The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Recipes from my Grandmother

proth5's picture

Recipes from my Grandmother

My grandmother cooked professionally. I may have mentioned this before on these pages. She was not the "trained in culinary school" type of cook, she was a professional in the sense that a poor woman would be paid to cook in the home of a wealthy woman. As part of the whole "American Dream" experience for my family (a belated American dream perhaps as my ancestors were in America before the War for Independence) she cooked for many years in the home of the president of the university from which my brother and I obtained our undergraduate degrees.

But as I have also said before, there are cooks and there are bakers and my grandmother was most definitely a baker. Curiously, she never baked bread during the time that I knew her. She may have spent her youth churning the stuff out and by the time I was inhabiting the planet she was pretty enthusiastic about the stuff that she could buy from the bread man. Interestingly, though, she did a lot of work with the 4-H and county extension office and was a well known judge for bread. In fact, when I was just a kid, every bread attempt I made was subjected to her expert judging. (I've discussed this with the doctors at "The Place" and they feel this explains a lot of things.) I always appreciated it.

 She was a stickler for measuring ingredients. I have a perfectly clear memory of making a simple frosting with her and she poured in a "smidge" of vanilla directly from the bottle. She warned me quite sternly that I was NOT to do that until I was as old as she. I am now that old.

 She also was the kind of person who enjoyed writing recipes. She wrote them to the very best of her ability to the standards of the day (at least the standards for writers for home cooks) so as my exploration of old recipes continues I realized that I had some long neglected recipes written by the very best source of all. No "butter the size of an egg" or "handful of flour" for her - these were all written with precise volumetric measurements and instructions that anyone with a reasonable grasp of basic baking skills could follow. The apple didn't fall from tree, eh? I cannot calculate a baker's percentage without wondering what she would think of the kid now. She enjoyed learning new things and I'm sure she would have embraced the whole thing as eagerly as I.

 When I retired her mixer (which is almost as old as my mother and which is still carefully stored in my house) about 20 years ago to buy the Kitchen Aide I couldn't help but think that she would have been pleased that I could go out and buy whatever mixer I wanted. I wonder what she would think of My Precioussss (which is the only mixer I have owned that can tackle her "Brown Christmas Cookie" dough) - I bet she would have gotten a big kick out of it.

 While "my teacher" is the voice in my head, she is the beat of my baking heart.

She died too young - a victim of the lingering effects of bovine tuberculosis. She never saw my brother or me graduate from that university whose president she fed. So all of you who judge me harsh when people speak with near religious fervor of the goodness of un pasteurized milk must grant me some leeway.  You now know what that stuff cost me.

 So I present one of her yeast based recipes. With volume measurements and no fancy modern techniques.  As she wrote it.

I'll give a warning though, this is real Pennsylvania Dutch cooking and has been condemned by the American Heart Association. But it is good...


Moravian Sugar Cake


2 pkgs. Active dry yeast

1 cup warm water (110 F. to 115 F.)

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs (well beaten)

1 ½ cups melted butter (use ½ cup for top of cake)

1 cup hot mashed potatoes

5 to 6 cups sifted flour

1 ½ cups light brown sugar

3 teaspoons cinnamon (more or less)


Soften yeast in the warm water (my note: see, she even knew that you didn't need to "proof" the yeast - just dissolve it - remind you of anyone?), let stand 5 or 10 min. Mix together the sugar, salt, eggs and 1 cup of the melted butter. Gradually beat in the mashed potatoes, add 1 cup of the flour, beat until smooth.  Stir in the yeast and beat enough of the remaining flour to form a light dough. Cover. Let rise in a warm place until doubled. About 2 hours. Divide dough into 3 portions and press evenly into 3 9-inch square pans. Cover, let rise until doubled. Make indentations about 1 inch apart in dough in each pan and spoon sugar mixture into each depression. Drizzle remaining ½ cup butter over top of dough. Bake at 350 F. for about 20 minutes.


The picture below shows the finished cake. They do have a sort of "craters on the moon" look (which is how they are supposed to look.)  They taste best if one makes sure to get that extra butter in the holes filled with sugar.


The pans that I baked in were my grandmother's - still doing yeoman's work in my kitchen.

Happy Baking!



trailrunner's picture

What a wonderful testament to a great lady. Your memories are much as mine. I too have a little red wooden box that has handwritten receipts from my grandmother's my Momma and my Aunt Bess. I love the way they wrote out the instructions. Very precise and the penmanship. Oh that my handwriting was as good.

