it’s the morning after the night exploded.
it’s gentle out now. the pop and fizzle are long gone, replaced by mama wren singing. and mr. and mrs. cardinal chattering, as they imbibe on the annual inebriating feast of plump purple serviceberries, dangling from the bough.
i’m inhaling all of it, as i try for one short spell to push away the worries, the deadlines, the cobwebs in the corners.
this is what summer is for, the reason it exists: to catch the rhythm of your breath, to notice how it flows in time with tide, with water gurgling toward the lakeshore sands, then rolling out again.
this is a day for slicing watermelon, for scooping little balls of sweetness from soft and juicy flesh. for popping back blueberries by the fistful. for paper napkins catching all that dribbles — because you’d never get the fruity stains out of cotton squares or linen.
this just might be a day for cranking up the oven. and the grill, of course. but one short blast of cake baking just might be what the declaration of independence does declare.
because it’s a holiday, because we’re practicing the art of stepping out of time, and into the hallowed hollows of timelessness, i’m making like this here is a backyard with picket fence, and i’m leaning across the fence to hand you a recipe for the finest chocolate cake this side of the iowa state fair.
a dear college friend drove down from wisconsin a week or so ago, with a sheet pan of devilish deliciousness and the spelled-out recipe to boot. she left the whole darn cake when she packed up to head back north, and my boys declared it the finest chocolate cake they’d ever slipped between their lips.
with no more hoopla, and one sweet promise: here’s a slice of delicious summer’s succulence, brought to you courtesy of judy smith, who was motored here by one maureen haggerty warmuth. they’re two of the treasures i’ve held onto from my college days. and here’s the treasure to tuck inside your banged-up, battered, much-used tin of recipes. (fact is, this is all-season’s succulence, but since we’re at the fever-pitch of summer, we’ll tag it one for summer’s glory. seems just the thing to ferry to the independence day cake stand.)
minnesota chocolate cake
provenance: my friend judy smith’s dear friend tammi baumann
2 cups flour
1-3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg, slightly beaten
2/3 cup oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup coffee brewed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Beat together your litany of ingredients — batter will be runny.
Pour into greased and floured 9-by-13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes.
In saucepan, dump:
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. corn starch
1/2 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. cocoa
1 cup boiling water
Cook over medium heat while stirring, till thickened.
Remove from heat, and ADD:
1 tsp. vanilla
3 Tbsp. butter
Cool frosting and pour over cake.
grab fork. dig in. declare this a day for summer’s succulent sweetness — in all its many flavors.
p.s. there was a rumor wafting about the kitchen that this chocolate-y deliciousness might have won blue ribbon at one of those fine midwestern country fairs. fact or fiction, it won just such an honor here in our humble kitchen. so pinned by the boys who left not a crumb behind on the cake plate…
and what will you be ferrying to your independence day feast? and what’s your definition of summer’s succulence? how would you spend a holiday away from all that weighs you down?
let me try again….
it’s winter in the south….and for a few weeks we’ve unweighed ourselves in the north – cleaning, clearing and planting…unweeding anothers’ garden…it was a summer succulence in itself…this week’s succulence – a birthday …maybe the chocolate cake?
i do think this fine cake deserves to travel round the globe. thank you for letting us know it sounds as delicious in winter as it has been in summer…..
Summer’s succulence? Tomatoes!
Despite his insistence that we plant less in his garden, my 90-year-old dad still has some two dozen tomato plants, hybrid and heirloom, large fruit and small, spilling over and out of their stakes, cages and towers. (He also has cucumbers, eggplant, bell pepper, green beans, lettuce, arugula, Swiss chard and, added at the last minute, beets. Oh, and the runaway strawberry patch that gave us 16 jars of jam a few weeks ago. A beautiful array? Yes. Downsized? Not so much.) The summer pollen and pollution have been
hard on him this year, making breathing, walking, living more difficult than ever, and he only gets into the garden with his walker and when escorted to make sure he doesn’t fall. He is frustrated that he cannot bend low to pick anything. I only get to his house every weekend, so I’m sure we’ll lose some garden goodness that ripens between trips.
But nothing says summer succulence to me more than the experience of crawling on my hands and knees among the plants, feeling the sun on my back, inhaling the deep green fragrance of tomato leaves–olfactory umami?– and searching for the red, yellow, or orange globes that I’ll take back to his kitchen table and divvy up. Not even farmers market fare can compare with tomatoes from my dad’s garden. In addition to the instant gratification of popping tiny yellow pears into my mouth as I pick, there’s the coming week’s bounty for salads and the anticipation of frozen and canned fruits and sauces to take us through a winter. (We never had success with romas, so we tried a new spot this year, and the one plant is pendulous with dozens of large, long green fruit already!)
My dad has planted a vegetable garden in the area of the yard where most people have a garage for more than 60 years. Each year for the last three, since a lengthy hospitalization, he’s said this would be his last garden. I think we are getting close to that reality. And so I dive into the fragrant succulence (would that I could can that tomato leaf smell!), reminisce a bit but try to be smack dab in the present, savoring a timeless summer wonder.
Sorry for the ramble. I feel like there’s an understanding camaraderie and shared experiences at the table that I don’t always find elsewhere.
you just transported me — muddy knees and all — to the rows between the tomato vines. i could even smell that olfactory umami. and yes, yes, truth be told the words “summer” + “succulence” really are synonymous with fresh-from-the-vine tomato. but i went with alliteration. and now i’ll be up a creek when it’s time to sing the song of the perfect juicy tomato.
the poignant notion of is this the last planting of the garden is one that hits me full-throttle. thank you for bringing your whole heart here to where we tend hearts with most loving care….xoxox
P.S. THANKS for the recipe! My dad loves chocolate cake!
tell him it’s from all of us, with love! and a fat green tomato on the side!!!!
My favorite line in that fab chocolate cake recipe is the first line in the frosting instructions: “In saucepan, dump…” That’s my kinda recipe!
My idea of summer succulence is a bowlful of Rainier cherries. We had our first of the season last night along with wine and cheese on the patio before dinner. My sister first introduced us to the Rainier beauties many years ago on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. They bring back memories of so many many wonderful summer poolside cocktail hours.
“dump” is pretty much the highpoint of my culinary skills as well. dump, stir, bake. bingo!
love those cherries. love the memories that come with life’s sweetest nibbles….