Cheap Cream Cake

Three days after Christmas in 1963, I stepped into the long white dress I had just finished sewing, looped my arm through my father’s, and grinned as I walked down the aisle of my childhood church toward the man waiting to become my husband.  I was finishing the clinical part of my nursing degree and Joe was between jobs, so we skipped the honeymoon and drove from Texas to Oklahoma City to move into our first home.  This tiny furnished apartment was attached to another rental property.  It looked like a playhouse because of its size, and definitely needed a lot of TLC.  Joe painted, I cleaned, and as we moved our boxes of old stuff and new wedding gifts in, we were amazed how quickly the little kitchen, living room and bedroom filled up.

 Before I loaded kitchen gear into the few drawers there, I pulled out each, cleaned, and lined it with shelf paper.  As I opened the narrow drawer on the right of the small electric cooktop, I realized this one was not empty.  “Look what I found!” 

Joe squished the paint brushes under the kitchen sink faucet as he cleaned them.  “What?”  Turning, he nodded “Somebody left a book?”

  “Not just any book.  See, it’s called Hypatia Club 1903 – 1950, with Cookbook down at the bottom.”

 “Ah, so exactly what is a Hypatia Club?”  “I don’t know, but inside it says it is in Cushing, Oklahoma.”

 I held the book up, rifling the pages. “There are 576 pages with a handwritten recipe or other stuff.  It isn’t just different recipes; each one is a different handwriting. Looks like the person who contributed a recipe wrote it out herself.”

  Joe put away paint and paintbrushes and came to sit by me where  I perched on the orange vinyl of a Danish Modern love seat that served as part of the sparsely outfitted living room.  I’ll bet they sold it for a fundraising project.”

 We turned through the pages.    Joe laughed, “Look at this one!  Burnt Leather Cake?”

“That writing is so hard to read I can barely make sense of it, but it really does say to start with burning something – a cup of brown sugar.  Do you really think that would taste good?  I have been trying to learn not to burn things when I cook!”

 “Sounds more like a western movie to me.”  Joe winked at me.

  I found other recipes amusing, too…  “I wonder about Epicurean Peas with frozen peas and shredded lettuce cooked together!.”  We saw there were pages of cleaning and household hints and advertising for local businesses as well as a wide variety of recipes. All the different handwriting gave it a personal touch.  Here we were, in Oklahoma, with lots of Oklahoma people offering their favorite recipes!  Their names were almost as much fun to read as the names of their dishes.

 The book became more than a curiosity.  It was, after all, a cookbook!  In the first week of my marriage, I began a habit which continues. I assess my pantry, pick recipes accordingly, and make menus for the week along with the list of groceries I need to buy.  Because I kept the small note papers on which I wrote these menus and grocery lists for January 1 through Valentine’s Day 1964, I do not have to trust memory to tell you the first recipe I used from the Hypatia Club Cookbook, nor that I used that recipe before I had been married for a week.  The first time, I chose the recipe because it required ingredients I knew I had, and it was simple.  The name attracted my attention since I was proving my money managing abilities.  After that first time, there were different reasons for choosing it.  None of the reasons have anything to do with the way it looks, because it is not a pretty cake.  In fact it is unlike any other cake you will bake!  Plain. My mother-in-law would have called it a “sad cake”.  But at least one person declares it is just plain good.

 “Joe, what do you want for your birthday cake?”

    “Cheap Cream Cake.”

 “I’m planning Father’s Day lunch.  Any requests?” 

   “Cheap Cream Cake, please.”

 “Here’s to you, Valentine!”  

  “Woo Hoo!  Cheap Cream Cake!”  

Once a marble cake fan, Joe now favors this simple, not-so-sweet cake.  I love that this is his favorite.  All these years later, with people looking for low-fat desserts, I smile and say, “I know a cake recipe you could try.” 

                                            CHEAP CREAM CAKE

 I am not able to reproduce the uneven, quavery handwriting here, but the abbreviations and spelling are exactly as they appear in the Hypatia Club Cookbook.   Have fun figuring out the missing directions!

                     1 c. sugar 1 tbsp butter, 1 egg,  c. sweet milk, 2 c. flour,

                             2 tsp B.Powder, 1tsp. Vanilla.  Bake in two layers.


                        Beat 1 egg, ½ c. sugar, ¼ c. flour together.

                         Stir this into 2 c hot milk.  When thick

                         flavor and spred on cake when cool.          Mrs. Frank Combes

     I have used other recipes from the book such as Raw Tomato Relish from Lois Deacon and Kosher Dill Tomatoes by Ophelia Simon.  I still love thumbing through the book and looking at the writing – some spidery, some back slanted, some tiny and neat, some with sketches, some barely legible.  With today’s technological advances, I can research and publish a book from my own corner in the kitchen if I wish.  I can certainly Google Burnt Leather and  Hypatia Club.                  

