Thursday, October 18, 2012

My Recipe for Happiness – Family, Friends, and Celebrations

April Harris
April Harris is a housewife, mother and writer based in Berkshire in the south of England. She traveled far in June to attend the Seattle BlogHer Food Conference where met her. Family food history is one of April’s passions. An accomplished cook whose recipes reflect her Canadian upbringing and frequent travels, April is editor in chief of her blog, The 21st CenturyHousewife, where she shares recipes, inspiration, tips and trends for anyone who loves food, cooking, entertaining, fashion, travel, and the finer things in life. Writing about #RecipeForHappiness is an ideal theme for this enthusiastic cook who treasures sharing recipes.

One of my prized possessions is a box containing hand-written recipes from three generations of family and friends. It was originally my late Mom’s collection of her mother’s treasured hand-written recipes and clippings from as far back as the early twentieth century. Mom added to the box over the years, collecting recipes from magazines and newspapers, and asking friends for the recipes for delicious things they had shared with us. As a little girl I loved to cook, so I asked my family and friends to share their recipes with me, too. Mom let me put them in her special recipe box and it made me feel very grown up. One day, not long after I got married, Mom gave it to me for my own kitchen. I was delighted.

My cherished recipe box (Photo by April Harris)
My recipe for happiness is always going to involve family and friends, good food, and celebrations. My heirloom recipe box means my family and I will continue to enjoy favourite dishes from years gone by, as well as remember the wonderful people who shared these recipes with us. It’s lovely knowing the recipes in the box are tried-and-true through generations of cooks, much like Grandma Ople’s Apple Pie, Grandma’sChicken Noodle Soup, and so many of the other the wonderful recipes shared by family cooks on

Almost everyone loves trifle, and My Grandma’s Trifle has made an appearance at more family gatherings than I have. Every time I make it, I still think about my late Mom and the stories she told me about my Grandma and the trifle. Although my Mom used sweet sherry to make the trifle and I do so to this day, my Grandma originally made it with rum. It was a favourite at her local church socials and Women’s Institute lunches in the 1930s, particularly with one minister who was very vocal in his support of the Temperance Movement. Funnily enough though, he would always have second helpings of my Grandma’s trifle!

A festive bowl shows off My Grandma's Trifle (Photo by April Harris)

My late Aunt Irene’s Coconut Date and Cherry Christmas Squares were a big part of family Christmases when I was a little. I spent a lot of time with my Aunt Irene and one of my favourite things to do when I visited was pick cherries from the tree in her garden. We would wear them as earrings and pretend to be fancy ladies at a ball. If I sit quietly enough, I can still hear the sound of our laughter as we danced through the garden. Aunt Irene had the most wonderful laugh.

Luscious Coconut, Date and Cherry Christmas Squares (Photo by April Harris)

Equally delicious, my Aunt Dorothy’s Butterscotch Squares make a great addition to cookie plates as well. Aunt Dorothy is now in her eighties and doesn’t find it as easy to get around the kitchen as she used to, but memories of her cooking are still the stuff of legend in our family.

Chunky bites of caramel sweetness! Butterscotch Squares (Photo by April Harris)

One of my favourite recipes is my Great Auntie Margaret’s Spice Cake. The lady behind the cake died before I was born, but she was dear to my mother, and her writing desk is now in my library. Her cake recipe really has stood the test of time; moist and spicy sweet, it’s perfect for cooler weather. I still use the original mixing method developed in the days before electric mixers. It varies slightly from the more modern methods of cake making but gives the cake a fabulous texture. The baking soda is whisked into the milk before being added separately from the flour, and the egg whites are whipped and folded in at the last to make a seriously moist and tender cake. Trust me, it works!

Berries with Auntie's Spice Cake make a winning match (Photo by April Harris)

Auntie’s Spice Cake

Makes one 8-inch round or one 8x8-inch square cake

1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
2½ cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour, or use parchment paper to line a deep 8-inch round pan or 8x8-inch square pan.
2. Whisk the baking soda into the buttermilk or sour milk. Set aside.
3. Sift the flour, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg into a mixing bowl. Set aside.
4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Set aside.
5. Place the butter and brown sugar into a mixing bowl and beat together thoroughly. Stir in the egg yolks until well blended. Stir the buttermilk mixture and vanilla extract into the egg yolk mixture, and combine until thoroughly blended.
7. Stir the flour and spices mixture into this batter, beating thoroughly.
8. Fold the egg whites gently but thoroughly into the batter.
9. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake in the preheated oven 25 to 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
10. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes before placing on a rack to finishing cooling.
11. When cool, frost with your favourite frosting and decorate as desired. I often use Buttercream Icing or this delicious Cream Cheese Frosting with Browned Butter and Bourbon from Or you may simply sprinkle this delicious cake with confectioner’s sugar (spoon through a sieve to dust evenly over the cake).

Enjoy! And be sure to share with me what favourite family recipe you love making. Do you bake something special for the holidays?


I love cakes like this! Sarah from The Ease of Freeze

I'm so glad you posted a picture of the box. I was so curious about how the recipes looked. What is funny is that even to my daughter's generation handwriting is going to be a strange thing to see.
Such a wonderful family heirloom. thank you so much for sharing it on foodie friday. love the spice cake recipe.

I really liked this post and it has inspired me to make some of the great dishes that have been passed down to me. My box looks similar, so I want to make and take lovely pics like your and make our family cookbook. Thnks for posting! I will be trying that cake for sure!

Amazing how closely tied food and memories are. I also associate many family recipes with specific people and holidays. This spice cake sounds scrumptious. I love how making it the old fashioned way ties you to your family's history!