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My Mother's Cookbook

Quick Bakes: Cayenne Cheese Wafers, Coffee Cake, Meemock’s Nut Bread and Hannah’s Raisin Bread

by Margaret Cullison


Recipes for baked goods made quickly helped busy cooks of my mother’s generation cope when unexpected visitors showed up. For today’s home chefs who have more complicated schedules of work outside the home and multiple family activities to contend with, quick bakes that don’t require rising and kneading time lend an easily-achieved flair to what might otherwise seem like an ordinary social occasion.

When I was growing up in Iowa in the 1940s and 50s, we lived in an insulated environment, without television, computers and cell phones to connect us to the outside world. Our information came from the print media, radio and telephone, with long-distance calls reserved for emergencies. Person-to-person communication counted as an important means of hearing about what went on around town and beyond.

Townspeople could be seen talking in stores, along sidewalks or on front porches, as if they had nothing else do. Of course they did, because they lacked the modern conveniences that we now take for granted, devices designed to supposedly give us more leisure time.

My mother canned fruits and vegetables every summer, used a wringer washing machine and hung the laundry outside on the clothes line to dry and bleach in the sun. She even made soap once or twice, probably because of the availability of lard in hog-producing Iowa. I remember the endeavor as a smelly and laborious process that resulted in unappealing chunks of soap.

As a break from their own household chores, Mom’s friends often dropped by unannounced for a visit, and she always welcomed the opportunity to relax and chat with them.

By the time I reached my early teen years, the predictability of small-town life had begun to close in on me. I imagined life to be more interesting in other locales, but I still had a few years left before I could leave home to find out. Unexpected visitors added interest to otherwise uneventful days that seemed to stretch on in boring sameness.

My mother knew how to put her daughter to good use so, before I started working for pay during summer vacations, my job was to help her with the housework. I looked forward to the occasional chime of the front door bell or a voice calling “Yo-ho,” at the kitchen door.

Neither Mom nor her friends minded if I sat in on their conversations. They understood this time-honored way that young girls learned how to be women. I would prepare and serve the coffee or tea with cookies or some other home-baked treat and then find a place to sit in the female circle, quietly listening and absorbing the way they interacted and what they

Mom had a younger friend with whom she remained close all her life. Mary Louise relied on my mother for emotional support in times of trouble, and her problems weren’t trivial. She had divorced an alcoholic husband and found a job to support herself and her young son at a time when few women faced those challenges. She and Mom both loved Coca Cola, so I knew without being asked to fill the heavy Fostoria tumblers with ice and open two bottles of coke whenever Mary Louise arrived.

A nice bite to eat with those cokes would have been cheese wafers, just as they are with wine or cocktails. Mom attributed this recipe to an "Admiral’s wife from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.”  She met the woman while visiting her brother at the Navy base in Virginia, where he worked in ship design.

Cayenne Cheese Wafers
1 jar soft sharp cheddar cheese
Equal amount of soft butter
Double amount of flour
Dash of cayenne pepper
Mix, form dough into rolls and refrigerate. When cold, cut rolls into 1/3-inch thick slices. Put wafer slices on cookie sheets. Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees; reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake five minutes longer. Serve while still warm.

Page Two of Quick Bakes>>

©2008 Margaret Cullison for SeniorWomenWeb
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