 Yes, there really is a vintage recipe named Burnt Leather Cake in which you scorch brown sugar in a heavy skillet to make syrup which flavors both cake and icing.  It is mentioned in letters and journals from The Oregon Trail in the 1880’s, and is reported to be delicious. 

Also, if you were still wondering, Joe… The Hypatia Club was founded nationally in 1886 by Mary Elizabeth Lease as a woman’s self-improvement organization, and was politically active in the early days of women’s rights. The purpose of the club was intellectual development and social stimulation.

 But the name of the book is mostly lost now.  We just call it the Cheap Cream Cake Book. 

Many thanks to all the women who wrote down their good recipes and shared them with not only the Cushing, Oklahoma community, but also whoever used and left it in my first kitchen. Your recipes, your names, and your handwriting have traveled far. 



A Birthday Dinner: Gaelic Steak and Crabmeat Sweeney’s

I am turning pages in an Irish cookbook my son Ben gave me in 1993 for my birthday, shortly after a short but very enjoyable stay in Ireland. Looking through it reminds me that Joe and Ben cooked my birthday dinner that year using recipes from the book. I marked the recipes with the occasion and date.  I used to do that all the time, and wish I had not stopped, because it is so much fun to go back and see who cooked what and when.  At one time I even tagged it with the family’s yay or nay.  Now, when I use one of those cookbooks and see a check mark I enjoy stopping for a while to revisit the occasion of making that food and enjoy memories of place and people who shared it.  Often, the pleasure is extended by making the recipes one more time.  That is why this weekend when I serve a birthday dinner to celebrate both Joe’s and Ben’s birthdays, we are going to enjoy Gaelic Steak and Crabmeat Sweeny’s!  Maybe I will add some Irish Soda Bread and Boxty Pancakes. These and other delicious dishes can be found in Grand Places Glorious Food, A guide to food and lodging in Ireland’s Finest Historic Properties by Margaret M. Johnson.

                                                          Gaelic Steak

                                  2 sirloin steaks, about 6 ounces each

                                  1 cup peeled tomatoes

                                  1 onion, chopped

                                  1 dozen mushrooms, sliced

                                  2 ounces Irish whiskey

                                 ¾ cup cream

                                 4 Tablespoons butter

                                 Salt and Pepper

Sauté steaks in half the butter to desired doneness.  Add whiskey to pan and ignite.  Set aside.  In separate pan sauté onions in remaing butter until soft.  Add mushrooms and tomatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add cream, salt, and pepper to taste.  Cook for about 10 minutes until reduced.  Place steaks in sauce and warm for a few minutes.

This traditional Irish dish is offered at Ballyseede Castle Hotel, Tralee, County Kerry

                                            Crabmeat Sweeney’s

                                          1 pound white crabmeat

                                          2 cloves garlic, chopped

                                         1/3 cup butter

                                         1 Tablespoon Tobasco sauce

                                         1 Tablespoon light soy sauce

                                         Lemon or lime wedges

                                         Freshly ground black pepper

                                         Fresh Parsley

                                         Mixed lettuces

Heat the butter in a sauté pan and add garlic. Cook gently.  Add the crabmeat and cook briskly to drive off the moisture.  Add pepper, tobacco, soy sauce and taste.  Correct seasonings.  Tear lettuces and arrange on 4 plates.  Add cabmeat and garnish with lemon and/or lime wedges and parsley.  Serves 4 as a starter.

Served at Sweeney’s Oughterard House Hotel in the heart of Connemara, county Galway

Ratatouille Salad

I faced a dilemma when I decided to blog about recipes, food stories, and my love of cooking.  The problem involved the ways in which our today’s meals differ and contrast with those of times past.  Don’t get me wrong, we still enjoy many of the same tried and true foods, but change has come, and it is good change.  As a nurse, I was always interested in choosing nutritious meals, but I am even more passionate about healthy food now.  In the early years of marriage and family, I steadily improved my basic cooking skills, and enjoyed collecting cookbooks.  Today, I can access or any one of many recipe collections with a few clicks of computer keys. Cooking an Italian birthday dinner or a full Indonesian rijstaffel makes me happy!  So I decided to do some of both.  Knowing ahead of time that I will alternate past and present favorites may help.

   Providing the aha moment for tastebuds is so much fun.  Cooking may be work, for me –  it is always messy, and I know the piper will have to be paid at kitchen cleanup time.  But putting good food together and offering it to my family and friends is not only an art, but pure pleasure.  Tonight I am making a variation of a classic French dish which is delicious but which also seems a bit hot and heavy for these triple digit summer evenings. So I am grilling the vegetables and tossing them together in a salad.  It is too tempting not to include a clip from one of our favorite movies by the same name. Recipe for the salad follows. There are many similar ones on internet cooking sites and in cookbooks. 



