A Tasty Cake Topper

If you were expecting an old-time cake recipe, stop reading now. What I want to show you is a bit of history and the end result of a few hours work back in the 40s when folks had no choice but to bake and take church-affair offerings made from scratch. My mother was expected–every time–to show up with this tantalizing beauty–as tasty as it looked.
So she did.

I found a cookbook photo so like her finished cake–missing only Mom’s signature “flower” on top for decoration. Edible, of course. The fresh orange segment photo’s mine, the fruit from CA available year ’round, unlike when I still lived at home and oranges were a luxury.


Here I’m including only the two recipes which made a plain two-layer cake a standout: The filling and the icing. I’m guessing a box mix of either white or yellow cake would be a fair substitute for the original which called for sifted cake flour.


Mix together in saucepan . . .
1 cup sugar
4 tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup orange juice
2 tbsp. grated orange rind
1 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. butter
Bring to a rolling boil and boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Chill before using as a filling between cooled cake layers.


Combine in top of double boiler . . .
2 egg whites (1/3 cup)
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/3 cup of water
Place over boiling water and beat with rotary beater until mixture holds its shape.
Fold in . . .
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

When cool enough, spread over sides and top of cake which has orange filling between layers. Gently press flaked or regular coconut into icing all over. Arrange fresh orange slices on top for garnish/decoration.




My Snowy Day Warm-up

What do you do when you’ve shoveled the walks front and back and you aren’t expecting anyone but the mail carrier? You won’t be driving anywhere today. You going to just sit there and read?

Not today. Write? Maybe. But first I’ll make an inordinate number of trips between the best window and door views–taking photos again–repeating myself in awe-filled tones on how light and easy the frozen raindrop pebbles were scraped and tossed. “Just like granulated sugar,” I’ll say. Again.

Then as predictably as snowfalls beautify our northeastern landscape in January, I’ll start to bake. Or cook. But no Chef–like The Ranting Amateur whose postings I admire — I may try something I fancied on a recent magazine cover. I’m thinking I’ll make Anadama bread in all its molasses glory another snowy day before spring. That Betty Crocker Cookbook (first edition–1950) recipe, brown finger smudges and all, isn’t going anywhere.


Yes. On the first snowfall of the weekend I’m thinking soup. I set oven temp at 425 degrees and start cutting into 1-inch cubes the butternut squash I brought home weeks ago with good intentions. Softer now, cutting 1/2 to 1-inch discs across the solid end is a snap for paring.   NOTE: Select butternut squash with smallest bulbous end for fewer seeds and fiber to discard.


A half dozen nice-sized carrots (thinly scraped with a peeler) get cut to 1-inch pieces and tossed in a big bowl with a half dozen (if small) whole garlic cloves and a sliced medium onion. 2 tbsp of olive oil and a scant shake of salt and pepper (to taste) will coat the tossed vegetables. On a cookie sheet, turn all with spatula halfway through 30 minutes in oven.
I set timer for two 15-minute segments so I can’t forget.


In 3-4 batches (depending on food processor capacity, puree vegetables along with the 4 cups of chicken stock. Mine was pretty and more textured (just the way I like it) with bits and pieces of the two shades of orange. Rather than sweeten with the whole TBSP of brown sugar, as in the original recipe, I pared and microwaved 2 smallish Gala apples in 1 tsp water  4-5 minutes while vegetables were baking, pureeing together.


When bringing soup to simmer for serving, add 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar and 1/4 tsp nutmeg to the pot. (panini croutons optional)

I have two lovely Pfaltzgraff tureens–one gray, one blue. But my smaller ceramic pumpkin was the perfect size for about 9 one-cup servings. Perfect color to warm up my snowy day!


10X Snowfall and Christmas Crescent Cookies

Our first snowfall of the central PA season was earlier than usual–November 27 in 2012. To my eyes it was lovely to look at blanketing the whole property. That included the unsuspecting tables and chairs on the patio and the pouf of clematis vine still loaded with seeds and not yet dried enough to prune. The snow made no exception to my vehicle parked in the driveway.


As luck would have it, I needed to escape the 2-inch accumulation for an early doctor’s appointment five miles over the river. And lo and behold with a half hour to take-off time, I was met at the exit by my daughter all bundled up in heavy coat, hood, scarf, mittens, and boots. In no time she had uncovered my Ford Escape with a long-handled brush, warmed up the motor and interior, and reminded me where on instrument panel to find defroster and heater controls. Lucky me for 4-wheel drive on steep inclines to my destination. Double lucky to have a thoughtful daughter who finished all the shovelling in my absence.

Having recorded Mother Nature’s introduction to winter here, I’ll segue to a children’s poem–heretofor unpublished–describing a subtle snowfall. One I didn’t have to conquer on wheels.

A 10x Snowfall

by Mariam Davis Pineno

If every house were gingerbread,

a dark molasses brown,

I’d say THE SIFTER overhead

has topped our tiny town.

So powd’ry–snow drifts down

to decorate each tree,

someone must soon sweep sugared walks.

I hope that someone’s me!

Now for the Christmas Crescent Cookies, formerly served as Conewago Crescents in my younger daughter’s coffee house. Sift a bowlful of 10x sugar, then roll cookies in it twice–once when warm from the oven and a final coat when cool. That makes them sweet enough, in case you’re thinking the amount of granulated sugar in the recipe sounds skimpy. Caution: baked, the cookies are fragile, but still need to be handled hot–carefully.


