp baking soda

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp allspice

1 tsp salt

4 cups flour

1 cup chopped nuts

1/2 jar candied fruit (I don’t know what 1/2 jar measures out to, but feel free to wing it)

Mix all ingredients together.  Bake at 275 degrees for one hour in 3 greased and floured loaf pans.

I know that sounds like a very low oven temperature, but that’s what my grandmother did.  What you end up with is a very soft, very dark raisin/fruitcake, very unlike those doorstop fruitcakes often found in the supermarket during the holidays.  Sometimes she left out the candied fruit and it was more of a raisin spice cake/bread.

This week (May 22nd to May 29th) I’ll offer coupon code POORMANSCAKE in the Etsy and Shopify shops for 10% off your order of $25 or more, and let me know if you try the recipe!

Happy hooking – Beth

 

Giving Back – Our Choice for 2017

Back in the late fall, I announced that Parris House Wool Works was going to choose a worthy non-profit to support in 2017.  I knew that I could not give much – Parris House Wool Works is still finding its feet – but I wanted to give something, as much as I could.  I got a lot of absolutely great suggestions through the company page and my personal page, and I hope that by putting those threads out there all of those organizations got a little boost.  But ultimately, something really clicked for me just this month when my friend Betsy Brown posted an appeal for a girls’ camp here in Maine.  Betsy works at this camp, knows its strengths, its benefits, and most importantly, its girls.

Let me tell you a little bit about me, and it may become clearer why this cause hit me just right.

When I was a little girl growing up in southern NJ, I spent summers on Little Sebago Lake in Gray, Maine with my grandparents.   Many of you have read one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written on that experience.  If you haven’t, it’s here.    At any rate, I was phenomenally fortunate to be able to leave a situation in NJ not without personal problems and pressures and spend my summers lakeside with people who showed me unconditional love, who believed in me without exception, and where I could have new and empowering experiences like swimming, hiking, learning about plants and animals, cooking and baking, or just having the time to reflect.   Later, while raising my own sons, I would bear witness to the summer camp experience at Camp Hinds on Panther Pond in Raymond, Maine.   “Hinds,” as so many of us call it, is a Boy Scout camp where Scouts from all over the country spend weeks or more in the summer.  These boys are coming from a variety of life situations, and the experiences at Hinds can be life changing for them in the best possible ways.  My third son, Peter, an Eagle Scout, spent the most time there, but all of my sons experienced it in some way.

Fast forward to just the past few years when I have taught at the Squam Art Workshops, which is basically a wildly creative summer camp for grownups, attended mostly by women.   If you want to know what that was like, you can check on my previous post here.   I titled that post, “And the Universe Said Yes” because that is what it was like for me…decades…as in four decades…after my experiences on Little Sebago with my grandparents, I still needed and benefited from the empowerment (there’s that word again, but it’s irreplaceable in this context), camaraderie, unconditional love, and art and skill building that are the hallmarks of Squam.

And where do I go when I need to be creative, centered, feel my best about myself, and maybe discover more about myself?  I go to our own cottage on Little Sebago, Sunset Haven, and allow myself to breathe.

The benefit of a good summer camp with a loving staff, especially for children and young people not normally exposed to nature, empowering skills and activities, or even broad and caring acceptance, is immeasurable.  I know, because even though my “summer camp” experience was in a private home, it saved me in a number of important ways.

Some of the kids who need this experience most come from families who can not afford to pay for it.  One two week session at the camp I am about to introduce you to costs $1,450, which, to me, seems like a bargain given everything that this camp offers.  Take a look for yourself as I introduce you to West End House Girls Camp on Long Pond in Parsonsfield, Maine.

Photo courtesy the WEHGC Facebook page.

This introduction to West End House Girls Camp is taken from their web page:

Welcome to West End House Girls Camp. We believe in the power of camp to change lives.

For many girls, summer camp isn’t in the cards. That’s where West End House Girls Camp (WEHGC) comes in.  Building on the 100-plus year history of Boston’s West End House, WEHGC offers need-blind summer camp opportunities for girls and young women from all walks of life, many of whom wouldn’t otherwise have this experience.

WEHGC opened its doors in 2011 alongside the West End House Camp (for boys) on Long Pond in Parsonsfield, Maine.” We now support over 140 girls per summer and have plans to grow to accommodate over 300 girls per summer.

What do girls get out of our camp? On the surface, the things everyone gets from camp: Sunshine. Laughter. Campfires and new friends. But for these girls, camp is also a chance to feel safe, be themselves, and experience a judgment-free zone – things they may not experience elsewhere. They learn to make independent, responsible decisions when faced with challenges.

Ultimately, our goal is for campers to develop in a variety of ways. Whether it’s new skills, self-confidence, or a side of themselves they may not have known before, we want them to carry something special with them beyond their days at camp, into the real world – life-changing experiences.

I would encourage you to go their website and surf around.  Look most carefully at the “Values” page, where you will find a list of everything we need more of in this country and this world today, and perhaps some of the things these girls need most in their lives as well.   Their testimonials about what the camp has meant to them are here.

Girls and women need to know that they are valued, that they can achieve at a very high level, and that in spite of the challenges they face, they have within themselves the power to make a better life for themselves.  No matter what childhood situation we are coming from, we need to know that, and more importantly, be shown that.  I believe that West End House Girls Camp does exactly that, and I believe we are at time in America where this is as vitally important as ever.

I have made an initial pledge to West End House Girls Camp for $1000 this year, with a goal of another $450 if I can which would round out the cost of one entire two week scholarship.  I am humbled by the fact that I can not yet give more, but it’s a start, and if I can surpass the $1450 goal with the kind of growth I’m looking for this year, I absolutely will.  Chances are also good that I will not feel as though my support of WEHGC is over at the end of the year, and I will continue my support in to the future, hopefully in bigger and better ways.

If this is something that interests you as well, you can find the West End House Girls Camp donation page here.  I will be bringing you news and updates about the camp throughout 2017, especially on our social media.  You can follow them on Facebook by clicking here.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you will be moved to either support WEHGC also, or some other worthy nonprofit of your choice.  Our country and our world need a heavy dose of all that is right, good, empowering, and compassionate, one person, one act, one donation, one hour at a time.  It’s up to us.

Happy hooking! – Beth

Logo courtesy the West End House Girls Camp Facebook page