When my grandmother died last year, we gathered at my parents to go through boxes of her things. We came across her recipe box and notebooks filled with recipes in her perfect script - ever notice that all women of a certain age have the same handwriting? I guess that's when handwriting was taught in school and young girls had to practice writing out verses over and over. In amongst all our favourite Christmas cookie recipes, I found the recipe for the elusive jam. Really, it's no wonder all my locavore canning diva buddies hadn't heard of the jam - it calls for 4 ingredients and one of them is a package of strawberry Jello. I guess that was her secret. My grandmother had worked as a cashier for the Dominion grocery store chain for years - my dad loves to tell stories of her bringing home cans with no labels and them trying to guess what was in them - beans? Canned peaches? Beef stew? Many of her recipes in the notebooks were from manufacturers' promotions and leaflets put out by Kraft and General Mills. I can only guess she got the jam recipe off the back of a package of Jello, or on a wrapper of a can of pineapple tidbits.
My mom is a fantastic baker - she has about 5 recipes people always ask her to bring to parties. Rhubarb is the star of one of her signature desserts - Rhubarb Lunar Cake. The recipe came from one of her girlfriends - passed along from a Canadian Living magazine in the 1980's. It gets its name from the cracked and crumbly top - which supposedly looks like the surface of the moon. It's an easy batter to mix, is fancy enough for a dessert, and excellent with coffee or tea. It calls for ingredients you likely have on hand, and makes a large 9 x 13 pan so it feeds a crowd. I've substituted other fruits, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, but only the tartness of rhubarb really stands up to the sugary topping.
Our new home came with a nice-sized rhubarb patch. I've already made two Lunar Cakes but am still working up the courage to make the Jello jam. Wink.
RHUBARB LUNAR CAKE
via Canadian Living Magazine sometime in the early 80's
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 cups flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup buttermilk or 1 cup of plain Balkan style yogurt
- 3 cups rhubarb, chopped, 2" pieces
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1/4 cup butter - the colder the better
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 cup brown sugar
Batter: Cream butter and sugar until smooth and creamy; beat in egg and
vanilla. Add buttermilk or yogurt. Sift together flour, soda and salt add to creamed mixture. Toss rhubarb with last tablespoon of flour and gently mix into batter. The flour helps the rhubarb stay suspended in the cake and not all sink to the bottom. Place in a greased 9" x 13" pan.
Topping: Blend ingredients and sprinkle evenly over batter.
Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Cake should be browned, risen and coming away from the sides of the pan. Enjoy!
Tip: I've never once bought buttermilk. My mom taught me this handy homemade version - for each cup of milk add one tablespoon of white vinegar. Let sit for about 10 minutes while the acid curdles the milk, stir and use.
PINEAPPLE STRAWBERRY RHUBARB JAM
By way of Thirza Hillman's kitchen
- 4 c. rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 4 c. sugar
- 1 (8 oz.) can crushed pineapple
- 1 (3 oz.) pkg. strawberry Jello
Mix sugar and rhubarb and allow to stand until juice exudes (even overnight). Boil 12 minutes at a rolling boil. Add pineapple and simmer 3 minutes more.
Remove from heat; add Jello and stir until dissolved. Pour into sterilized jars and seal.