Mystery and History in a Hummingbird Cake

black yellow and green small sized bird on red steel ornament
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I can still remember the first time I came across a recipe for Hummingbird Cake. I was in my early twenties at the time and tucked in the pages of Country Cakes by Bevelyn Blair was this odd, if not strange sounding, cake. I thought, “Why on earth would someone name a cake after a Hummingbird? Surely no one would put hummingbirds in a cake!” Well, I was young.

After scanning the ingredients, I was surprised by the mix of spice and tropical fruits. Somehow, that didn’t seem like a good mixture to my imagination and I never attempted to make the cake, even though it is considered a Southern classic.

Over twenty years later, and hopefully a little wiser, my mother’s impending birthday set me to thinking of something I could bake for her that would be unusual, and not just the bakes I was most familiar with. I had done a Red Velvet with her for my own birthday just two months earlier, so it seemed odd to make it again. Then it came to me, “How about a Hummingbird Cake? It might be just strange enough to be the best cake we have ever made.”

If anyone knows about my mother and I and our history of cake baking, then they also know every birthday cake ends up in the garbage can. It is as if the baking gods have it out for us when it comes to cakes and birthdays. Any other day of the year will result in a decent and quite tasty cake, everyday but for two out of the year. This time I was determined and the mysterious Hummingbird Cake would end our streak of bad luck!

I started reading through the indexes of my many recipe books and decided on the classic from Southern Living magazine. In the February 2018 edition, was the story of the cake as well as a recipe with many ingredients already in my cupboards. And definitely no hummingbirds!

The story in Southern Living credits Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, NC as having submitted the recipe for the magazine in 1978. It is the recipe we all know and follow as the true Hummingbird Cake. But as I was researching further into the cakes’ history, I found that not only can the roots of the recipe be traced back to Jamaica and part of a press package advertising Jamaica tourism, but the cake itself has many variations and is known by a different name.

low angle photography of coconut trees
Photo by Michelle Clement on Pexels.com

Doctor Bird Cake as it is called in Jamaica, began as a type of fluted, bundt cake without frosting. It was named after the national bird of Jamaica, the Red-Billed Streamertail Hummingbird. Jamaicans refer to the bird as Doctor Bird as its black crest and long black streamer like tail feather resemble the top hat and long, tailed coats worn by doctors of days long gone by. Another version states the bird is called the Doctor Bird as it lances flowers with its bill to savor the nectar. 

The bird is revered not only for its beauty, but for its history as well. The first people of Jamaica, the Arawaks, believed the bird possesed magical powers. They called it the ‘God bird,’ because they considered the bird to be the reincarnation of dead souls. The bird has been written about in many Jamaican folk songs, one with lyrics, “Doctor bird, a cunny bud, hard bud fe dead.” The translation reads, “It is a clever bird which cannot be easily killed.”

The recipe has changed only slightly since it was first introduced to American’s back in the 60’s, but one thing has remained and that is the cake’s moistness and delectable flavor. It is truly unique as the bird it was named for. Here is the recipe submitted by Mrs. Wiggins so long ago.

Hummingbird Cake

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Ingredients: 

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

3 large eggs, beaten

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (I like Watkin’s brand)

1 (8oz.) can undrained crushed pineapple

2 cups chopped ripe bananas (the recipe calls for six, I found four to be enough)

1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Vegetable shortening (for greasing the cake pans)

Frosting Ingredients:

2 (8oz.) packages cream-cheese, softened

1 cup salted butter or margarine, softened

2 (16oz.) pkg. powdered sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Additional toasted pecans can be used to decorate cake after it is frosted.

Step 1. Preheat oven to 350*. Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add eggs and oil. Stir until ingredients are moistened. Stir in vanilla, pineapple, bananas, and toasted pecans.

Step 2. Divide batter evenly among 3 well-greased (with the shortening) and floured 9- inch round cake pans.

Step 3. Bake in preheated oven until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean; about 25-30 minutes. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and cool completely for about an hour.

Step 4. Bein the frosting will cakes are cooling. Mix together cream cheese and butter in a mixer or with hand-held electric mixer, until light and fluffy. Choose medium speed. Gradually add the powdered sugar and mix on low until frosting is smooth. Add the vanilla and mix at medium-high speed until frosting is fluffy; about 1-2 minutes.

