Edna Lewis’ Busy Day Cake

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A busy day. At the end of the afternoon (and overlapping dinner) I found myself judging a chili cook-off at the ATCO Kitchen for the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Calgary (not the best reintroduction to regular food after two days with an unhappy gut), and soon after was at an organizational meeting for Ramsay Rocks, our community event which is now -gasp- only a week and a half away. I was relieved at close to 11 pm to come home, take out my contacts and sit down at the computer with a mug of tea and wedge of plain cake – aptly named busy day.

Of course the busy days of Edna Lewis’ childhood were filled with altogether different tasks: “Our busiest days were, of course, when we were canning, putting up watermelon-rind pickles and Seckel pears, making blackberry jelly, and preparing the brine for cucumber pickles.”

Edna Lewis is perhaps the most well-known Southern cook of our time; a Southern Julia Child, they called her. Her book, The Taste of Country Cooking, is calming and happiness-inducing as she recalls her childhood in Freetown, Virginia. Worth a watch: Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie: a short documentary on her life. The very first thing I learned from Miss Lewis – eons ago – was regarding baking powder. First, she measured it by piling it on a dime – not having measuring spoons. Second, she always made her own – she thought the commercially made double acting stuff left a metallic aftertaste. To make your own, sift together 1/4 cup cream of tartar and 2 tablespoons baking soda and store it in a tightly sealed container – use it as you would regular baking powder.

“A busy-day cake, or sweet bread, as it was really called, was regular cake batter, measured out and stirred in a hurry while the vegetables cooked on one end of the old wood stove and canning was carried out on the firebox end. The batter would be poured into a large biscuit pan and set into the oven to bake.”

This is the plain butter cake everyone should have in their repertoire; nothing is better to serve with fresh or stewed fruit in summer. Who needs shortcakes – or those little yellow sponges sold in the produce section – when you can so easily have a warm slice of buttery, sugary, sandy-crumbed cake? Instead of the usual strawberry shortcake, try simmering fresh blueberries in a small drizzle of maple syrup or honey until their skins burst, and spooning it warm over a wedge. The cake sinks appealingly in the middle as it bakes – if you don’t like this, bake it in a tube or Bundt pan.

Miss Lewis says: Busy-day cake was never iced, it was always cut into squares and served warm, often with fresh fruit or berries left over from canning. The delicious flavor of fresh-cooked fruit with the plain cake was just to our taste and it was also refreshing with newly churned, chilled buttermilk or cold morning’s milk.

Edna Lewis’ Busy-Day Cake

AuthorJulie

Adapted from The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis.

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
a good grating of nutmeg
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature

1

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray a 9-inch springform or deep cake pan with nonstick spray or rub it with butter.

2

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Beat in the vanilla.

3

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.

4

Add about a quarter of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and stir by hand or beat on low speed just until blended. Add a third of the milk, mixing just until combined. Continue adding flour and milk, finishing with flour and stirring each time just until blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

5

Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden (if it’s browning too quickly, cover loosely with a piece of foil) and springy to the touch. Serve warm, absolutely plain or with fruit. Serves 10.

Category

Ingredients

 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
 1 1/3 cups sugar
 3 large eggs
 2 tsp. vanilla
 2 cups all-purpose flour
 1 Tbsp. baking powder
 1/4 tsp. salt
 a good grating of nutmeg
 1/2 cup milk, at room temperature

Directions

1

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray a 9-inch springform or deep cake pan with nonstick spray or rub it with butter.

2

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Beat in the vanilla.

3

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.

4

Add about a quarter of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and stir by hand or beat on low speed just until blended. Add a third of the milk, mixing just until combined. Continue adding flour and milk, finishing with flour and stirring each time just until blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

5

Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden (if it’s browning too quickly, cover loosely with a piece of foil) and springy to the touch. Serve warm, absolutely plain or with fruit. Serves 10.

Edna Lewis’ Busy-Day Cake
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15 comments on “Edna Lewis’ Busy Day Cake

  1. Sarah (Coffee Beans and Curry Leaves)
    June 9, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    I love the idea of serving this with fresh berries! Thanks for sharing this recipe!

  2. Kate
    June 10, 2009 at 3:19 am

    You’re a trooper, for sure. I can see you at the computer hugging your hot mug and finding joy in a plain morsel. I hope the comfort level was euphoric considering your super woman schedule and 3 unhappy bellies.

  3. Morgan
    June 10, 2009 at 5:03 am

    That cake looks like the ideal snack at the end of a loooong day. I’ll have to try making it! Thanks for the recipe! Hope your family is all feeling better!

  4. Cheryl Arkison
    June 10, 2009 at 6:19 am

    When I heard you on the Eyeopener yesterday I couldn’t stop thinking about this cake. By the end of the day I promptly forgot about it. Shoot, it would have made a fine end to our meal last night.
    PS The nanny made chocolate chip cookies again! I think I love her.

  5. Vivian
    June 10, 2009 at 7:42 am

    Thanks for this recipe Julie. I adore reading of the often centuries-old methods of cooking. Without modern “conveniences” these women turned out very respectable fare under conditions we would find daunting, I’m sure.

  6. Vivian
    June 10, 2009 at 7:45 am

    P.S. Glad everyone’s innards have “re-booted”! Nasty bug making the rounds I hear.

  7. robyn
    June 10, 2009 at 8:15 am

    2 questions: Did you reduce the butter in this recipe? If not, could it be reduced? Also….do you need to grease the pan?

    I guess that was 3 questions… 🙂

  8. Terri
    June 10, 2009 at 9:23 am

    Sooo…how was the radio spot?! Do Tell!

  9. mmac
    June 10, 2009 at 10:42 am

    Hey Julie
    My mother reports there’s a full page article on you in today’s Winnipeg Free Press. I think my mum feels like a cool kid because she already knows all about you, reads your blog (did I mention she’s in her 80s?)and has her own autographed copy of OSC.

    Here’s a link: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/life/food/grazing–good-for-you-who—-knew-47509492.html

  10. LisaMer
    June 10, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    I think Molly over at Orangette blogged about this cake in the recent past. Must be a keeper if you both like it! 😉

    I keep missing you on the Eyeopener b/c my kids won’t keep quiet while you’re on! =(

    Glad to hear you are on the mend!

  11. Dana mccauley
    June 10, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    I just love that people used to make cake even on busy days. Those were the days!

    Hope to see you out this way soon to promote Grazing. I ordered a review copy and I’ll be posting about it as soon as it arrives. : )

  12. JulieVR
    June 10, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Lisa- Yes I think the Wednesday Chef did too – there was a quite a flurry of reminisces about her around the anniversary(ies) of her death.

  13. JulieVR
    June 10, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    Robyn – no, I didn’t reduce the butter.. usually I do, but I just didn’t want to mess with Miss Lewis. You could totally reduce it to 1/4 cup. And yes you grease the pan. (See line 1!)

  14. Charmian Christie
    July 9, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    It sounds like you’re having fun. Say hi to Barbara Barnes if she’s still on duty!

    I love simple cakes like this and the nutmeg sounds like a wonderful addition. Practically screams for a cup of tea.

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