The Legendary Sonker of Surry County

I am willing to admit it…I am a city girl. I like convenience. However, I love the peace and quiet the country offers. Growing up in a fast, growing southern city made it difficult to hold on to the small pleasures my early years in a small town offered. The crafts, hobbies, and daily life activities I knew early on were not appreciated in the large city my family moved to in the late seventies.

Homemade Christmas ornaments, cakes baked from scratch, and running barefoot over patches of deep, cool grass in summer, were replaced with organized activities created by groups filling a gap once filled by two-parent homes. Not one of the kids I played with in the city were familar with hours spent with Mom baking cookies and cakes. No one knew the method of Wilton cake decorating, and anything homemade. Store bought was all they knew.

In my childish desire to “fit in,” I engaged in the same past-times of other kids. It wasn’t easy. Our country accented, one car, one income, do-it-yourself family was as foreign to them as their pointless need for designer jeans and and a place at the beach was to us.

That’s why when I came across a recipe for “sonker,” I was perplexed. Surry County Sonker, to be precise, was a recipe so regional and unique to the area of my anscestors, no one outside of Surry County, North Carolina had even heard of this special dessert.20190601_202601

“Mom? Ever heard of sonker?” I asked recently.

My mother perked up. “Oh yes, my mother used to make sonker,” she said cherrily. “It was good. She usually made it with whatever fruit we had leftover. Seems to me she used self-rising flour, sugar, and…”

No one knows with any certainty how sonker came about, or the origins of the name sonker. The most popular explanation is that it might be from a colloquiaism of sunk, as in the fruit sunk down at the bottom of the pan as the flour rose to the top, thus the fruit “sonked down.” As my mother explained to me, it was just a sort of pie, but not quite. It was a cobbler, but not exactly like a cobbler. It wasn’t cobbler. It wasn’t pie, it was just…sonker.

That is the legendary Sonker.

However it came to be, sonker was something put together by housewives and consisted of the fruits of summer, or autumn, or winter, just whatever was available at the time. My mother recalled how her mother whipped up a sonker for the fieldhands that planted and picked tobacco in the area. Her mother learned from her mother, and her mother from her mother, and so on. And the way your mother made sonker was the correct way to make sonker. It depended on what was available and what the busy women had time to work with in addition to their other chores.

My mother paused, her eyes gazed upward as the wheels of her memory spinned. “I think she used self-rising flour. I remember it had lots of juice and we always ate it with cream.”

It wasn’t long before we were both in the kitchen, gathering up ingredients as my mother talked her way through the memories of her mother’s recipe. I grabbed the sugar and the bag of peaches we had bought earlier in the week. Soon the stovetop was red hot and adding to the misery of a humid June day, as I scooped up the blueberries from their corner in the back of the refridgerator.

Mom making Surry County Sonker.

Steam billowed under the exhaust fan as we watched the fruit and sugar bubble and pop with thick juices. Mom stirred the fruit while I mixed the flour and milk together for the topping.

The result of our efforts was a deep dish filled with juicy fruit and the liquid filling every edge of the pan. The doughy top, baked brown and broken through by the lucious fruit underneath. It didn’t last long. We ate up our work with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

“We never had money for ice cream,” my mother recalled. “Ice cream was a special treat for when we went into town on weekends. But we usually always had cream from the cow.”

Mom spreads the flour mixture over the fruit.

Sonker was often served with a milk dip, as it was called. A sweet, thick liquid consisting of sugar, water, a little cornstarch for thickening, and a dab of vanilla.

Our afternoon making sonker lead me to ask my dad if he remembered sonker.

“Sonker pie!” He let out. “Oh yeah, my mother made sonker pie.”

Sonker pie, as he called it, was again made in a similar way as my mother’s mother, with self-rising flour, whatever fruit she could gather together, and lots of sugar. Always made for the folks out in the fields planting or harvesting a crop. For my anscestors, that meant corn, wheat, and of course, tobacco.

Today sonker seldom resembles the dessert my parents remember so fondly. Sonker on the internet and You Tube is dolled up with puff pastry or strips of rolled pastry dough with crimped edges, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is just not a true sonker. It isn’t true to our heritage, but so many people today, especially in America, want to replicate everything to fit everyone’s palate that our past is lost and forgotten.