I appreciate you sharing your story and the lovely pic. I too have a lot of their pans and skillets and think of them everytime I use them. Thank you proth...a nice walk down memory lane. c

proth5's picture

for your kind words.  I try not to be sentimental, but sometimes I fail...

patnx2's picture

for your "story" I was moved to tears for personal reasons. Thank you and I always enjoy your posts . Patrick from Modesto

proth5's picture

for your kind words.

Try this recipe some time - if you can get your doctor to approve...

louie brown's picture
louie brown

Thanks for this one, Pat.

proth5's picture

for your knd words.

Although if you can muster the kind of serious sweet tooth this recipe demands -  it is a good one.  Although it is a potato based dough it is very light and fluffy...

wassisname's picture

I think the American Heart Association can take a running jump on this occasion.  This sounds like a real treat for all kinds of reasons, sentimental or otherwise.


proth5's picture

for your kind words.  Sometimes you just have to indulge. 

I will say I baked this same recipe (which is classic PA Dutch) from another source and it had about half of the sugar.  Wasn't as good...

Candango's picture

Proth,  Many thanks for the story, the memories recalled and the recipe.  I love Pennsylvania Dutch cooking in general and may even get to try the Moravian cake, if I can get the doctor to approve.  Most of my cooking/baking at present focuses on breads, from Sourdough Pepperjack to Sourdough Onion Rye to Central Asian flatbreads, so it may take a while to convert me to this rich dough (one cup of butter in the dough plus another half cup drizzled on top - wow!).  But many thanks.



proth5's picture

Hey - it does make three cakes - which means only a stick of butter per cake!  Definitely not your everyday fare.

The PA Dutch may not be the most populous group in America, but we are not a "small" people :>)

pattycakes's picture

Your writing was lovely, and it made me think of my own grandmother, who was the wife of a university vice president, but a salt of the earth farm woman, nonetheless.

My grandmother was also a cook and a baker. My mother was quite untalented in the kitchen, but it did skip a generation. My entire life, my grandmother's cooking has been the standard which I have pursued. I have finally figured out how to do some of the things she did--fry chicken so that it's a golden mahogany all over and perfectly seasoned, for example--but I have no idea if it's the way she actually did it or just an acceptable copy. It's nice to have that example in the back of my mind, however, and I pity those who never had a cook in the family.

She died of breast cancer when I was a Sr. in high school. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, guess what I did? I began to write a cookbook with the recipes my children love, because they were too young to know how I made them. I never wanted them to have to try to figure out how I did it and to long for those lost flavors as I had done.

I'm happy to say that my children are now cooks, making traditions and flavors of their own, and they have blazed their own way. They have rarely turned to my family recipes, but last year I published them on Blurb with a bunch of lovely photos, so they now all have a treasure, whether they ever refer to the recipes or not!


proth5's picture

for your kind words and for sharing a bit of your life.

LindyD's picture

Good memories are the best of all treasures.

Your grandmother had to be a truly wonderful woman to be so well loved, Pat.  You pass on her gifts by sharing your own knowledge and experiences here.

That cake would be an awesome fix for someone (like me) with a serious sweet tooth.  But first I'll have to fast for a week and double the time of my daily walking routine.  

Do the potatoes count as one serving of veggies?  ;-)

proth5's picture

the potatoes make the whole thing very healthy as does the good calcium that you get from all that butter.

The part of the cake that is the dough is pretty tasty, but for an experienced eater it is the baked together sugar/cinnamon/butter in the holes (the holes are very important) that makes the whole thing worthwhile.

hanseata's picture

My Pommeranian grandmother was a wonderful cook, too. I have a few handwritten recipes,  for her special herring salad, cabbage rouladen and meat loaf.


proth5's picture

they are excellent I am sure.

ww's picture

I can imagine the sort of woman your grandma must have been. Weren't they such towers of strength. My own grandmother was a fantastic cook. Alas she couldn't really write and we have lost her recipes (though not our memories) and i always feel this irreparable loss and sadness. I'm very glad for you that you have something tangible from your grandma to remember her by.

THank you for the story. I always enjoy your posts.

btw at first glance, i thought it was a focaccia with olives!



proth5's picture

read studies that say that children's ability to thrive is linked more to the presence of a grandmother than to the caregiving skill of the mother...

I am so glad that my grandmother was so dilligent in writing things down.  She would always share a recipe - she had no "secret ingredients."  What she did have was serious skills....

lynnebiz's picture

What a beautiful testament to an amazing woman! You were so blessed to have had such a wonderful grandmother - I never knew either of mine, and recently have felt such a pain in my heart. I feel that I would have really gotten along great with my father's mom - she was the one who baked bread, loved animals (she made friends with squirrels & fed them in her kitchen!) and sounded like she had a lot of similarities to me.

