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11/100 Flossie’s Pound Cake

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Almost six years ago I wrote my very first post for this blog. I was 22, freshly out of college, and had just moved into an apartment with Dan outside of Washington, DC. I was in a job that was meant to be temporary, but the economy had just crashed and it was looking more and more like I was stuck there. I desperately missed home, and I thought that if I could just cook and eat something that reminded me of home I might feel better. I set out to make a recipe from my grandmother, Bobbie. Bobbie, my dad’s mom, was the woman who taught me to love Southern cooking, and Sunday night dinners with her were a memory I cherished and sorely missed. I knew that making her country style steak would be what I needed to snap me out of my funk, so I did just that. That recipe was the first post on Biscuits and Such, a project that has become the part of my life that most closely ties me to the Southern food culture I so dearly missed.

wake

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my great grandparents, Flossie and Stanley Ballenger

Bobbie and I spent a great deal of time with each other during the first 16 years of my life. She was always nearby, whether we lived in Florida or in North Carolina, and she and I were pretty constant companions. We cooked together, swam together, sunbathed together, talked, laughed, and sometimes cried. She was there for me when things were tough, and she never failed to put a smile on my face. She had stories, so many stories, and she was always happy to share with me about her life. I loved hearing stories about her and her siblings growing up in Raleigh, the years she and my grandpa shared in Chapel Hill, about my dad and uncle as kids, her studies at Meredith College (she was an English major and she was full of sayings about language and grammer. My favorite was her response to someone asking where something “was at.” She would quickly reply “after the preposition at!”). One of the things I miss most since she passed away are her stories.

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Bobbie’s father, Stanley, was a professor at North Carolina State. His family, the Ballengers, were from Tryon, in the mountains. Bobbie’s mother, Flossie (I know, best name ever), was a Caudell of St Pauls, in the southern piedmont of North Carolina. After they were married they moved to Raleigh and bought a piece of land on Rosedale Avenue. They had four children- Juanita, Barbara, Theodore, and James.

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Bobbie at the Swamp House, 2001

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The Caudell family (Flossie’s family) tree and Flossie with her parents and siblings

As I enter my late twenties I am more and more interested in the stories of my family. I’m lucky enough to still have my mother’s parents to ask about their lives and their families, but to learn more about my dad’s parents I have to dig a bit, to talk to extended family. I wish I could listen to all of Bobbie’s stories again today, with pen and paper ready. Talking to family- her siblings, her sons, her cousins, is the next best thing. This past July Heather and I spent a morning with her brother Ted and his wife, Ann, in their Raleigh home. We talked about Ted’s life growing up in Wake County (and Ann’s growing up near Smithfield), about Ted’s mom, Flossie (called Nanny by the family), and most enthusiastically about food.

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I asked Ann to help me find a family recipe that reflects their memories of Stanley and Flossie and their life in Wake County. She sent over a few possibilities but captioned the recipe for pound cake with “the best I’ve ever had.” I clearly couldn’t pass up that sort of endorsement! So while Ann and I whipped up a batch of Nanny’s Pound Cake (Ann is quite the task master, I spent a lot of time sifting and resifting of flour), Ted regaled us with stories of our family, showing pictures and pointing to branches on the family tree.

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The Caudell family

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The pound cake came out of the oven piping hot and smelling like heaven. It was delicious, and after digging in ourselves I packed up some of the leftovers to bring home to my Dad (who was in town running megalodon charters) and Dan. After dinner that night I toasted and buttered some pound cake for them and my dad shared his memories of Stanley and Flossie, of his favorite foods on Flossie’s table (namely milk mush), his memories of visiting Stanley’s family home in Tryon, the Ballenger homestead on Rosedale. As I told him everything I’d talked about with Ted and Ann you could see the sparks go off as he connected the dots, remembered people and places and foods and family.