Our sonker after a few scoops. Delicious!

Many immigrants have changed their native dishes to appeal to the masses and for good reason. They, like me so many years ago, wanted to fit in. And in doing so, they had to change what seemed odd to everyone else in order to survive, but we still need to hold on to what made us who we are. Homogenization is fine for milk, but not people.

I do feel grateful to live in a country with so many choices. American cuisine is a collection of everyone’s past from around the world. I think I would get bored eating the same foods everyday of the week. So if you would like to try something different, I hope you will give sonker a try. It is a part of my past I would like to share with everyone.

Recipe for Old-Fashioned Surry County Sonker and Milk Dip


1 stick of butter (a half cup)

Approximately 4 cups of fruit of your choice (whatever is available)

1 tsp. of vanilla

1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar

1 cup of self-rising four (or leftover rolled out pastry dough, this is for placing on to of the fruit)

1 cup of whole milk

a pinch of salt

(1) Preheat your oven to 350*

(2) Melt the butter in a rectangle sized baking pan; one that has deep sides. Any deep edged pan or dish will do.

(3) In a heavy saucepan, add the fruit and 1 cup of sugar. Warm the fruit over medium heat until the fruit and sugar are hot and bubbly. Keep stirring or the fruit wil stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.

(4) In a seperate bowl, mix together the rest of the sugar along with the cup of flour, milk, and vanilla.

(5) Pour the fruit into the prepared baking dish, then pour the batter over the top. Some people add the batter first, either way is fine. My mother’s mother added the fruit first.

(6) Bake in oven for at least 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

(7) Serve with milk dip, cream, or vanilla ice cream while sonker is hot.


For the Milk Dip, mix together 1 cup of milk, 1/4 cup sugar, and vanilla to taste over medium heat in a small pot. Add a bit of cornstarch for thickening. Stir until sugar and cornstarch are dissolved. Pour over sonker and serve.

Bakers…Check Your Ovens!

It started over a month ago, when my father started reminding me about his upcoming birthday and the coconut cake I had baked for him last year. He loved it so much he decided he wanted the same cake when asked what kind of cake he wanted this year.

“I love that coconut cake you make,” he said. “I like that lemon filling you put in the middle.”

And so for the past month, everyday, my father would call and tell me that he had a birthday coming up and he would sure like “that coconut cake,” again. When I asked what he wanted for a present, he simply replied, “Just that coconut cake.”

Well, my dad loved his coconut cake and he told me it was so good he wasn’t sure if the cake would make it past the weekend. (His birthday was on a Thursday this year) I began to wonder why so many of my other cake baking efforts were a big flop. One cake bakes like a dream, another, a huge fail with me throwing the cake in the trash as if it were a frisbee. I began to believe my abilities in cake baking were limited, and I would just have to settle for title of at-home baker with a hit-or-miss record. The Great British Baking Show was not in my future.

But I am not one to give up! I may moan and cry and pout for a couple of hours, but come morning I have a new determination. My, “I cannot rest until I figure this out,” attitude kicks in and once again I am off like lightning, my brain spinning like a hamster wheel.

Since it is impossible for me to sleep in one of these spells, I stayed up streaming YouTube videos on cake decorating. I have decorated cakes with success, maybe I could be inspired to try cake again.

After many nights falling asleep to the musical backgrounds provided during many a wedding cake video, I came across Global Sugar Art and a Chef Alan Tetreault. After watching him make even the most elaborate designs appear easy-breezy, I found his video on baking cakes from scratch. Apparently, I am not the cake baking failure I always thought I was. First things first. The tools of the trade have as much to do with the success of our bakes as do the ingredients.

appliance cabinets contemporary counter
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My mind began taking notes of the complexities of oven temperature, and exact placement of pans on the oven racks. It seems a 350* oven and a pan of cake mix is more complex than I thought. Here, I would like to share Chef Tetreault’s tips about ovens and cake pans.

