My Grandmother's Spice Cake, Banana Cake, and Potato Latkes

Chinese Medicine observes that not only do different foods have difference "natures" (cold, cool, neutral, warm, hot), for example the heat of cinnamon or lamb vs. the coolness of coconut water or cucumber, but so do each of the cooking methods.

The least "heating" method of cooking is simple steaming or boiling. Stir frying adds even more heat, due to, in my opinion both the actual high heat as well as the oil/fat used. Broiling and baking are considered even more warming, and deep frying the most warming.

I think anyone who has ever eaten a french fried potato or grilled salmon can attest to the warm feeling you get vs eating a boiled potato or steamed salmon.

Now, about my grandmother's wonderful spice cake. In the world of sweet things, baked cakes are on the warming side, like muffins and pancakes, especially suitable to winter. Whereas ice cream, which I have no credible "health" defense for, other than the slogan "nothing is so healthy as a modest amount of intemperance", is obviously quite cooling, so suitable in tiny amounts to the summer months.

I recently discovered some faded scraps of paper from 1983, when my mother quickly wrote down for me the recipes for my grandmother's two famous cakes, one Spice, the other Banana, and also for her Potato Latkes, a kind of pancake eaten in winter, especially for the holiday called Chanukah.

I remember as a small child feeling so deprived by this spice cake. My idea of cake was chocolate with lots of layers and icing. But by the time I hit my 20's, I yearned for this cake. In 1977, during my first sojurn in India, my mother actually sent me, wrapped in foil, half a spice cake. Madras is not a place where you found bread or cake at all in those days. Only Indian sweets. So what a boon it was when the postman showed up at our gate, calling out, "post! post!", to see in his hands a package from my mother, thousands of miles away, and inside, food stuffs for my emaciated body, down to 150 lbs (I am 6'0") from the effects of the dysentery that all of us foreigners used to get back then.

The mother of our ashram, Laksmi, who had never had cake in her life, broke into a big smile when I showed her the contents, as a mother of four herself, she very much appreciated this loving gesture. And when I gave her some for her family, and she tasted it, her eyes lit up and she nodded her head sideways in the typical south Indian gesture of approval.

In any case, as a celebratory farewell to winter 2011, (in San Diego it was 67 with a dry wind today, and at night the mockingbirds sing their hearts out announcing, if anyone had any doubt, that spring is, indeed, here)here are my grandmother's recipes, as written by my mother, of blessed memory, from some time before the 1940's, if not earlier.

I am sure these could be modified with whole wheat pastry flour and reduced amounts of sugar. Perhaps they could be done with agave syrup or coconut palm sugar, both having lower glycemic indexes. The very ripe bananas make the first cake naturally sweet, to. I might try adding some cardamom and even saffron to the banana cake.

Ayurveda

Both cakes being warming, unctuous, heavy, and sweet, are very suitable to Vata types, especially if they are of the thin, cold, and dry type. A balanced Kapha could have a small piece. Ditto Pitta, although the spice cake might not work for an unbalanced Pitta with heartburn issues, though i doubt a small piece with some oolong tea would cause much problem.

Shoshana Rudavsky's Banana Cake, from my mother's hand.

Cream 1/2 cup shortening with 1 & 1/3 cup sugar until light.
Add 2 eggs and beat. (I dont understand this, shouldnt this happen separately?)
Dissolve 1 tsp baking soda in 1 cup sour milk or yogurt and add.
Mash 2 very ripe bananas (peel is brown) and add to batter.
Combine 1 tsp baking powder with 2 cups cake flour.
Combine all the ingredients and mix a bit.
Pour into a greased baking pan.
(They used to use the round ones with the hole in the center)
Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees) for about 40 minutes.

Options:

My mother often added walnuts, and near the later part of her life, chocolate chips.
Once she made it with applesauce, rather than bananas, and reported using 1 baby applesauce jar's worth, which seems like too little to me...
Mother's notes carry the following addendum:

" Can just throw in all the ingredients in order written as I do--Stir and bake, a quick job (does not make as big a cake as the other)"
Now I am not a baker, but I don't know how the eggs get adequately dissolved in this scenario...


Ida Levy's Spice Cake, from my mother's hand.


Ingredients:

2 cups cold water
2 cups sugar, white or brown
2 cups raisens
1 cup cooking oil
2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp cloves
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda

Combine the above in a pot and bring to a simmering boil, stirring the whole while. Don't allow it to stick. Set aside to cool (she adds "sometimes I don't have time to cool very much").
After cooling add
4 cups flour
1 cup slightly crushed walnuts
1 tsp baking powder
and stir well.

Pour into greased pan and bake in hot oven about 90 minutes (she comments, "It never seems to take that long...test with a toothpick")
"Makes a nice big cake."

note: i am sure i saw my mother adding ginger to this when i was a teenager, but i could be mistaken. definitely the leading fragrance is of nutmeg and clove....having made spice cake pancakes with ginger added, i can say its not a bad addition in any event.

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Sara Rudavsky Soltes' Potato Latkes

2 eggs
3 cups grated, drained potatoes
4 tbsp grated onion
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp matzo meal or cracker meal (she adds "i dont think i usually add this")
1/2 cup oil or butter

Beat eggs, add all the ingredients except the butter/oil.
Heat 1/2 the butter in a frying pan.
Drop the potato mixture into the hot oil/butter by the tbsp.
Fry until brown on both sides.
Keep pancakes hot until all are done, adding more oil to pan as needed.










Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diegohttp://www.bodymindwellnesscenter.com

Comments

Anonymous said…
I am of Polish heritage, and my mother used to make something very similar (if not identical) to the Spice cake. My father got the recipe from a co-worker at least 40 years ago. In her handwritten recipe book my mother called it "Jewish Cake".
thanks v.m. for the comment Anonymous. my hungarian friend who only came from cluj, in hungary 3 years ago, said that she is familiar with a similar recipe, and that in transylvania it is considered a a Jewish style of cake.

so maybe Ida Levy brought it with her from her shtetlach near Vilna....