Preheat oven to 325 degrees

CREAM 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter

Add 5 tbs granulated sugar, 2 tsp vanilla, 1 tbsp water

Sift 2 cups unbleached flour with 1/2 tsp salt and stir into butter mixture

Add in 2 cups finely chopped walnuts or pecans and mix thoroughly. May need to use your nice clean hands to incorporate all

     Using portion about the size of a small walnut, form a ball, then roll in your palm till smooth, thinning out ends slightly to bend and form into crescent shape.         BAKE about 20 minutes–just to starting to brown.

     Roll in powdered (10x) sugar while warm. To protect countertops I spread paper towels first, then cover with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Roll in sugar again when cool. The crescent shape (if you keep size uniform) makes storing in round tins ideal. Can’t slide around when hugging each other, hm? I double the recipe and get about 9 1/2 dozen cookies. A Tupperware pie taker holds 7 1/2 dozen with circles of waxed paper between layers. The cookie freezes well. Who knows? You might find a small plastic bagful a year later. It has happened!


Tastes and Smells Then and Now (Part 3)

With all the holiday baking calling for my attention, I’m still compelled to add to what I started before stuffing myself with my son-in-law’s turkey and all the trimmings.

Remember my declaration in Part 2 that “There’s no such thing as too many nuts”? Well, that philosophy is the evolved version. In my childhood and youth there were days when a mere cup of nuts seemed over the top. Way too labor intensive.

We had, on our near-country acre, three black walnut trees. The one behind and close to the house reminded me of Longfellow’s line Under the spreading chestnut tree . . . Our oldest tree had a trunk and spreading branches as expansive as the poem’s and an abundant annual crop.

The odious fall task of gathering the fallen nuts–still robed in smelly, squishy outer coverings– sometimes fell to my sister and me. We wore Daddy’s heavy duty gloves to keep some of the dark brown—similar to tobacco juice—from staining our hands as we scooped up basketsful and toted them down to the front of the lawn. Dumped alongside the unpaved road, the occasional car (and ours) took care of the outer shell shucking in a week or so.

Whatever the resident squirrel didn’t carry off of the dried tough-coated, wrinkle-ridged nuts would, as our reward, end up in all kinds of candies and home-baked goods.

Black Walnut in Shell
Black Walnut in Shell

The smell and taste of black walnuts was/is distinctive and to us worth the occasional boo-boo during the shell cracking process. We took turns holding a nut between thumb and forefinger on an old tree stump by the storage barn door and let a sound whack with a small wooden mallet do the job of getting to the “meat.”

Cookies and candies required hours of nut picking after the shells were demolished. We use the same style silver pickers today. For Christmas we anticipated Mom’s Divinity fudge—snow white, light and airy melt-in-your-mouth morsels. I don’t recall having that treat any other time of year.

English walnuts were—for us—an extravagance, appearing only at Christmastime in the mixed assortment which stretched our cotton tan stockings to the lumpy limit. One or two squeezes of the silver nut cracker opened filberts, pecans, hazel nuts, almonds, and English walnuts. Brazil nuts, in our pre-political correctness youth, were innocently called “nigger toes.” Please—no hate mail for my honest reporting of historical detail.

Butter Bowl Mixed NutsSilver nutcracker and pick
Butter Bowl Mixed Nuts
Silver nutcracker and pick

Over years, I acquired (adding at least one a year) a sizable wooden nutcracker collection from which I assembled and transported a manageable group for display when introducing The Nutcracker Ballet to my second grade music classes. Most of these have been donated to my music-teaching daughter. The hand-carved keepsake my parents bought  in Switzerland more than fifty years ago on a Cook’s Tour of Europe is my hands-down favorite. He’s family.

Nutcraker Front Nutcracker Mouth Open

Keepsake hand-carved nutcracker (for display only)

Tastes and Smells Then and Now (Part 2)

In the 1930s of my youth, every morsel we ate was homegrown or “made from  scratch.” Filling in for a scarcity of meats was cod fish gravy–actually a white sauce finished with a generous pat of homemade butter and ladled over mashed potatoes, pancakes, or toast. The dried fish came from the store in a petite wooden box with sliding top and required soaking overnight to eliminate some of the strong salt with which it was preserved. When cod was cooked, the salty water was discarded again and the pungent white fish was added to the sauce.

For pancakes, I was allowed to indulge my sweet tooth by piling a couple of spoonsful of sugar and melting it in the center with a moderate splash of hot coffee. I know. Strange for a child, but I had to be coaxed to eat any number of foods–especially vegetables–that were supposed to be good for me. Or I’d slather a pancake with peanut butter directly from the tin pail in which it was purchased or sweeter still, honey from its waxy comb, straight from some grower’s beehive. Chewing the wax was the fun part, totally unrelated to nutrition. Or it wouldn’t have seemed so fun.

Tapping (every other year in March) our stand of  8-10 sugar maple trees, we boiled and sealed enough maple syrup jars to last through most of the winter. My older sister and I were still too short to see the competition over the walls of the shoveled-out “Fox ‘n’ geese” circular snow path. So we didn’t have to step off our front porch for the handy refrigeration of a major snow bank. There we’d set a Pyrex dish of hot boiled-down syrup to cool, stirring with extreme vigor and anticipation till set. NOTE: I’m guessing you can still do this with kids over a bowl of ice cubes. Voila! Pale, sweet maple sugar, a rare anytime treat. Rare for us because we enjoyed many other culinary uses for the precious, prized syrup. Sneaking an occasional teaspoon in the sugar-making process went unpunished–if not unseen.

Life was simple then. Life was, and still is, sweet.


First oil painted by artist/daughter Marti during college break from the “Three-Mile Island episode.” Wooden paddle was used for pressing out the whey of freshly churned butter.  Now, the bowl sometimes holds popcorn or rice puff balls for the holiday.