First, use an oven thermometer to check that your oven is truly reaching the desired temperature. Many ovens can be off as much as 20 degrees!

An oven set at 350* is fine…as long as you are using a simple aluminum pan.

Baking pans made of Anodized aluminum, glass, dark metal pans, and sheet pans, need a lower temperature because they conduct more heat. 325* is a better bet for these types of baking pans.

And according to Chef Tetreault, never bake a cake on a rack placed any higher than the middle of your oven. Higher than that and the cake will form a crust on the top of the cake and as the rest of the cake bakes, it will spill out over the sides of the pan, causing your cake to erupt! No one wants to clean out that mess!

Another hint: When using a convection oven, always set the oven to the setting for baking cakes. This is something I have no understanding of, as I am using an “apartment style” oven, but if you have a convection oven, I assume you know what this means.

There is so much information in this video, and it is eye-opening for us at-home, hobby bakers that I am placing the link for the video at the end of this blog. I hope you will take the time to watch the video in its entirety. There is so much useful information and Chef Tetreault is a very calm presence. It feels like he is teaching you step-by-step and not talking down to his viewers. That’s all for now.

Happy Baking!


Blueberry-Lemon Biscuits


boy picking on blueberries in cardboard box
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Fresh blueberries and summer are forever a perfect picture of what summer in the South is all about. As soon as the weather becomes warm enough to tolerate, but before it becomes unbearable, blueberries with their deep indigo color reminds us of a cool refuge in warmer months.
Jams, jellies, pies, and my favorite, blueberry muffins, are what make blueberries special. No other fruit can burst into the most majestic shade of purple when baked. It is as if blueberries hide a secret only to be revealed once under heat. This recipe for Blueberry-Lemon Biscuits reminds me of a certain fast-food chain and their blueberry biscuits.
However, this recipe requires real blueberries, not blueberry flavored bits of some substance known only to scientists in a lab. And the addition of lemon peel and juice makes these biscuits far superior in taste and texture. Just biting into those berries, full of flavor makes heating up the kitchen in the warmer months, worth the effort.

Recipe for Blueberry-Lemon BiscuitsDSCI0236

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
¼ cup cold butter
One egg, lightly beaten
(1) 6 oz. carton of lemon yogurt (can substitute vanilla flavor)
2 tsp. milk
1 tsp. finely zested lemon peel
1 cup fresh or frozen unsweetened blueberries

Recipe for Lemon Glaze:
In a small bowl mix together 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 tsp. finely zested lemon peel, 1 tsp. vanilla, and enough lemon juice (3-4 tsp.) to make a thick glaze liquid enough to drizzle over biscuits.

Preheat oven to 400*. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Set aside.
Mix together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, sugar. Cut in cold butter until the mix looks like crumbs.
In a small bowl, stir yogurt, lightly beaten egg, and lemon zest. Add mixture to the flour mixture.
Using a fork, stir the mixture until moistened. Fold in blueberries gently.
Drop about a heaping tablespoon amount onto baking sheet. (An ice cream scoop works well for this task.)
Bake 10-15 minutes until the biscuits are golden brown in color.
Once removed from oven, place biscuits onto wire rack for cooling.
Drizzle lemon glaze over biscuits once biscuits have cooled.

Note* These biscuits can be frozen, just do not drizzle the glaze on them before freezing. Wrap them in foil and place in airtight container safe for freezer. When ready to bake, place foil wrapped biscuits in a 300* oven for 20-30 minutes. Drizzle with glaze as you would if freshly baked.

Mom’s Easter Sunday Ham

white flowers between brown rabbit figure and eggs
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The glorious colors of Spring are beginning to paint the landscape here in the South, along with our nemesis, that sticky, yellow-green pollen dust from the tall pines. My red car is covered in the stuff, but I don’t need to see the pollen to know it’s there, my fits of coughing and itchy, eyes let me know Spring has sprung!

Along with the misery, is the hope Easter brings. New life is abundant in the flowers blooming to their fullest glory, while various birds sing their praises of survival through the bitter cold of winter.