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Flossie’s parents, Ples and Nottie Mae (Big Mama)

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Florence (Flossie) Ballenger

The pound cake was fantastic, but the stories were better. I’m so grateful to have family members that are willing to spend a morning with me, talking family lore over cups of coffee and giving me instructions on the best ways to sift flour. The more I dig into the history of North Carolina the more I feel the desire to connect with my own Carolina roots, and I’m loving exploring all the branches of the family tree. The lesson I’ve learned again and again is that food is the ultimate connector. The look on my father’s face as he talked about eating mush at Nanny’s house for Sunday supper was priceless, and I’m so excited to dive further in, searching for the recipes that mean the most to the people who make and serve them.

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Heather photographing Ted & Ann

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Nanny’s Pound Cake 

3 1/2 cups cake flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 tsp mace

1 cup whole milk

6 eggs

1 lb butter

1 tsp vanilla

Heat oven to 325F.

Cream butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and continue beating. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until fluffy.

Sift flour. Stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and mace and sift again. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients a little at a time, alternating with the milk, until it is fully combined, finishing with flour.

Grease a fluted bundt pan and pour batter in. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes before flipping out onto a plate. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. Try the leftovers toasted with butter!

 

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Muscadine Hull Pie

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It’s muscadine season! That wild grape that has inspired hundreds of years of Southern jams, jellies, preserves, pies, and wines is back in the markets and ready for your kitchen.

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I decided to try my hand at a muscadine hull pie. Traditionally a way to use the hulls when the pulp and juice were being used in other recipes, the hull pie epitomizes the thrifty and frugal country recipe.

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When they’re cooked down muscadines have a sweet and tart flavor that is similar to cherries. I decided to use the whole grape, pitting them first, which made for a filling that perfect complimented my buttery crust. What a treat. I think I’ll need to replicate this before the end of muscadine season!

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Muscadine Hull Pie

filling

4 cups whole muscadines

1/2 cup brown sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

Pinch of salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

crust

2 1/2 cups flour

2 sticks cold butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup cold water

1 egg

1 tbsp brown sugar

In a food processor combine flour, butter, sugar, and salt. Pulse until texture resembles cornmeal. Add in water, a few tablespoons at a time. Pulse until a dough ball forms, adding more water as needed. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill.

Remove tops from muscadines and squeeze the pulp out. Remove the seeds and combine pulp and hulls in a pot over medium-low heat. Stir in brown sugar, lemon juice, salt, and vanilla. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until filling has thickened.

Flour a work surface and roll out half your dough. Drape over a pie crust and stir in filling. Roll out remaining half and lay over top of the filling. Fold the edges of the bottom dough over the top crust and press together. Brush top with egg and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes or until crust is golden brown and flakey. Serve hot.

 

 

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Pound Cake Banana Pudding

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When I woke up last Sunday morning I had an email from one of my favorite college professors, George, congratulating me on the fact that The American Cookbook was on the New York Times’ Summer Reading List. I promptly lost my shit. I couldn’t believe it until I saw it for myself, and even after I’d read the article on my phone, on my computer, and in print I still had trouble believing that it was real. What an honor! What a treat! I thought, to celebrate, I’d share one of my favorite recipes from the book, my banana pudding. This banana pudding, made with pound cake instead of vanilla wafers, is a slice of heaven. I plan on celebrating with a plate full, all to myself.

Banana Pudding

Pound Cake Banana Pudding

1 pound cake

6 bananas

pudding:

2 cups milk

1/2 cup sugar 

3 tbsp cornstarch

1 tbsp butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

whipped cream:

2 cups heavy whipping cream

2 tbsp sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

Bring milk almost to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Stir in cornstarch and sugar and whisk continuously until thickened. Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla. Let chill.

Slice pound cake into 1/2” slices and toast in oven until crisp. Slice bananas into 1/4” slices. Layer half the pound cake across the bottom of a wide serving dish. Top with half the bananas. Pour pudding overtop of the first layer evenly. Add second layer of pound cake and top with remaining bananas. Whip cream, sugar, and vanilla until stiff. Spoon over the bananas and chill 45 minutes to an hour. Serve chilled.

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