Introducing the Vodak Girls:
Carrie, Mary, Carolyn, Aunt Barb, Cousins Fran, Jane & Nancy
It’s all about a cake!
I collect cookbooks. Hundreds of them line shelves in my kitchen, studio and even bedroom. I have signed books by Julia Child, James Beard, Jacques Pepin and now Ina Garten! These were my mentors during my culinary career but the cookery books I treasure most are the really old turn-of-the-century true classics.
I recently discovered a box in storage of my parent’s old yearbooks and my mom’s baby book. Tucked into this box was an early 1909 hardback Good Housekeeping cookbook belonging to my great-grandmother, Carrie Vodak. Now Carrie was born in 1882 so this book is an antique.
Unusual in its small, handy size, with crumbling parchment papers, this delicate book is a treasure trove of recipes along with facing blank pages for the cook to add her own twist. Recipes such as Cherry Roly Poly, Lamb Kidney en Brochette and Asparagus Loaf with Yellow Bechamel Sauce are even thrice tested in this 1909 publication. Was this the early “Joy of Cooking” for the American housewife at this time? Carrie must have loved to cook because her little book was full of handwritten recipes and notes.
After perusing most of this family heirloom, I closed my eyes and envisioned Carrie sitting at her kitchen table in Cicero, a Bohemian Chicago neighborhood, documenting her recent successes and planning dinner for her family of six. The year was 1915. Carrie was lucky because most of the meat and produce she cooked with was generously provided by Uncle John who had a farm in Iowa. The meat was stored in a salt barrel on the backyard porch. Nothing went to waste and every part of the animal was used. Carrie’s husband, Anton, was a tailor so between the three, the family was well-clothed and fed.
Every Saturday, after the kitchen floor was scrubbed clean, Carrie would lay down a clean tablecloth and she and her daughter Mary, my grandmother, born in 1907, would embark on a baking adventure. Bread was made for the week and hunks of cookie dough would be placed on the tablecloth floor for Mary to roll and cut into shapes using old fashioned metal cookie cutters that I still have. So the baking genes go way back!
Here is a cake my great-grandmother, Carrie, made for her daughter, Mary, and the same cake Mary made for her daughter, Carolyn, my mother, who also made it for me. So it is four generations old! Mary made it as an after-school treat and my mom carried on the tradition. I love the toasty coconut topping that caramelizes when you broil it. It’s super easy to make and will be devoured before you can say, “More please!” Enjoy!
- 2 eggs
- 1 Cup sugar (Less 1.5 Tablespoons)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 Cup Flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ Cup whole milk
- 1 Tablespoon shortening or coconut oil
- Coconut topping:
- 3 Tablespoons melted butter
- 5 Tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 Tablespoons cream
- ½ - ¾ Cup flaked coconut. I use ¾ cup even though the recipe calls for ½ cup.
- Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 8" square pan.
- Beat eggs until thick. Add sugar and beat until light in color. Add vanilla.
- Stir together flour, baking powder and salt.
- Bring milk and shortening/coconut oil to a boil. (Watch carefully!)
- Stir flour mixture into eggs, mixing well. Add hot milk mixture and beat well.
- Batter will be thin. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until top is golden brown.
- Meanwhile prepare the coconut topping and stir together.
- Remove from oven and while still hot, spread with coconut frosting. Return to broiler and brown to toast the coconut.
Serve warm or cold. It’s fabulous warm!
Thanks to my Vodak “sisters” whom I love!