This time of year reminds me of so many Easter celebrations of years past. My mother made Easter as much of an event to be anticipated as Christmas morning. Waking up to a big basket filled with the many colors of flavorful candies and a huge, bunny made of delicious chocolate, is still a memory I cherish. Coloring eggs with the famous Paas food dye kits were as much fun as the holiday itself. This was only a building up to a luncheon with the main attraction, Mom’s Easter ham.

The large ham would be prepared on a large platter surrounded by greens and coated with orange extract, then, much to the delight of my brothers and I, set aflame with the single strike of a match. Watching the spectacle was akin to watching a fireworks show on the Fourth-of-July.

Mom has always gone out of her way to make holidays special. She doesn’t cook much anymore as her battle with Essential Tremor makes it difficult on her best days to handle the complexities of cooking. But as the season turns to warmer temperatures and longer days, I still can’t pass by a ham display at the local grocery store without thinking of that special Easter ham.

There are ways to make the star of the day more tasty and attractive without breaking your bank account. Here, I share my mother’s helpful advice for a fail-proof ham.

  • First, make sure to check prices from your local grocery stores. In the weeks before Easter, most stores will run specials hoping to pull loyal customers from their regular markets to the one with the biggest price cuts.
  • After you have removed all the packaging, place the ham in your sink for a good long rinse under cold water. The rinse will remove all the surface salt the ham has been coated in by the brand company. Don’t worry that this will reduce the salty flavor from the ham, the meat will still have its natural saltiness, just not the overkill of the sodium that ruins the flavor of the ham.
  • Don’t rush through. prepare some of the side items to your meal in advance. Potato salad, for example can be made up to two days ahead. Green beans were always served with the ham instead of asparagus. Mom knew our palates would not take to anything so exotic as vegetables we didn’t normally eat during the rest of the year. This is not the time to surprise everyone with something you are not sure they would partake of any other day of the year. It is nonsense to waste time and money, let alone food, when folks will not eat it.
  • Wether a buffet or table setting; relax, let others set out flatware and beverage glasses. Send out food to the table and dispense with elaborate decorations. People don’t talk about the way your table looked in the years to come. People remember how good the food tasted and how special the day was.
  • Make deep, criss-cross cuts into the ham before cooking.  Place a whole clove deep into each of the “squares,” created by the knife cuts. Allow the ham to cook as long as required to achieve the flavor to come through. Baste the ham with orange juice while the ham is cooking will help dispense of any saltiness and create a richer flavor to the ham once the extract is added.
  • Arrange the ham on the platter and surround with salad greens mixed with peeled orange slices. Add a few cranberries for color if you like.
  • Finally, pour the orange extract over the ham, generously. Use up all the liquid. Don’t hold back some for “use later.” Trust me, unless you have some special recipe that calls for orange extract, you will never buy another bottle until next Easter.

Now, strike a match, and set the ham ablaze! Watch everyone, especially the children, ooh and ahh over the magical moment as the bright orange and red flame jumps and waves into a blue light, then quietly slows down and disappear into the checkerboard pattern of ham and clove.

As I celebrate my one-year anniversary of this blog. I thank all the followers and wish them a Happy Easter and the filled promise of that first Easter celebrated so long ago.


Irish Tea, Me, and History

I love St. Patrick’s Day! The bright colors of spring abound, and various birds of every description begin to flutter around in the trees, and celebrating the patron saint of The Emerald Isle marks the time of year when everything is about renewal and fresh beginnings.

Photo by Melissa on

I usually partake in this special holiday by sporting the deep, green color of Ireland’s countryside through my wardrobe. I pull from my jewelry box a unique, gold-plated pin embellished with various charms and tokens representing the Emerald Isle and walk happily about with pride.

Twenty years ago, after I came across the family Bible from my mother’s paternal grandparents, I began researching my family tree. In those days, if you wanted to know more about where you came from and how you got here, you needed money, time, and a lot of patience. (All things I am very short of). Census records were kept on microfilm in a musty cavern beneath the structures of government buildings. You needed permission and someone who knew where to look for what it was you needed to look for. Those were the old days. At least I could ask my parents what they knew or had heard from relatives when they were growing up. But that was all I had, and as I am not a celebrity, no one from “Who Do You Think You Are?” was going to be knocking on my door with the answers in hand.

