“No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook
in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice
and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.” ~ Laurie Colwin
I love this quote by American author Laurie Colwin; I think most cooks feel this connection with the cooks who came before us, whether cooks in our families, or friendly neighbors who had time and patience to take a neighborhood child under his or her wing to teach them some simple recipe, or generous older women who were willing to pass down tried and true recipes to young brides at wedding showers. Some of us even have the blessing of a family cookbook compiled by the family cooks a generation or more ahead of them.
I have a cookbook like that; it’s fondly and simply called “The Frazier Family Cookbook.” The pages are yellowed and falling out of the book, but it is still wonderful to look through and try out what the women in the family cooked when my generation was still in diapers. Here are a couple of the pages that have fallen out. Winnie is my husband’s grandmother (she went by “Mammy”), who passed away in 1986, I believe. I never got to meet her. Connie was one of her daughters-in-law.
There is also a recipe in this book for Mammy’s seven-layer lemon cake, and I hope to try to make it soon. According to everyone who knew her, it was fabulously delicious, as was pretty much everything she made. I often use her recipe for homemade rolls, and they are amazing; light as a feather.
Another of Mammy’s daughters-in-law is also a wonderful cook, and an especially great baker. She also happens to be my mother-in-law, Susan Frazier, who is known to my children as “Nanny.” Sunday was her birthday, and for her cake we made a simple yellow cake with chocolate icing. I have been wanting to learn how to make her caramel icing and her chocolate icing, and Sunday night was the perfect opportunity to get a lesson in the chocolate version. She showed me how to combine evaporated milk, sugar, and butter, mixing and stirring it constantly, and how to know when it had boiled long enough and gotten to soft-ball stage, so that I could then add the melted butter that had been mixed with cocoa powder. Then I basically stirred all of that, off of heat, for about ten minutes, until the mixture got thick and shiny smooth, at which point I had only to pour the icing over the cake. In a few minutes, it became firm and was able to be cut through.
I thought I’d share Susan’s chocolate icing recipe with you. It’s nothing fancy, but it tastes great, and has a smooth, sort of shiny finish.
Nanny’s Chocolate Icing
In a small sauce pot, combine
1 ½ sticks of butter
1 ¾ TBS cocoa powder
Melt together, stirring constantly. Set aside.
In a saucepan over medium to medium-high heat, whisk together:
¾ cup evaporated milk
3 cups of sugar
1/3 cup Karo syrup
Bring to a boil. Boil for a couple of minutes, then cook to soft-ball stage using a candy thermometer, or by checking consistency of mixture when a few drops are dripped into ice water. The mixture should be able to be formed into a soft little ball between your fingers if it’s ready. (If you cook it for too long, you will have some nice hard candy. Not really what you’re going for here, though.) 😉
Remove from heat at this point, and whisk the chocolate mixture into the syrup mixture. Whisk together for about ten minutes. (You might want to sit down during this part. It’s a long time for some people to stand in one place and stir.)
Or you could just use the whisk attachment on your mixer. I was choosing to do it old school style, as that’s the way Susan does it. 🙂
Pour immediately over a prepared sheet cake, and spread without lifting your spreading utensil from the surface of the cake. Then allow it to “set up” for a while. As it cools, it becomes smooth and shiny. It’s always hard to hold people off when they see the cake sitting there, uncut, on the counter top, (which is why there is no picture of my final product this time) but it’s worth the wait, if you can convince them!
And as a side note, would you consider writing down some of your mother’s or grandmother’s old recipes, before they get lost? It’s important; it’s part of our history. Are you already doing this? Let me know in a comment, below, if you are or if you are inspired to do so. I’d love to know about it.
p.s. the black and white picture in this post is from http://www.homescentscandlecompany.com; she’s someone’s grandmother, but not mine. 🙂 I love the picture.