Step 5. Assemble the cake by placing first cake layer on a plate or cake stand. Spread about one cup of the frosting over the cake layer. Continue with second and third layers, covering with frosting after each layer is added. Spread remaining frosting over the top and sides of assembled cake. Add additional toasted pecans if desired. Enjoy!

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It sounds like a lot of work goes into making this cake. But really, it doesn’t take all day and if you have baked a cake before, this cake will not stress you out. Just take it step-by-step. If you haven’t baked a cake before, my advice is the same. Just make sure to gather all your ingredients first. Make sure your cake pans are prepared while you wait for the oven to preheat. 

 

Recipe for Cheese Biscuits Red Lobster Style

Of all the traditions in our baking heritage, my favorite is the recipe passed down through the generations. And though you wouldn’t find this particular recipe in your great-grandmother’s tin box among the oil stained index cards, it is one that was given to me by one of my mother’s former co-workers nearly 30 years ago. So, perhaps it qualifies.

As to where our friend found the recipe celebrating the beloved quick bread from the national seafood chain, I do not know. Our friend passed away a few years ago and I never thought to ask her if it was truly the original recipe or one where she had found it.

I do know this recipe is incredibly simple to make and impossible to mess up. So if you are new to baking, don’t allow the fancy name to keep you from making these for yourself. With salted butter and that zing of garlic salt, these simple biscuits are a meal all by themselves!

Here are the ingredients you will need:2018-10-24 04.08.06

2 cups of Bisquick Mix

1 cup of grated cheddar cheese

2/3 cup of water

Parsley flakes

Garlic salt and butter

Cheese Biscuits Red Lobster-Style2018-10-24 05.00.20

Preheat oven to 450*.

In a large bowl, mix cheese in Bisquick. Add water and stir until blended. The dough will have a lumpy appearance. The dough will be quite dry as well, but keep with it and avoid the desire to add more water.2018-10-24 04.11.24

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet.2018-10-24 04.20.34

 

Sprinkle parsley flakes on top.2018-10-24 04.26.13

Bake until browned. About 12-15 minutes, but check them at 10 as ovens do vary.

After removing from oven, spread with butter and sprinkle with garlic salt.2018-10-24 04.57.16

Makes approximately 10 large biscuits.2018-10-24 05.00.20

 

Trying to Get My Bake On

I can’t even think about baking right now, even though this is the time of year when bakers are at their fullest glory. Baking begins in earnest once the days begin to shorten and the sweltering heat of summer’s grip loosens and allows the crisp air of autumn to fill the days. However, what does one do when you live in the South? Summer holds on with desperation, it doesn’t take notice that the local supermarkets are filled with displays of spices and dried fruits for decadent cakes and pies we associate with cozy homes and warm ovens.

Right about now, I would be perusing cookbooks in search of a better apple pie recipe; one that could stand alone as the ultimate best ever apple pie. But tomorrow temperatures are expected to reach 90* and the thought of firing up a hot oven  and rolling out pie dough is not my idea of fun. Baking is meant to be an activity that evokes feelings are warmth and family, not sweat and remorse for having thought a pie in the oven on a blistering hot day is just what I need right now.

I don’t know when this horrid heat and humidity will give way to cooler nights and bright colors from the changing leaves, but for right now, I am content to use my microwave as much as possible. A baked potato and a tall glass of iced tea is the best I can manage. Desserts will have to be store-bought cookies and a cold glass of milk.

baked cookies and glass of milk
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

I wonder if other baking devotees go through moods like this. Is there a time of year or a season that just puts them “off” baking? And if so. how do they get back into their baking “groove?” My annual apple pie might have to wait until Christmas before it sees the inside of an oven if these temps continue.

I wish for everyone to enjoy baking in parts far and away from the heat and humidity of my “neck of the woods,” and inspiration for many successful bakes!

No S’more Hurricanes

low angle photography of coconut trees
Photo by Michelle Clement on Pexels.com

My blog has been neglected lately as the Carolinas prepares for Hurricane Florence. Hurricanes are nothing unusual in this part of the country and those of us bred, born, and raised in the Southeast have learned to “pray for the best and prepare for the worst.”

