Kitchen Moments: Blending the Batter

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On any given day, strangers and family mingle together in my kitchen. They come together by my invitation, helping to produce meals, snacks, gifts, even experiments.

Take today: Duncan Hines is about to become batter in the Sunbeam Mixmaster my mother sent home with me after she realized she wouldn’t need it anymore. It was, to say the least, a sad day for us both. However, as the beaters go down into the powdery mix with eggs and water and oil, there is no sadness now.

Nostalgia often replaces sadness when the usefulness of kitchen tools lasts beyond months or years of missing someone. Mom’s favorite cake was a mayonnaise-chocolate with layers of cocoa buttercream frosting. A recipe is somewhere in one of her recipe boxes. But for today a box of Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate mix with a layer of chocolate frosting and another layer of chocolate frosting rosettes brings Duncan and mom together working on a most luscious layer cake.

Betty Crocker’s Suddenly Salad comes in a box. Years ago my mother-in-law made a macaroni salad from scratch and served it in this green glass salad bowl that now holds Betty’s salad. We do not gush over the boxed salad, but we are prompted by the green bowl to reminisce over meals at Mom Moore’s table. Betty meets Ida on a summer’s table.

Also on the table are C. F. Claussen’s pickles resting in a clear cut-glass relish dish from Grandma Gladys. She used to serve her recipe of sour cream-dressed cucumbers and onions in it. A pepper shaker, white with black lettering from another grandmother; it holds Willoughby McCormick’s ground pepper. That grandma used Will’s pepper too.

In my kitchen drawers are box grater, ice tongs, ice cream scoop (three of them), Foley food mill, paring knives from three generations, wooden spoons, cookie cutters, pie trimmer and pastry blender (one red handle, one bare wood from use), measuring spoons from both sides of the Moore/Lewis family. All used by others and now waiting for the next meal.

Photo: Fotolia/Mara Zermgaliete

While recipes are what family members usually strive to save, utensils are key to making those dishes come true. So, to blend the recipe with the utensil is to master the art of blending the batter of a family’s life. And no one has recorded it better than Richard Snodgrass in his book, Kitchen Things-An Album of Vintage Utensils & Farm-Kitchen Recipes.

A coffee-table size book, photographs are black and white. Sections include Things They Used and Things They Ate. When you borrow this book from your library be ready for a trip back in your own time as well as Richard’s, as very familiar and some not-so-familiar kitchen tools catch your eye.

As we looked at the book together, my husband and I stopped at nearly every page to comment on the utensil. Comparing notes as it were, we found much seemed to be the same in Richard’s family’s farm house kitchen as in our parents’ kitchens years ago.

As profound as the photographs and text are in the book, the one sentence that seems to sum up the situation in my kitchen and Mr. Snodgrass’s kitchen and your kitchen is found at the beginning where Bruno Latour, a French scientist, is quoted. Latour once said, “Things do not exist without being full of people.”

Mom’s Favorite Cake

1 cup real mayonnaise
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons Hershey’s baking cocoa
1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease your choice of sheet cake pan or 13-by-9-by-2-inch pan or 2 round layer cake pans. Dust lightly with flour.

Mix mayonnaise, sugar and cocoa together in bowl with electric mixer. Beat until creamy. Add water into which the baking soda has been dissolved.

Add flour and vanilla. Beat well. Batter will be thin. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for about 35 minutes (depends on pan being used). Test by inserting toothpick in center of cake. It is done when toothpick comes out clean. If needed, keep baking for increments of 5 minutes until done.

Cool in pan (or release from layer pans onto wire racks) to cool completely. Frost with favorite frosting or use the following recipe.

Chocolate-Buttercream Frosting

1/3 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
4 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Additional milk, if needed

In bowl, using electric mixer, beat butter until fluffy, gradually adding cocoa and sugar alternately with milk and vanilla. Use additional milk if necessary to make frosting of spreading consistency.