                                           Ratatouille Salad
  • 1 small to medium eggplant, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
  • 3 small  tomatoes quartered
  • 1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise
  • 1 red bell pepper cut lengthwised into strips
  • 1 small red onion, sliced into 1/2 inch thick rounds
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 to 3 Tablespoons fresh basil, slivered (or chiffonade, if you want to stick with the French feeling)

 Sprinkle the egglplant with sea salt and leave for 15 to 20 minutes; drain and squeeze out the excess moisture.

Heat grill or grill pan. Brush vegetables with olive oil, turning to coat, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Grill the vegetables, turning, until tender and marked, removing the tomatoes first, pepper and eggplant last.  Divide vegetables among 2 – 4 plates Sprinkle with the basil and balsamic vinegar.

Optional toppings:  Feta cheese, pine nuts. If desired, instead of grilling, place vegetables in a zip loc bag, toss with seasonings and oil and roast at 425 for at least 20 minutes before adding toppings. 

Elbows on the Table

Pasta was not a word in most families’ food vocabulary in 1940’s East Texas. However, they did eat noodles in chicken noodle soup and occasionally buttered instead of potatoes with a meal. Appearing also at family meals, macaroni, specifically small elbow macaroni, was the star in macaroni and cheese (not Kraft dinners) and a potluck favorite called simply Macaroni Salad.

The latter was favored by a woman who not only made it for her table at home, but also bore it proudly to Sunday School luncheons and church potlucks. Opal grew up on a farm, picked cotton, packed tomatoes and proudly sold tins of Cloverine salve to buy her first set of pots and pans. A hard worker at any of those jobs, she set herself to perform well at any task, cooking included. Opal’s blue eyes snapped with both humor and determination when she decided to do something. Permed curls bobbing, hands on her hips, arms ready to hug she demonstrated wit and will as well as how loyal and loving she could be. Raised in the Great Depression, she was thrifty to the bone while being generous with what she had. Food she made in her kitchen in the little house on Sunset Street in Jacksonville, Texas was prepared with what she had on hand. Macaroni Salad was no exception.

After tying on a brightly colored apron trimmed with ric-rac sewn on her Singer, she hard- boiled eggs in an aluminum pan whose handles had long ago burned off. With the cooled and peeled eggs set aside, she rinsed the pan and brought salted water to a boil for the little crooked macaroni elbows. She never worried that they needed to be al dente! Once she had drained the noodles into a metal strainer, she dumped them into a Pyrex bowl. Next came the chopped eggs and whatever other ingredients that were available. Most of the time, celery was in the icebox to be scrubbed and diced, along with American Cheese sliced into small cubes, chopped pickles, and a small squatty jar of pimiento pieces. Opal’s skinny, bespectacled young daughter often peeled eggs, pulled strings from celery and forked out pickles. Sometimes she cut onion into small pieces while tears ran down her cheeks.

Perhaps there was a recipe Opal learned from working in a cafeteria before her girls were born. Or there may well have been directions on the Skinner macaroni package. More likely, Opal helped Clyde Terrell, her own mama, so she knew how to make this for her husband Howard Teal when they married in 1931. Or it could be that Clyde’s gift of a cookbook was the source of the all those macaroni salad filled Pyrex bowls. There is a recipe for Macaroni Salad in a worn copy of The Service Cookbook by Mrs. Ida Bailey Allen,  inscribed “From Mamma, Dec. 25, 1933.”

Opal Terrell Teal was my mother. Until very near her death in 2006, one month shy of her 93rd birthday, she claimed Macaroni Salad by saying, “I always liked it.” No longer young or skinny, still bespectacled, and ever grateful for growing up loving to be in the kitchen, I like it too. My granddaughters like to wear the ric-rac trimmed aprons.

Macaroni Salad

2 cups cold cooked elbow macaroni
½ cup diced celery
½ cup finely chopped American cheese
1 Tablespoon minced onion
½ cup French dressing
½ teaspoon salt
A few grains paprika

Combine the macaroni, celery, cheese and onion; marinate with the French dressing, and season with salt and paprika. Chill; arrange in individual nests of lettuce; and garnish with mayonnaise and a little paprika.

Note: I don’t remember Mother using paprika, nor do I remember any nests of lettuce. Boiled eggs do not appear in this recipe, but they did appear in the Pyrex dishes.



   Opal Terrell Teal’s cookbook.        The apron on which it rests belonged to Clyde Terrell.


Welcome to Kitchen Keepers, a blog for sharing good memories, good stories and good recipes.  I have been asked to record family recipes which have been favorites for many years, adding to their story every time they are prepared and enjoyed as well as those newcomers which have their own story.  Since I believe growing and preparing your own food is not only a pleasure but an art which is worthy of passing on, I am pleased to begin.

  Gathering around our table has been so much more than providing physical nourishment for me.  For as we gather, whatever the table shape may be, we form a circle, a place of conversation and knowing and caring.  Expressing our gratitude for the provision of food and family, giving thanks for bread and baker, we enter a sacred space.  Welcome.