On my father's side, there were a few deaths due to TB, but it was before I was born (going to be 58 shortly). My uncle had a hole in his lung after he survived it - unbelievable that he lived until he was 90 years old (he survived three cancers, too, including bone cancer, for a bit more than five years, but, I guess, no one can live forever.) I attributed it to the strength (& stubbornness!) of the Polish people, lol. My mom & dad had constant arguments about the death of his brother & other relatives (he insisted it wasn't due to TB) and my mom insisted it was the unpasteurized cheese they ate (and that he loved) that caused it.

You should write more about her (you have a knack for creating a beautiful picture in words, too). I know I'd love to read more!



EvaB's picture

my mother did several things that Grammy made, and unfortunately seems to have lost favour with the younger generation, her sour cream cookies with caraway seeds to be exact. I love them, my brother loved them, but the kids in the family hate the taste of caraway! Don't know what hey are missing!

My Grammy cooked a lot of stuff that was Pennsylvania Dutch in ways, scrapple for one, but she must have missed the Moravian Sugar cake, can't see why, except that they led a very hard life with sugar being scant, and butter only if they had a cow, so she might have had it but never made it because she didn't have the ingredients for it. She didn't have a recipe book that I know of, only her memory, and my mother also cooked a lot that way, but I did get her to write down a couple of things, so have the cookie recipe.

My Grammy was 84 when she died, I was 14, so I never experienced her cooking first hand, but my older brother lived with her for awhile and did, and he said she was a wonderful cook. My mother was a great cook, and actually cooked in resturants, she didn't go to school to learn it either, just cooked because someone needed a cook and she needed the job!

I still have difficulties getting a meal together, not because I can't cook, individually the food is wonderful, but getting it all on the table at the same time, and cooked to perfection is the big problem with my cooking. Something is always late!

lynnebiz's picture

I still have difficulties getting a meal together, not because I can't cook, individually the food is wonderful, but getting it all on the table at the same time, and cooked to perfection is the big problem with my cooking. Something is always late!

I'm the same way! I can cook an enormous variety of food, love to bake, too (read that this is unusual, having abilities in both areas. Who knew?!) But holidays have always been too hectic because I can't get the timing down. I think it has to do partly w/my personality (I don't measure, except for things like cakes, muffins, etc., although I highly respect the type of cook who does) and also because it's just so exhausting - I'm slowing down on the amt I cook on holidays & actually accepting that I'm getting older, lol.

My mom was great w/the favorites she made, but didn't really enjoy cooking. I was amazed this past Christmas, though - I finally tried some of her recipes (she passed away before the holidays, along w/her last remaining two sisters, in 2000, and it took me this long because the memories still stung). Man, she did all of it BY HAND - although I don't currently own a food processor or mixer, I take shortcuts. Just one cookie recipe wore me out!

I wish I had known both my grandmothers!

My ex-boyfriend was about thirteen yrs older than me (he passed away last summer - we were still good friends, and it's still a diffiicult loss for me) had fond memories of his maternal grandmother (Italian). (He described her as a short lady, "as round as she was tall," haha). She made everything by hand, every day - bread, pasta, cookies, meats, all cooked on/in a coal stove. They lived on the third floor of triple decker in Boston - she had a bureau outside the door, and there was always a plate of cookies there for anyone who came along. He had some amazing memories of his youth - his mother & aunt worked at a shoe factory in the neighborhood, and he'd skip school - foolishly walk past the factory & his aunt would catch him everytime. There was a local bakery where they'd buy fresh rolls for a few pennies a piece when they weren't eating their Nanna's bread.

I never experienced a neighborhood like that, or even knew my grandmas, but I'm trying to gather as much info as possible to learn what they were like. Sort of piecing together the past..


proth5's picture

That one is off topic, but I have a formula for that.  You just reminded me I need to get together with my pal "Jimmy the Butcher" to get the "variety" pork parts needed...

EvaB's picture

and glad that my daughter decided that she was doing holidays. I do baking for them, cakes, and so forth, but she does the meal.

I had no idea that we wern't supposed to be good cooks and bakers too! That is interesting, I suppose because baking might be considered creative, and cooking as an exercise in following a recipe. Which I doubt! But whatever the therory its as usual proved by the exceptions!  Or not!