I can’t even think about baking right now as I scurry from store to store in search of water, fresh batteries, and other essentials to ride out the storm. Along with the drastic winds, torrential rains, and flooding, I know from previous experience power outages will be only a matter of when and for how long.

Baking may be an impossibility right now, however, I am reminded of a saying from long ago, “Bread and water can easily become tea and toast.”

Boiling water for a proper cup of tea might only be possible with a small tabletop grill, and only if the rain and wind are cooperating long enough for me to light a match to the coals, and toast might take more patience than I have available, but there is the assurance of better days and hard times make us all the more appreciative of the electricity once the power is restored.

Tea and toast are simple enough, but what about that delicious treat from the campfire that has become a part of our American food heritage? Good ‘ole S’mores! No need for electricity with this heavenly delight. A candle’s flame burning bright can transform a marshmallow into a toasty, gooey treat. Once the chocolate bars and graham crackers are added, it becomes sumptuous.

fried marshmallows on top of black steel nonstick frying pan
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For anyone desiring a bit of health to this American classic, some shredded coconut added to the mix gives this dessert a reason to indulge. Of course everyone has their favorites for add-ins, and times like these give us time to help ourselves and practice a bit of culinary creativeness.

I hope and pray for everyone’s safety and for common sense to prevail as Florence cuts her path through our backyards. Please don’t believe you are stronger than the storm, only God is. Keep indoors, seek shelter, and remember your pets. If you can’t make arrangements for them to stay with you, ask a relative or call your local vet or animal shelter for help. Our fur babies need to be safe as well.

Take care, and God Bless,

Suzanne

The Southern Biscuit Conspiracy

My Homemade Biscuits
Don’t fall for the twisted biscuit cutting technique as I did, biscuits will not rise as high!

My mother’s tales of her mother’s southern biscuits I fear, are soon to be all that’s left of the true southern biscuit. That fluffy, delightful quick bread, slathered in melted butter, that is of southern legend, is quickly fading away. Only a few remain working to keep the basic recipes alive. We can only hope our efforts are not wasted.

If biscuits were wild animals, not doubt they would be an endangered species. No one bakes biscuits anymore, at least not a really true honest to goodness southern biscuit. The kind our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers and so on and so on mixed in their kitchens. Today’s world is filled with plenty of “new southern” cuisine cookbooks explaining step-by-step how to make the traditional southern biscuit. However, a traditional southern biscuit it is surely not.

Biscuits are complicated, but their ingredients are not. The simpler the better. It only requires self-rising flour, butter or lard, maybe shortening if you so desire, a pinch of salt, and milk. Perhaps buttermilk if we want a tang in our biscuit. But never more than that.

I recently subscribed to a magazine dedicated to baking in the hopes I would find tips and techniques to help improve my baking skills. I was thrilled to see my first copy subtitled, “The Southern Issue,” and as I scanned the pages my joy turned to disgust. Page after page of recipes resembled nothing I knew of southern baking. The section covering how to make a perfect southern biscuit was nothing less than a slap in the face to the many who could stir up a batch of the mouth watering, buttered bread with only a few scant ingredients.

Of the various dedications to southern baked biscuits from scratch, only one required no less than seven ingredients. And not one was without requiring yeast, cake flour, and sugar. One recipe called for twelve ingredients! I am not making this up. What’s worse, anyone looking through these pages, unfamiliar with southern baking, would be terrified at the attempt of making biscuits altogether.

If I sound like a regional baking snob, I apologize. It’s fine to experiment with the basics and create something new, but please don’t change the basics and call it “authentic.” I am proud of my “southerness,” and the traditions of our culinary heritage. Just as anyone from the Midwest, or other regions of the United States feel a deep connection to the fare that has graced the family table for generations would be, or those from shores far away take pride in the uniqueness of their own recipes handed down through the years. But what is it about southern cuisine that creates in many of my fellow Southerners, a desire to change the very roots of our traditional dishes?

As a Southerner, I have heard many snipes about the South. Always by those who have decided to move here for a better life only to whine about how “backward,” we are, how strange our foods are, how we talk, how we live, the list goes on and on. Years ago, I read an article about how many transplanted southerners were attempting to rid themselves of their accent because they felt it was a handicap in business dealings. Every time I watch a movie with an actor attempting a southern accent, I cringe. So many who didn’t grow up in the South, have such stereotypes of us as a people, it probably isn’t difficult to understand why many have tried to re-invent themselves as someone else. I wonder if others with regional accents are struggling with the same issue. Apparently, we have all been told the very things that make us different are not acceptable, right down to the foods we eat and love so much.

