There were probably foodies back in the 60s and 70s when I was growing up but I didn’t know any.
Well, I take that back.
My maternal grandfather would have qualified although I’m sure he wouldn’t have used that term. He learned to cook in an Alaskan mining camp as a teenager after running off because my grandmother initially refused his offer of marriage.
Sometime later, back in Southern California and after finally convincing my grandmother to marry him, he became one of the first to use modern scuba diving gear. My mom spent the weekends of her childhood on the beach while Grandpa was bringing in such things as abalone and lobsters which he would then cook for dinner. My mom says she actually recalls complaining, “Ah, Dad…lobster again?”. And the stories about his attempts at escargot and turtle soup are family legends. However, we generally only saw these grandparents a few times a year so I didn’t experience much of Grandpa’s cooking.
Instead, I grew up next door to my paternal grandparents who were originally from Oklahoma and trust me when I say escargot was one of the last things Grandma would have considered making for dinner. Or I should say, “supper”.
No, at her house you would most likely be served pork chops, fried potatoes and onions, “creamed” potatoes and gravy – lots of gravy – or what I still consider the best fried chicken ever. One of my goals in life is to finally make a batch of fried chicken as good as Grandma’s. She did give me her huge cast iron skillet which should help but I know that if I truly want fried chicken like her’s I will have to throw caution to the wind and buy a can of Crisco.
I spent my childhood eating such delicacies as Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, bologna and cheese sandwiches on white bread, spaghetti made with sauce from a jar, canned vegetables, hot dogs (on buns at home, wrapped in a slice of bread at Grandma’s), and the occasional TV dinner. We also ate a lot of steak, grilled chicken and baked pork chops with a can of Contadina sweet and sour sauce poured on top.
Oh, and tacos! My mom makes the best tacos. And her homemade potato salad is legendary.
My mom, grandmother and aunts who lived nearby were all competent, if uninspired, cooks and as was typical of the time, not opposed to the use of time-saving convenience foods.
We also thought nothing of using the aforementioned Crisco or slathering our white toast with margarine. In fact, a lot of recipes of that era specifically listed margarine as an ingredient rather than butter.
The other day I was looking through my old recipe box and ran across an old favorite from my childhood – Oatmeal Cake. Apparently I liked this well enough to hand write it on an index card and include it in the recipe box I started while still in high school. I’m trying to think when was the last time I made this and I think it was sometime during the first year or two of marriage. And yet I remember really loving this cake.
Let’s take a look at the recipe. It starts out with oats and we all know oats = healthy, right? Okay, so it also calls for a cup of margarine but we can swap that for butter. Hmm…a total of three CUPS of sugars in the cake and topping. Oh, well. This is a cake, not breakfast. Although…
What the heck. Let’s give it a whirl.
Grandma’s Oatmeal Cake
- 1 cup old fashioned oats
- 1 ¾ cups boiling water
- ½ cup butter at room temperature (Original called for margarine but we don’t want that, do we?)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 eggs
- 1 ¾ cups flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ cup butter, melted
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- ¼ cup heavy cream, half and half or evaporated milk
- 1 cup chopped nuts or sweetened shredded coconut (opt.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 13×9 cake pan.
Prepare oatmeal in boiling water and let stand 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, cream together butter and both sugars. Add vanilla and eggs. Combine with oatmeal and mix well.
Sift together salt, flour, soda and cinnamon then add to oatmeal mixture; mix well.
Pour batter into greased and floured 9×13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
While cake is baking combine topping ingredients. Spread on warm cake, place under broiler for about 1-2 minutes or until lightly browned. Watch closely because it will burn easily.
I made this the other evening and now I have no idea why I haven’t been making this regularly. The cake is dense, moist and chewy; the broiled icing is sweet and caramel-y. And you know what? It very well can be breakfast. Oats, y’all.