|Strawberry Jam Cake|
I love pouring over old cookbooks, especially the ones published by small organizations — churches, historical societies, service leagues. These collections — idiosyncrasies and all — are rich bites of history, telling us how people lived through what they ate.
And even though convenience foods were well established by the late 1970s, they are not prominent in this cookbook. Not a single recipe calls for cake mix.
Speaking of idiosyncrasies: Contributors are listed by their husbands’ names, with the wives’ first and maiden names in parentheses. A few years ago I would have been annoyed at that. Most newspapers used to behave that way and some still may for all I know. But now, so much time has passed, and there are so many things to worry about in the world, well, it’s not a bother. The quaint tradition reflects a particular time and place in society and I respect its historical value.
This cake I’ve baked several times, a couple times with blackberry jam as is most common. Baking with blackberry jam yields a pretty lavender-tinged crumb. For this post, I used strawberry because there was a pint jar of homemade jam in the refrigerator and I needed to carve out a little more room. I made some adaptations to the recipe, using just a tad less sugar and substituting butter and canola oil for the shortening.
Jam cakes are popular throughout the South and parts of the Midwest. Or they used to be. Sometimes the cakes are baked in layers and filled with caramel or vanilla frosting. Other times, they’re baked in a tube or Bundt pan and served plain.
They tend to be deeply moist and spicy cakes — frosting is not especially necessary, though a bit of whipped cream is always nice and I think this would be so good with pumpkin ice cream. I made a simple vanilla glaze purely for photographic purposes. It seems I’ve baked so many plain looking cakes lately that I wanted a little visual interest from the glaze. Honest truth.
While I don’t know the origins of a jam cake, its easy to imagine how this kind of recipe came about. The jam provides a moist, flavorful base and was something a home cook likely had on hand. She already had buttermilk, eggs, flour and sugar. Add to that the warm spices of autumn — cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice. Perhaps as the wife organized her larder for the coming winter, she found a use for the odd jar of jam left from the previous season.
That’s what I like to imagine. A cake borne of occasion, necessity and creativity. It would break my heart if I discovered a commercial jam company invented it, but I suppose that’s possible.
adapted from Georgia Heritage: Treasured Recipes
recipe attributed to Mrs. Banks Haley, Jr.
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup canola oil
1 3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly ground if you can)
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon allspice
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup strawberry jam (or seedless blackberry jam)
4 egg whites
Butter and flour a large tube or Bundt pan. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a medium bowl, beat egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter, oil and sugar until light. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla. Sift dry ingredients together and add alternately with the buttermilk. Stir in jam. Fold in egg whites. Pour batter into pan.