How terrible! What would our lives be if the immigrants who came to this country never shared the heart of their beloved cuisine? Everyone wants everyone to be like everyone else, and in so doing, we are losing the very core of our identity.

Okay, maybe it’s not a conspiracy. It just feels like it. Especially when my fellow southerners have been brainwashed by the masses to “modern up” the old recipes, the recipe itself is no longer recognizable. A southern biscuit is a beautiful bread. It takes several attempts and many fails to get the mix just right and produce a biscuit worthy of the family table, but as we have all heard before, nothing worth having ever came easy.

Conspirators be gone! The southern biscuit lives!

Recipe for a Simple Southern Biscuit:

2 cups of self-rising flour

1/4 cup butter or lard, well chilled

3/4 cups of sweet milk or buttermilk, chilled (don’t allow the milk to stand for to long)

2-3 tablespoons of melted butter, for brushing over tops of fresh baked biscuits

Heat oven to 450*

Measure flour and pour into a large mixing bowl. Add butter or lard by “cutting” it into the flour. You can use a pastry blender or use your hands by rubbing the butter/lard together until the dough is shaggy in appearance and moistened.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and begin pouring the milk or buttermilk into the well.

Little by little, work the flour into the center until the milk is incorporated. Don’t over-do it. Overworked dough will be tough; not flaky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured table or board. Roll or pat out the dough until it is roughly an inch thick. If rolling out the dough, work from the center and out. Not back and forth. The dough must be handled as little as possible.

Dip a biscuit cutter or the top of a beverage glass into a little flour and press straight down into the dough. Do not twist the cutter. The biscuits will not rise up high if the cutter is twisted. (I learned this the hard way, as you can see from the picture above of my biscuits). You should be able to get around 12 biscuits from this recipe.

Place biscuits on a baking tray or shallow cookie sheet and bake for about 10-12 minutes. Once the biscuits are out of the oven, brush the tops with the melted butter.

Serve hot.

 

 

 

 

Easy As Tater Tot Pie

Easy As Tater Tot Pie
An easy recipe for busy back-to-school families

The heat index may be spiking at 101, but the school bells are ringing everywhere beckoning  students back to the classroom. In my town, classes begin in one week, and as busy parents are scrambling through aisles in big department stores for those essentials their children need, its east to forget how important a decent meal can be in a hectic lifestyle.

Maybe not everyone loves potatoes as much as I do, (my heritage is part Irish), but the simple spuds are staples in the American diet and versatile for many dishes.

The American Tater Tot is probably thought of as a food fit for toddlers and small children, but with a little imagination, these quick finger foods can transform into a hearty dish filled with vegetables in as little as an hour. This casserole is so simple to make and will be perfect for evenings when you are in hurry and leftovers are a cinch. Add a pre-mixed salad and you have your meal ready for everyone.

Many recipes for tater tots in casseroles exist, perhaps due to their simplicity. I have adapted my own version into something similar to a Shepherd’s Pie. of course, you can add in your own favorites to suit your family’s needs and likes, however, this is so simple and easy to make, you might even save yourself some work by asking your kids to help out. The only real hard work consists of browning ground beef, or for a healthier alternative, use ground turkey instead.

Here is a list of what you will need:

1 lb. ground beef or turkey

1 can of condensed cream of mushroom soup

1/2 cup of milk

1 can of mixed vegetables

1 small bag of tater tots

1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese

a dash of salt and pepper

Directions for Easy As Tater Tot Pie

Brown ground beef or turkey in a saucepan. Drain the meat once browned and no longer pink.

Add the meat to a casserole dish and cover with the mixed vegetables. combine the milk and cream of mushroom soup. Pour over the vegetable layer.

Arrange tater tots over the soups layer and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese.

Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes. Allow to set for five minutes.

You can always adapt this recipe for your family. If they prefer other vegetables, of course, try those. Your kids can help in layering vegetables, tater tots, soup, and cheese. This helps you out and gives them a responsibility in helping out at meal time without the dangers of knives and heating elements. If you would like to supervise them  browning meat, just make sure you are close by and never allow small children to take out the casserole, or place it in a hot oven!

