Solstice Rituals: Seed Cake

Solstice Rituals: Seed Cake

Solstice traditions and magical tales and rituals come from all corners of the world. I enjoy reading about all of them, but mimicking the rituals of peoples exotic to me feels strange, and does not really feel like a receptive mindset for the significance of an important marker of time in my own real life. 

Fire, attention, cleansing, making space, seasonal decoration, silence, spending time with nature, and ritual foods feel more fitting and less forced. Seed cake, while not exactly Yule specific, does feel like a suitable choice for the here and now. 

Today, in the US, grocery bakery goods, frozen cakes, and cake mixes with canned frostings are what we imagine for “cake”.  Light, fluffy, very sweet, often almost gummy, mostly crowned with sugary vegetable shortening frosting and intense artificial coloring and extracts.

Europe however, has retained more of their historic connections to food, and tends towards more dense, heavy baked goods flavored more often from nature than laboratories. Seed cake is one such cake you will not often find in the US.  One reason is because it’s texture is dependent upon a certain inefficient manner of architecting the ingredients.  It’s joy, like that of many British and Irish foods, is dependent upon the sheer exceptional quality of the simple ingredients – pastured eggs, homemade butter from the well-fed family cow, and local flour not readily available or “affordable” in modern times. 

Expensive and/or unavailable indeed when measured with our American focus on efficiency and productivity. I wonder though, if my ingredients cost more errands and money, yet also are important nutrients in their own right instead of a guilt-inducing dietary derailment of artificial junk guaranteed to make me feel ill, which is more expensive? 

I love everything about this cake, though I did dial up the fancy a little by pouring syrup over the hot cake, which makes me love it more, and I enjoy eating it with a schmear of good butter.

It is substantial, filling, and the ingredients are not without calories or fat, but are also nutrient dense. There is sugar, which is always going to be a conundrum, and for which I have no natural solution other than moderation. Since the cake is filling in a nutritionally satisfying way, moderation is naturally easier. 

Anyway, this is a really nice tradition to bring into all your winter weeks, not just for Solstice, though in the day, it would be a luxurious choice during months when eggs and butter were scarce. Like now, which is why such cakes in December are so celebratory.

I happen to be rich in pastured eggs at the moment, so, bring on the hobbit-y cakes!

Darina Allen's Seed Cake

Adapted from Darina Allen's wonderful book, "Forgotten Skills of Cooking."
Servings 8

Equipment

  • ` Round cake pan 7” and 3” deep Size matters; a standard loaf pan works well also

Ingredients
  

  • 3/4 Cup Butter Room Temp
  • 3/4 Cup superfine sugar Domino's Golden Cane works well
  • 3 Chicken Eggs Pastured if possible
  • 1/2 tsp Pure vanilla extract
  • 2 Cups All purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 TBS milk or water
  • 1 TBS caraway seeds optional

Optional Glaze

  • 3 TBS Grand Marnier Brandy or whiskey can be substituted
  • 2 tsp water
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 TBS butter

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease your baking pan with butter and flour. 
  • Sift the flour and baking powder together. 
  • In a separate bowl, using a mixer, whip the butter first, then add the sugar, and continue whipping until light and fluffy. Do not rush this, or combine the steps, it does make a difference to the texture of the finished cake. (In the day this was done by massaging by hand the warmth of your hands creaming the butter faster, and supposedly producing a lighter cake.)
  • Whisk the eggs and vanilla extract together, and gradually add to the whipped butter and sugar mixture. Mix well.
  • Gradually fold in the flour, taking care to not over-beat. Darina Allen calls the desired texture “dropping consistency.” It will be heavy and stiff, but should not be crumbly. Gently mix in the caraway seeds. Add the milk, liquor or water only if the batter is too dry. 
  • Fill into the prepared baking pan, do not worry of it is lumpy, it will spread into the pan as the batter warms in the oven. 
  • Bake 50 - 60 minutes, taking care to not overtake, which will toughen the texture. To make the glaze, simply warm the glaze ingredients gently in a saucepan until sugar is completely dissolved- do not boil. Pour over hot cake and let cool in the pan.
  • Remove from the oven, pour the glaze over the top if using, and allow to cool in the pan.
Yinzer Red Beans and Rice

Yinzer Red Beans and Rice

I’m a Pittsburgh girl, so maybe there are cultural Red-Beans-And-Rice nuances I am not getting here. Made on Monday, check.  Our own Auburn Meadow Farm Classic Cajun Andouille, check, check.  Slow cooked all day? Nope. This is a quicker version, because I had already cooked beans in broth waiting in my freezer for just such a day.

All you real-deal Cajun cooks? Sorry, but also, not sorry, because this is some really good, wholesome, hearty hygge for a dreary winter day.

Since COVID, people have been hoarding good culinary beans, which is sad if they are just being stashed in somebody’s bunker – the ten pound bags of pintos at Walmart do a pretty decent job of resting on a shelf.  The Rancho Gordo heirloom beans offer a range of flavor and texture that those ten-year-old warehoused beans just can’t bring. And, if you are planning a garden, those Rancho Gordos are good for planting too, so save some of your favorites and give them a go for some fresh shelling beans.