Today, we have the internet and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to guide us in finding our family and those long, stretched out lineages of people who came before us. Through their website,, I was able to find relatives dating back to the 10th century from Wales. In fact, my mother’s grandfather’s line hasn’t a drop of Irish blood at all! But the Millikan family roots run deep in North Carolina, and it is from her father’s side of the family that we attribute to the sod of Ireland. It has been recorded that the Millikan clan came down from Pennsylvania after settling for a time with the Quaker’s of German descent. After a time, the English Quaker’s migrated south and settled permanently in the piedmont of North Carolina. When exactly, my family came from Ireland is still a mystery and it may take another twenty years of digging through records on the internet before I find the answers. But, I love a good mystery, and that is all part of geneology…looking for clues to unravel the different parts that make a whole.

green trees under blue and orange sky during sunset
Photo by Lisa Fotios on

What I do know is that my family came here long before we called ourselves Americans. That in itself is an amazing discovery, and while I continue my journey, I will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a good, strong cup of Irish Breakfast tea, and some, “hot from the oven,” delicious raisin scones. And with every sip and every bite, I will remember how fortunate I am to be made of so many wonderful ingredients. Afterall, that is the very heart of baking, bringing together the parts that are different to make something wonderful. Enjoy!


Recipe for Irish Raisin Scones

2 cups all- purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2  1/2  tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. shortening

3/4 cups of raisins

1 cup of buttermilk or scalded milk



  1. Combine flour, sugar, and baking powder with salt in a mixing bowl. Cut in the shortening with a fork or pastry blender until the mixture is crumbly. Add raisins and the buttermilk and continue to mix with fork or pastry blender until ingredients are moist. The dough will be sticky.
  2. Place the dough onto a well floured surface and knead dough for approximately one minute. Shape into a ball and place dough onto ungreased baking sheet. Mark out with a knife wedges of eight pieces. Let dough rest for ten minutes. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until top is a golden brown. Make sure to insert a toothpick or skewer into middle to test for doneness. If not done, place bake in oven until dough is set in the center.

If you want a sweet, crunchy top for your scones, brush the top with a beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar before placing in oven to bake.

Serve warm with various jams, jellies, or preserves along with sweet cream or clotted cream. Enjoy with a cup of Irish Breakfast Tea or any other tea you prefer.

Chocolate Chocolatey Mint Chip Cookies

20190129_160303Nothing in this world calms my nerves like a batch of chocolate chip cookies. And wile I wait, none to patiently, for my laptop to run another “update,” my mind goes back and forth from my tablet to the countertop, where a recent batch of chocolate cookies beckons.

Over the holidays, I found my local grocery store had put up a display for Andes Mints. I hadn’t seen these striped, chocolate candies for ages, so I picked up two packages and decided to offer then as a refreshment for for guests. They never made it that far. My mother helped me gobble down the first batch, and with our chocolate, mint craving satisfied, I had still one unopened box. What to do with it?

I often find myself struggling over what to prepare for dinner. As there are only two people, and one fussy, little dog around, it is difficult to think of meals for such a small group. It is on these occasions where I scramble through coupons in a quest for something in the fast food genre. The glove compartment of my car is stuffed with antiquated brochures and flyers from restaurants offering special deals for a limited time. I came across one from Subway. Off I went. At least, it is healthier than other options.

photo of person driving
Photo by Peter Fazekas on

As I was paying for my sub sandwich, I noticed the display of cookies on the counter. Deep, rich chocolate with flecks of bright green caught my attention. “Chocolate Mint Chip.” I decided at the last minute to add them to my purchase.

After the meal, I warmed the cookies in the microwave and as my mother and I sank our teeth into the melty, minty, cookie, I thought about how easy it would be to make these for myself. I already had the box of Andes Mints, and I was sure I had a recipe somewhere for chocolate, chocolate chip cookies.

My mother spent the next evening, breaking up the entire box of candies into bits and pieces. Carefully unwrapping each as her hands would allow. My mother decided that her hand trmors would make her ideal for this job as she didn’t need to use delicacy when breaking up the candy.

