Piggy-backing on the last post about hosting, here is another way to please your guests – BAKE A CAKE! Whoa. Cake, you say? What a great suggestion!
I recently discovered a box of recipes my grandmother had saved between the thirties and the seventies. The box had some themed recipe books you would send away for, but mostly it was filled with pages ripped out of some publication or another. She had told me that she started saving recipes in her teen years, and when I asked her where she got most of them, she told me that the “farm papers” (her term) her father received usually had a section for recipes as well. I was vaguely aware of the existence of magazines geared towards farmers, but the fact that they included anything geared towards females was news to me. Fun for the whole family, those farm papers.
This page was from a 1964 issue of Successful Farming, with food editor Janet Figg. (Pen name?) Most of the recipe pages from the farm publications tended to be pretty simple – I saw very few illustrations, although this particular one does mention a nut tree topiary being shown somewhere. Nut tree topiary! Amazing, no? Shame that one is lost to history.
I was struck by the fact that so many of these recipes started with a boxed cake mix. Most modern bakers consider that cheating. Recipes are getting longer and more involved. Impressive cakes can be half-day affairs, if not longer. In 1964 however, these pre-made mixes were still considered time-saving novelties. They certainly would help with the flippant suggestion that one could just whip up a cake real quick if some guests were coming over.
One of the tried and true staples of my family holiday meals for as long as I can remember has been Pecan Pie Bars. As expected, they are very similar to a sticky pecan pie, except instead of a flaky pie crust they have a soft, cake-like bottom layer. As an adult I inquired about the recipe and was shocked to discover that the bottom layer was just a yellow cake mix mixed with melted butter. This, from the family with a history of baking matriarchs, was one of our classic family desserts? What the what?!
Behold this easy peasy cake anyone with a box and an oven can bang out, courtesy of Successful Farming:
The recipes in these farm publications were also nice and succinct. Half of the work was already taken care of with the cake mix. Put the mixes together and bake according to the directions on the box. Thanks, Janet. They paid you for that?
That said, page real estate was a prime, and the shorter the directions, the more recipes they could fit in. Older recipes were more apt to be written with the assumption that the reader was halfway decent in the kitchen to begin with. The suggestions weren’t totally devoid of creativity though. I could get into some orange juice frosting.
Last time I visited my family in the spring my stepdad asked for help baking some things to use up the abundance of rhubarb he had just picked from the garden. He asked me to make a cake while he made a couple of pies. After rooting around for a recipe I noticed that there was one taped up in the cupboard. Who knows how long it had been there. Though dubious of the ingredient list – 1 yellow cake mix, 1 stick melted butter, 1 package strawberry jello, mini marshmallows – I figured that since it was taped up it must have been tested and approved. Unsurprisingly, it was atrocious. Disgusting. Too hideous for even a picture to laugh over later. No one ever did own up to posting that recipe, but it happens to still be taped up despite unanimous hatred for the cake.
So whip up that cake real quick for your impending guests – just hope they aren’t too discerning, just in case.