But hoarders can’t kill my bean joy. If you can’t have the bean you love, which for Red Beans and Rice would have been Domingo Rojas, then love the bean you have, which happens to be Ayocote Negro. Selecting beans by texture not color is key here. The Ayocote Negros are a gorgeous, substantial, shiny, black bean, and were perfect, if not red.

This should take ten minutes of prep and a half hour to forty minutes simmering, and serves four to six. Printable recipe here. 

Ingredients:

  • 1# smoked Andouille, sliced into 1/2” disks
  • 2 pint containers of pre-cooked cooked beans in broth* (or 2 cans of kidney beans, drained)
  • 1 TBS good cooking fat, I use lard or bacon fat*
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 green pepper seeded and chopped
  • 4 ribs celery, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2-tsp to 1 TBS cayenne pepper dependent upon how hot you like yours. I omit entirely as I cook for people who don’t tolerate spices.
  • 1-28 ounce can whole tomatoes in juice
  • 1/2 tsp ground sage or poultry seasoning
  • Smoked ham hock (optional)
  • splash cider vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Mild hot sauce like Frank’s or Crystal for serving
  • Cooked white rice for serving

Method:

  1. In a Dutch oven, melt your cooking fat over medium heat, add onion, green pepper, and celery. Sautee until softened, do not brown.
  2. Add garlic and andouille disks and sautee to release fragrance.
  3. Add the tomatoes, ham hock if using, cayenne and sage.  Allow to gently simmer, allowing the flavors to develop.
  4. Add the beans, if you are using canned beans, strain the liquid before adding. continue to simmer to allow the beans to absorb the flavors. You don’t want to cook dry though, you are going for the texture of a thick soup. If your pot starts getting too dry, add some water (best boiled first – I use my teakettle).
  5. Taste and add salt, pepper, and cider vinegar to taste.
  6. Serve your beans with rice – this is important. It is honestly not difficult to make a perfectly cooked pot of rice. That detail makes a huge difference.

If you really want to eat like a farmer, try topping a bowl with a poached egg for breakfast 😃. It’s even better next day.

*Some astericks here, because I am a pantry cook, and have stored in my freezer and pantry items you may not. That’s okay though, it’s not a big deal this recipe is pretty flexible.

Get these ingredients from us*:
Classic very mild smoked Andouille from our pastured pork, smoked ham hocks, Ayocote Negro beans

*Inventory subject to change without notice

 

Galentine’s Day

Galentine’s Day

I was a bit eye-rolley about this idea at first.

GAL is one of those words that feels silly and stilted to say, and in my head, is always heard in Ethel Merman’s voice. I mean, I love my female friends, I love candy and wine, lipstick and treats, but Galentine’s was looking like one massive Hallmark consumption fest and a gathering of all things giggly and girly.

Not knocking giggly and girly if that is your real thing and it brings you joy. But to me, a good Galentine’s Day would head for the woods with chain saws, or a hike, plant some stuff, or build some fence, and/or a good bonfire cum/table groaning with loads of home-made potluck treats. Or a get-together helping a GAL friend with any daunting project she can’t quite manage to launch by herself.

My Galentine’s Day would include some sharing of Galentine dreams and some #NoMercy commitment to birthing those shy, secret plans we GALS hide in the back of our hearts, and always seem to put last, behind everyone else’s laundry and chauffeuring needs. 

Then, the word GALENTINE started to grow on me, Ethel and all.

Looking back over the last decade of my life, the part where “normal” began to fall apart, it is absolutely one hundred percent true, it was my female friends who saved me from drowning.

Though we each had busy lives, and didn’t spend much time Galentine-ing it up during our everyday, married, kid schlepping lives, it did not matter.  When the need was real, it was those GALS who showed up, ready to work when I was overwhelmed and could not see what to do next.

When I was mowed over after my husband’s heart attack, we had three busy daughters at home, and I ran my own demanding business, it was my friend Debbie who cooked – I am not exaggerating – trays and trays of foods, thoughtfully planned for Bill’s new dietary needs, so I could mix and match and keep my family fed for weeks without needing to go to the store.

I also remember the day I was part of a group of GALS helping my same friend Debbie load up all her stuff and move her out of the house she had poured her heart into and into a rental the next town over.  The power of that group of women, each pitching in hard with their unique gifts, moved mountains that day.

Obviously, Debbie Galentines like a boss.

My friend Becky was there during the darkest days of my marriage helping keep the business alive and well and keeping me focused on the unpleasant tasks at hand.

More recently, when I was overwhelmed after losing family and a good chunk of my farm resources, it was my friend Shelly who showed up and helped me move all my freezers and plow through my paralysis, and begin to set up a new normal.

After my divorce, having to adjust to losing so much, my friend Jenny went out of her way to open her home to me, and include me in her days. For a while, the warm, rich, friend-filled dinners spent at Jenny’s house were the only real human balm for my sore spirit.

I could go on, but you get it.  And I am not the only one. When the chips are down, and the days go dark, it is your girlfriends who bring you back.

So, a day to celebrate that life force is only right and good.  And if you find you are without Galentines in your life, I would recommend you get to work finding some. ASAP.

I could not love you GALS more.