You are in the middle of compiling family recipes for a cookbook. Why do you think food is so intertwined with history? Making family recipes is the ultimate in comfort food and connects us to our past. I’ve interviewed a lot of family members — mostly my cousins — about their food memories growing up. There’s just a look people get on their faces when they are transported back to my Grandma Becky’s kitchen and remembering her caramel dumplings.
I think there’s also a spiritual aspect to good food, which transcends words when it is shared in communion with others. Food is a powerful language that speaks to generations, because everyone appreciates good food, no matter how old or how young you are.
You certainly have a passion to preserve and pass on old family recipes and lore through the food you make and the stories you tell. Did you learn to cook from your mother? I learned to cook and bake from my mother, Audentia Kavanaugh, as she learned to prepare food from her mother, and on it goes up the family tree. I also learned so much through cooking classes through my local 4-H group in Hamilton and won blue ribbons at the fair for my bread baking.
One of my favorite recipes is for homemade noodles, which is so simple, it was just passed down verbally from my mother. Recently, I taught it to my own 10-year-old granddaughter. The measurements are: 1 cup flour; 1 egg and 1/2 eggshell water. After mixing ingredients into a dough, roll it out and cut into 1/2-inch strips. Allow noodles to dry for at least an hour before dropping into boiling chicken, vegetable or beef stock. Boil for about 10 minutes, then feast on a bowl of homemade noodles.
With so many family recipes at your disposal, why are you sharing this carrot cake recipe? Various calamities masquerade as carrot cake, covered with the requisite cream cheese frosting. Under that frosting is often a conglomeration of ingredients — pineapple, coconut or citrus zest — that I don’t think belongs in a carrot cake.
This is serious cake. A friend gave me this recipe years ago. What makes this cake so tasty is that the shredded carrots are first cooked in a sugar syrup. Both whole-wheat and all-purpose flours are used, while nuts and raisins round out the flavors. It’s simple but totally delicious and is Rudy’s favorite cake. If you don’t want to make a layered cake, you can also bake it in a 9- by 13-inch pan.
All due respect, why not just cut corners and buy a package of egg noodles or make a cake using a mix? I feel strongly about offering what I think of as authentic food to my family and friends. It’s healthful food that I make using fresh ingredients when possible without incorporating mixes or prepared foods.
I appreciate the finer details that go into the presentation of beautiful food. I collect cake plates and have about 500 antique twisted handle master butter knives. Each one is different and it is amazing to think of the craftsmanship that went into making a simple butter knife.
That is also how I view the preparation of homemade food, as I appreciate the attention to detail it takes to make something from scratch. As a historian, I see the importance of respecting and remembering what happened in the past, but find it even more important to pass along these lessons and acquired knowledge to the next generation.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Occupation: Retired history teacher and school administrator
Special cooking interest: Chronicling family culinary history
Fun fact: She met her husband Rudy Wrobel while working on family genealogy.
Ms. Fannie’s Carrot Cake
Makes 16 servings in a 10-inch round double-layer cake
For the cake:
3 cups grated carrots
1 1/2 cups golden raisins
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 1/4 cups water
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups roughly chopped walnuts
For the frosting:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons milk
4 cups powdered sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
To make the cake: Grease 2 (10-inch) round baking pans. Line bottoms of pans with parchment paper, cut into 10-inch rounds. Grease and flour parchment paper in pans and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium saucepan, stir carrots, raisins, sugar and water together over medium-high heat. Boil mixture for 5 minutes and take off heat to cool completely.
In a separate mixing bowl, sift flours, baking soda, salt, cloves, allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon together.
Gently incorporate cooled carrot mixture and softened butter into dry ingredients. Stir in vanilla extract and walnuts until evenly distributed throughout batter.
Evenly divide batter between prepared pans and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a cake tester, when inserted, comes out clean. Remove cakes from oven and cool 10 minutes on wire racks before removing from pans. Allow cakes to cool completely, then carefully peel parchment paper off bottom of cakes before assembling with frosting.
To make the frosting: Into a large, clean mixing bowl, cream butter, cream cheese and milk with an electric mixer on medium speed. Slowly add powdered sugar and beat until creamy, stopping mixer occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl.
To assemble cake: Place 1 cake round on cake plate and spread with frosting. Top with second cake round and frost entire cake with remaining frosting. Sprinkle toasted walnuts over the top of frosted cake. Cover with a cake dome and refrigerate before cutting, for best results.
Per serving: 636 calories (38 percent from fat), 28 grams total fat (11 grams saturated), 47 milligrams cholesterol, 93 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams protein, 331 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.