My Mom’s and Martha Mervis’s Coffeecake
One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating. ~Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, Pavarotti
A few weeks ago I went home. Well, not really home, because it wasn’t where I grew up. But when I see family it conjures feelings of home. The occasion that brought me back? The first family wedding of the third generation. Oooh, that makes me feel old. It was a happy time with a chance to renew all that ‘hood stuff. You know: sisterhood, brotherhood, cousinhood, familyhood. It was good and soothed my soul.
In our family events always begin and end with food-glorious food. Our family may not agree on everything-actually probably not much-but food is the one thing that is often a uniting factor. (I guess that is mostly true…)We started the weekend with a comforting catered Greek dinner and quickly began the next morning with a luscious brunch. My mother planned and executed with panache. Of course; that is her style. It is my mother that gave me a love for food and entertaining. I’m not sure what she liked most- the food or the entertaining or the attention that it always brought. And my mother had a way of creating attention. Imagine growing up in a small town in Illinois where the most gourmet dinner was Wally’s, The Little Corporal, Jaenicke’s Root beer stand (Oh, those sauce buns with onions) and Monical’s. OK-Wally’s had great Steak and Shake style burgers, the Little Corporal had good French toast and Monical’s, the best pizza. (Oh my, I wish they had a Colorado branch. I still dream of it.)
Well, my mother kept Julia Child’s cookbook in her cabinet. It was stained and well used and truthfully I can’t ever remember her making anything for us from it, but I am sure her many dinner parties benefited. Now, my mom and I have very different styles when it comes to cooking. She likes to dirty every dish. I try to use as few as possible. She tries recipes over and over before she serves them. I figure what the hell? She likes anything with bones (osso bucco, chicken wings, ribs, etc). I don’t like meat. She was one of the first to take Chinese cooking lessons when someone offered them in our small town and she’s always had a passion since then for it. I love Chinese but prefer Vietnamese. My mom loves kitchen gadgets and I’m a minimalist. I remember the day she brought home the fish poacher. This giant pan had to fit over two electric burners and evenly poach a fish. I’m not even sure fresh fish could be bought in our small town at that time. Of course, I don’t remember eating that meal either. But that fish poacher still hangs above her kitchen island as a testimony to her expertise. I could go on and on but let it suffice to say my mom gave me a love for food and all that comes with it.
In general we ate pretty standard fare. Beef was a big staple in our home as my grandfather was a grocer and butcher. It was common to have a roast one night and a steak the next and a burger on another. But we mustn’t forget the soy sauce chicken. We had a lot of that cooked under the broiler. These meals almost always contained a head lettuce salad and usually a fruit salad. The big thing is that almost every night we ate dinner together as a family. And that is probably one of the greatest gifts my mom gave me when it comes to food. I believe in a family dinner and I continued it in mine. Yes, I believe it to be true that food helps us remember our past and many family meals are a good thing to remember.
But now it’s the weekend And I’m tired of writing, so let’s finish with dessert. It is a simple, but scrumptious coffee cake that my mom made for our brunch. It came from Danville, Illinois from a friend of my grandmother’s-a Martha Mervis. (I never knew her, but I love that name.) Below is how my mom sent it to me. Typed! Which means it is really old. An heirloom recipe. The other amazing fact is that it is my Uncle Mike’s favorite which means it must have been typed by my grandmother because I’m not sure that my mother would know what her only brother’s favorites were.
All right! On with it! Make this cake. The entire hood agreed-It was delicious!
P.S. How’d I do, Mom?