Cooking with Kay: ‘Make your own Kentucky Jam Cake’

By Kay Harrod Published:

The Frankfort-Franklin County Community Education program has a wealth of classes for those interested in learning everything from square dancing to speaking Spanish.

One of the classes caught my eye when the FFCCE program published its fall schedule – “Make Your Own Kentucky Jam Cake.”

Franklin County resident Anita Harrod, who has probably made more jam cakes than seeds to be found in jam, taught the class.

It was offered in the Consumer Science (Home Ec) room at Western Hills High School on Monday evening.

It was not what I expected – in a good sense. I thought our instructor would produce a cake she had made and then talk to us as she made a cake.

However, the catalog did say we would go home with a cake.

Anita was a perfect educator, though she has no professional training as such.

Perhaps it was because of her limited mobility due to health problems, but Anita (no relation) set the four of us to work on creating the jam cake. Her goal: to show us how one large batter would make enough smaller cakes to give as gifts.

It was fun as we each took turns performing various tasks for the cake. Gina Robertson was immediately dispatched to melt the butter. It needed to cool before it went into the batter.

PRE-MEASURED INGREDIENTS

Anita had already premeasured ingredients and for the most part they were at the ready in plastic bags.

Carol Smith mixed raisins, walnuts and part of the flour in a bowl. This step Anita said was important to ensure the fruit and nuts incorporated well into the batter.

Judy Wells cracked eggs that were beaten with sugar with an electric hand mixer. The cooled butter was then added.

Smith and Robertson worked together alternating flour and buttermilk.

Anita provided a tip and demonstrated how vinegar and milk can be combined to substitute for buttermilk, if none is available.

Yours truly got in on the group recipe once I assured Anita I would be heavy handed with the spices.

“I always add more than the recipe calls for,” she told us.

So very generously, I added the cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.

Next came two pounds of strawberry jam. While Anita says many jam cakes are made with blackberry jam, she wanted the class to see how they can be made with any jam.

“Since I like strawberry jam, that’s what we’re adding to this one,” she said.

To my knowledge I have never had a jam cake with strawberry jam so I was happy for the experience.

Smith sprayed eight small pans with cooking spray and the by-product was the spray showered the tile floor and quickly we found ourselves skating across it, even in tennis shoes.

Crisis abated with some 409 cleaner and a rag.

Batter was measured – two generous cups were poured into each pan; into a 300-degree oven, the cakes went for an hour.

Done, the hot cakes were quickly cooled in the freezer of a refrigerator, the caramel frosting was made, again a group effort.

Mission accomplished. The only thing left was to taste and all were happy with the results of their labors and each had a cake to take home.

Anita says ideally the cakes should be cooled for several hours or even overnight before they are frosted.

Or in the case of my mother and other older bakers, stored and seasoned for a while and then frosted, to me, even better.

But hey, I love jam cake any way you slice it. Attending the class and making a cake brought back many memories.

TRULY TRADITIONAL

Many cakes produced in kitchens around the holidays are truly traditional. Fruitcake, mincemeat, pecan and jam cover buffets of Kentucky hostesses.

Most should be made weeks ahead and stored in a cool place to “ripen,” as my mother used to say, or in other words to meld into moist, flavorful delicacies.

Mother (Lillian Crittenden Harrod) made them all yearly and usually Thanksgiving weekend; no Black Friday shopping for her. It was Lil’s kitchen filled with aromatics that made your mouth water and tugged at your heart when you walked in the door.

She made multiples because family members wanted her cakes as well. The mincemeat was a favorite of her brother Emmet and her Aunt Minnie Smith.

Aunt Minnie wanted hers plain, which meant no frosting. Uncle Emmet wanted his covered in thick caramel icing.

But once out of the oven, none of them were iced. They were cooled overnight, wrapped in cheesecloth, had wine or bourbon poured over them and placed in huge lard cans she kept for this purpose. Dad then carried the cans to the unheated basement.

Jam and mincemeat cakes were soaked in a fruity deep red wine and fruitcakes in bourbon.

Several weeks later when she was ready to serve one or two for a holiday event, they were removed from the lard cans, cheesecloth removed and icing added to those that required it or in the case of her delicious fruitcake, simply put on a cake stand and served.

NO REFRIGERATOR

Why not the refrigerator, you question? I have learned over the years, storing the cakes in the fridge dries them out because refrigerators are not conducive to holding moisture in these baked goods.

When mom was finished serving them, she rewrapped, re-soaked and returned them to the lard cans until she needed them again. Slices of those that had been frosted were delivered to neighbors.

These cakes, unfrosted, held beautifully – sometimes even into February.

Two other good cooks I have met along my culinary journey – Molly Doneghy and Vivian Gaines, upheld these same methods.

Molly had a cold closet where she held her jam, fruit, mincemeat and pecan cakes. All securely wrapped, soaked in liquor and kept until she either mailed them to her relatives or served with perked coffee when Cathy Kring and I showed up on her doorstep.

Vivian made what I considered to be the best pecan cake I have ever eaten. And yes, even the slices in February were as delicious as the ones in November.

Once Vivian’s pecan cake had cooled, instead of dousing it with bourbon, she sat a shot glass of bourbon into the center hole (all were made in a tube pan). She carefully wrapped it in cheesecloth and put it in a large Tupperware cake carrier and sat it on a shelf on her screened-in back porch.

All these little culinary tricks made for exceptional jam cakes.

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