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.
Happy hooking – Beth