Sunday, December 28, 2014

Mom's blackberry jam cake

I inherited my mom's recipe box when she died a couple of years ago. I haven't had the heart to do much with it since then. It's been sitting on the shelf collecting dust. Thoughts of a Christmas favorite compelled me to take it down to see if, by chance, there was a recipe for it. I was lucky. There in the midst of three recipes for lime jello pineapple salad was the folded and stained recipe for blackberry jam cake.

The recipe is in my sister's handwriting, I think. My mom's is less artistic, though pretty similar. I suspect my sister asked my mom for the recipe which was not recorded anywhere and wrote it down for her, making an extra copy to leave in mom's recipe box. There are recipes for other things in my handwriting that were written down when I asked how to make something that was just in her memory or was on an old recipe card so worn out from use that it was barely readable. The stains fascinate me. I suspect they are drops of batter and oil from hands that greased the pan before she poured in the batter. Whatever this was copied from, no doubt, looked equally used.

Blackberry Jam Cake is a family tradition passed down from my mom's family. It's a southern dessert, representative of my mom's upbringing just south of Nashville, Tennessee. The cake has a little sugar, but not much. Most of the sweetness comes from the jam, which no doubt would have been homemade using wild blackberries picked in the summer.

My mom loved picking blackberries as a child. She wore her brother's overalls and long sleeve shirts, a pragmatic concession to the strict rule that girls should only wear dresses. They took buckets with them and picked all day. The purplish stains around their mouths betrayed their claims that all berries went in the bucket. As mom admitted, the warm berries were too hard to resist and they often ate enough to make them sick to their stomachs while they picked.

Her mom made the blackberry jam cake for Christmas. It, along with a wheel of cheddar cheese that they enjoyed with their morning biscuits, was a special treat, a cake too expensive to make more than once a year, but a Christmas staple. My mom brought the tradition to our house. Even after we grew up and left the house, my mom would make each of us a jam cake for Christmas. I've been known to freeze pieces of mine before it got stale to have for later in the year.

The cake is quite moist, and resembles a spice cake in flavor. The nuts and raisins add great flavor. As you can see from the recipe above, she did not specify what nuts to use. As I recall, she just used what she had on hand. Often at Christmas time, we had black walnuts, English walnuts, and pecans around the house, either to eat as a snack or to use in baking. I remember loving the distinct flavor of the black walnuts in the cake.

My brother texted me on Friday night saying, "I wish I could share a piece of my jam cake with you." I'm not sure how he knew I was craving it at the moment. I had already pulled the recipe out earlier that day. His wife took up the tradition several years ago. I called her yesterday for some pointers. I'm glad I did. As is often the case with my mom's recipes, there were things missing, nothing especially important, but little tips that help make it a better cake baking experience.

Here's the recipe (with helpful additions from my sister-in-law):

5 eggs
1 C sugar
2 C jam (blackberry, seedless)
1 C nuts (I used black walnuts)
1 Tbs baking soda
1 C butter
3 C flour
1 C buttermilk
1 C raisins
1 Tbs cinnamon
1 Tbs allspice

Preheat oven to 250; grease and flour a large bundt pan. Toss raisins and nuts in flour to prevent them from floating to the top in the batter.

Separate the eggs. Beat the whites until stiff and set aside.
Sift flour, baking soda and spices together and set aside.
Cream butter and sugar. Add the jam and blend. Add egg yolks one at a time and blend after each addition. Add flour/spice mixture and buttermilk alternately and blend after each addition. Add nuts and raisins. Fold in egg whites.

Pour in greased/floured bundt pan. Bake in 250 oven until done. Use toothpick to test doneness. Bake time is approximately 3 hours. Remove from bundt pan and let cool on wire rack.


jo(e) said...

Ah, the memories that come with food. My mother makes apple pie exactly the way my grandmother did -- and I make it just like she does.

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