 

 

 

 

Butter…Beautiful and Bad

butter woman

If the history of butter were told as a novel, its story would be as epic and gripping as any tale written by Shakespeare. A beloved hero/heroine begins a journey of most celebrated status. Butter once offered to gods of many varying religions, gifted as a prized possession for newlywed couples as a symbol of fertility and longevity, used in rituals, and considered the most sacred dish in the ancient world, became chastised, rebuked and nearly destroyed by gossip, misinformation, and greed in the 20th century, only to find itself being rediscovered and saved from death by a new generation seeking purity and simplicity as well as the truth in a new millennium.
Butter began its journey from the ancient world some 10,000 years ago, cultured from the earliest domesticated animals. Sheep, yaks, and goats provided sustenance for many a shepherd and wayfaring tribes across Asia to the North African continents long before cows were a domesticated species. And though the exact story of how milk became butter is little known, it is believed that as tribes wandered the land in search of food, shelter and safety, hind skins from animals were tied and filled with milk before straddling a horse or donkey in the journey. As the animal bustled along, it is thought the constant jostling made the curdled milk that became butter.

The Holy Bible contains many references to butter, or, “chemah,” as it is known in Hebrew. Genesis 18:1-8 tells the story of Abraham being visited by three strangers, thought by many bible scholars to be God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and is told he will be the father of nations and Sarah in her old age will give birth, it is a meal of bread and curds offered to the three visitors.
In India and Tibet, Hindus often use ghee, clarified butter, in religious ceremonies such as weddings as a blessing for the couple. The Hindu god, Krishna, is often depicted as eating from a vessel flowing with butter. Hindus today still give butter as an offering to Krishna.
However, the Romans considered butter a dish of barbarous peoples and they would not partake of the dish. They did value butter as a cosmetic and healing balm noting that it held such properties and rubbed it into their skin and over their lips, in doing so I’m sure they licked it from lips and thus enjoyed the silky creaminess of butter despite their protests as a meal not fit for their own people.
So, if butter was so celebrated, how did it fall from grace? Enter the 20th century, mechanization and two world wars. Food rationing made everyone look for alternatives to the daily staples they had come to depend upon and were a part of daily life. Scientists found they could produce a vegetable oil substitute in the forms of margarine and shortening and it would be less expensive than butter. It didn’t take long for advertising and campaigns about the benefits of these newer, cheaper products to sweep across North America and as families struggled to make their dollar stretch further, margarine and shortening must have appeared as a godsend. Producers of vegetable oil were getting richer and dairy farmers were getting poorer. Soon, margarine was touted as the “healthy” choice in place of butter. And by the eighties, the health and fitness craze made butter a dirty word. Butter was on the verge of extinction.
Thank goodness butter is making a comeback! Science has taught us the margarines and shortenings we were told was so good for us, contains more of those pesky trans fats we are supposed to be avoiding. Butter is filled with huge amounts of vitamin A, in addition to vitamins D, E, and K. Along with the minerals chromium, copper, iodine, manganese, selenium, and zinc, butter is filled with the necessary nutrients our bodies need to maintain health. The picture below gives an idea of the added chemicals and only a scant 10% vitamin A added to margarine as opossed to butter with a vitamin A content of 97%. Though it is important to note here, that doesn’t mean everyone should begin consuming butter in mass quantity. Butter is still a product of animal fats and though it is healthier than margarine or shortening, it is always best to consume them in moderation. Certainly, if you are advised by your doctor to limit your intake of fatty foods, check with your doctor before adding butter to your diet.
As an amateur baker, I find myself using butter more regularly. My family history is filled with heart related issues and I know it is best to pay careful attention to my diet even though I love those sweet treats I bake up. I even prefer to make my own butter using heavy whipping cream, though fresh cream is best. I am still looking for a local source. I think when we look at butter more closely and see the evidence of people around the world thriving on butter, we need to examine our ‘western” ideas of what once held a reputation of highest esteem, could become so tarnished by expediency and greed, is now making a comeback. Our hero/heroine has survived! I wonder if Hollywood is interested? Probably not, after all, it’s the story of butter…not hemp.