I cannot put even a simple meal on the table without having to wait on something, and forget something as well. Rather frustrating since I am organized (or at least used to be) almost to the point of compulsive. But somehow getting it all to come together is my sticking point! No one really complains, and if they do they get told the house rule, which is the first one who complains about the meal (in anyway) cooks the next one! That usually shuts them up. No one has actually ever had to cook the next meal, and they usually love the food even if the potatoes are late (until I got a gas stove they might be late and burnt) and I forgot to open the salad dressing.

I enjoy cooking and love to bake, and funnily enough my brother liked cooking and he baked bread well, but couldn't do pie crust to save his soul! Which was the easiest thing for me! He was also a fabulous artist,and musician, neither of which am I good at. So maybe there is something to the oddity of not being a baker if you are a cook. Who knows.

The thing to do is take all you learn about your grandmothers, and mother etc, and put it down on paper, even if its a simple recipe or story, I know that as hard up as my mother was and my grandmother there was always food for an extra person, and you never went anywhere (even to a relatives) without taking something like a pie or cookies or cake or even a loaf of bread. I can't have people in for coffee without making something for a snack with the coffee, my mother would be known to make her standby, which were butter tarts with currants instead of raisins, and many times people would be so surprised to have a fresh warm tart with their coffee.

proth5's picture

My working theory on culinary personality types is that there are "cooks" and there are "bakers."

"Cooks" live in a fast paced world where food can be put together quickly and adjusted during the cooking process.  They will add a "dash of this and a bit of that"

"Bakers" have formulas.  (Michael Ruhlman says of this baking rotaion at the CIA "baking is SLOW") They must constantly make sure that the chemistry of what they are doing is correct. They can adjust somewhat, but mostly do not truly know what they have made until it has completed baking.  If they bake bread they must manage the lifecycle of a living organism.

Bakers can always cook - if given a recipe - but cooks can't always bake (because they try to improvise too much or get impatient), but bakers will cook like bakers (following the recipe...)

It's not true for everyone and there are talented people who can adopt both styles but I have observed enough people of both types to stick with my observation.

I'm pretty well known for my cooking.  But I cook like a baker :>)

lynnebiz's picture

That's the basically idea that I've heard (well, read..) I think I bridge both 'worlds' because I was/am a mom who needed to be creative in order to feed my family - and because it fit with my personality. The only problem is, as much as I've learned throughout the years, this type of creativity in baking & cooking isn't the easiest to put into the work world. It's not consistent in the outcome - part of the fun at home, is that, well, I get unexpected results.

In the professional world, that doesn't work so much, unless I opened a diner-type of place where the specialty would be that the menu always changed, even when serving the same items (yeah, I've thought about putting my experience to work out in the work-world).

I think the the things that I am especially fond of baking (and my results show it) is where I have creative license. Biscotti is one of the things that I'll bring to friends, for instance. (Lord knows I don't need them around the house for me to eat!) I add all sorts of mix-ins, depending on what I have int the house, and what my mood is. Bread is all about feel and intuition to me. Anything I cook might start with a recipe, but I really just use it for a base, then take it from there.

Except for cakes. W/cakes, I know I need to follow instructions. In fact, it wasn't until years ago, I got Rose Beranbaum's book, The Cake Bible, that I was able to produce a decent cake - took someone talented (obsessed?lol!) in that area to help me.

EvaB's picture

following the formula, Brian my brother cooked with throw in this and that, I have learned to do a bit of that but not a lot. My mother made her biscuits like that, and couldn't understand why I needed a recipe, after all you put flour in the bowl, added shortening or butter in it cut it in, of course you need to add your Baking powder and salt to the flour first, then add water until its right, and mix, don't overmix, and then she wondered why I wanted a written down recipe!

As long as I have a formula to follow, I can adjust to not having a certain thing, but I can't just take stuff and fling it togehter and have edible food.

proth5's picture

Thank you for responding to my post  - it was most unexpected.

So what did we learn here?

We learned that each of us has a story - that while there is nothing wrong with the latest baking trend and new books there is value in the old ways, too.

I am fortunate.  I have written recipes which I managed to preserve.  Had I not saved them at the time that I did, they would have vanished forever - being relegated to the trash bin as having no monetary value. The paper recipes will probably be lost upon my death as the younger members of my family have no interest in any of them.  Or so they think - now. When they figure it out, it will probably be too late. 

But they might live on in the bits and bytes of the "interweb" for someone else to find...

And, as it turns out, I'm not the only one with great memories and recipes.

lynnebiz's picture

I love to read (hear, watch on film) the stories of others. I think that food is such a unifying part of all cultures - and so interesting. Keep those recipes, write down the memories - today your younger family members may not be interested, but tomorrow that may change.

I am always amazed - no matter how different we all are, we are also so much the same.