Below is the recipe for these cookies I made at home. They really are delicious, and a refreshing break from the usual chocolate chip cookie. Enjoy!

Chocolate Chocolatey Mint Chip Cookies


1 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 tsp, baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup butter or margarine

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup of Chopped Andes Mints


Preheat oven to 375*

  1. In a large bowl or mixer, cream together butter, and sugars together until light and fluffy. Gradually add vanilla and egg and blend until smooth.
  2. Add flour, cocoa powder, and other dry ingredients to creamed mixture. Mix well.
  3. Stir in the Andes Mints pieces, gently.
  4. Drop tablespoon sized dough onto greased cookie sheet. Bake for around 10 minutes. Cool for approx. 5 minutes on cookie sheet then remove cookies  and place on cookie rack to finish cooling.

P.S. I found the dough to be a bit soft for this recipe, so I added an extra 1/4 cup of flour to the mixture I had leftover for a more firm cookie. Of course, if you like a more soft cookie, keep the recipe to the original above.

I hope you enjoy this recipe. Take care, Suzanne



Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies


This is the day of new beginnings and resolutions! And though we all have good intentions, sometimes we are unable to keep those promises to ourselves we made in the late hours of the previous year.

I am all for new opportunities, as I have had to re-invent myself many times in life. The best laid plans don’t always work out, but I believe the Lord our God has our best in His plans.

This recipe for Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies is a good idea when the long winter sets in our bones and makes us hungry for comfort foods that are not part of our diet in the New Year. However, they are packed with less sugar than regular chocolate chip cookies and with the added oatmeal and pecans, they certainly won’t wreck you diet too much!

I hope you will enjoy these as much as I do.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies


1 cup butter, softened

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups uncooked regular oats

1 (12 0z.) package semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup toasted chopped pecans (optional)


Preheat oven to 350*

Beat butter and sugars in bowl at medium speed. Add eggs and vanilla.

Add salt and baking soda.

Add flour and oats a little at a time. The mixture will begin to become stiff. This is normal.

Once flour and oats have been mixed in, begin adding chocolate chips and pecans.

Place teaspoonful drops onto ungreased baking sheet or use parchment paper on baking sheet if desired, and bake in oven for 10-12 minutes. Cool on wire rack for about 2-3 minutes.


A Very Merry Black Forest Cherry Cake

Many who enjoy baking as a hobby know baking from scratch is the standard. But when the holidays press us to our limits, a box of cake or cookie mix makes life bearable. I love baking from scratch, and I love finding new recipes to try out as well as old ones I haven’t attempted. This year, I will have no “baked from my own two hands” baked goods upon my countertops. This year is right out of a box. After battling a cold virus since Thanksgiving, I feel grateful I am able to accomplish as much.

I came across this particular recipe for Black Forest Cherry Cake, many years ago in a cookbook from QVC Host, Mary Beth Roe. “My Family’s Favorites” is filled with easy recipes for beginners, with many made from scratch and others that are a real help in any kitchen with shortcuts by the way of boxed mixes, canned goods and minimal ingredients.  The cookbook is no longer available through QVC, however, an internet search might provide some outlets where it can be obtained.

This recipe has been celebrated by many in my family and if you are pressed for time, with only four ingredients, it is simple and quick to make. I hope you will enjoy this rich, dense, and flavorful cake that tastes like it was made from scratch. Shhh…you don’t have to tell anyone it came from a box!

Black Forest Cherry Bundt Cake

1 package chocolate cake mix

1 (21 oz.) can of cherry pie filling

1/4 cup oil

3 eggs

Preheat oven to 350*

Combine cake mix, pie filling, oil, and eggs. Beat well until smooth. Pour into greased and floured Bundt pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until done. Cool in pan for 25 minutes, then invert onto cooling rack to finish cooling. Decorate and serve with can of extra cherry pie filling and whipped cream.

Note* You can serve this cake without any extra pie filling or cream. It is great with ice cream or just plain. Decorate using your imagination and enjoy! Merry Christmas Everyone!DSCI0219

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

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




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!


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