My sister-in-law, Florence Van Tassel, passed away Jan. 10. Florence and I did lots of stuff together, so I have many fond memories of her. One of the things I remember about Florence was her talent for cooking.
Florence was one of those cooks who could put most any dish together using ingredients she had on hand. She just knew which ingredients went together, and everything she cooked tasted delicious. How I admire people who can do that; I can’t. I’m sure that she had recipes. She talked about recipes that she found in newspapers and magazines, but I’m not sure how often she relied on them.
During the summer, Florence often visited our garden and took home fresh vegetables. She picked beans, peas and corn and dug onions and potatoes. I can remember sitting on the patio where we visited and husked corn for freezing. Florence used everything, too. Nothing went to waste at her house.
A couple of days after we picked vegetables from the garden, I’d get a call from Florence. It would go something like this: “Oh, Diane, yesterday morning I looked in the refrigerator and took out the leftover ham. I put it in a pot with some water and got it started cooking. Then I snapped some of those green beans and added them. I chopped up a potato and an onion. I had a little piece of cabbage so I chopped it up and added it, too. I let everything cook all morning. It was absolutely delicious.”
Florence was a genius at putting ingredients together. Her soups were yummy. So were her beef roasts and specially cooked lamb. At Christmas, she made batch after batch of candy, especially peanut brittle. Our son Jamie remembers visiting her one day when she had just made a batch of peanut brittle. She went on and on about how she had burned it, but Jamie didn’t notice. He still remembers that day.
Most people who knew Florence remember her special chocolate cake. People who stopped by got a cup of coffee (the coffee pot was always on) and a piece of cake. Florence’s husband, Earl, always claimed that he didn’t like chocolate cake, but he ate piece after piece. Florence’s brother — my husband, Lyle — remembers the cake, too, topped off with thick cow’s cream.
I don’t know if Florence had a written recipe for the cake or if she just had it in her head. I never saw the recipe. But I do have a recipe for a chocolate cake that is similar — not anything like Florence’s, however. I bake it in a 9x13-inch cake pan instead of the jelly roll pan and bake it a little longer.
Buttermilk Sheet Cake
1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup water
4 tablespoons cocoa
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 beaten eggs
Boil for 1 minute the butter or margarine, water and cocoa. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Pour the hot mixture over the sifted dry ingredients, and add the buttermilk, vanilla extract and eggs. Mix ingredients well. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes in a greased 15x10x1-inch jelly roll pan.
Heat 1/4 cup butter or margarine, 2 tablespoons cocoa and 5 tablespoons buttermilk together. Remove from heat and add about 3 cups of powdered sugar. Frost cake. You may add nuts on top if desired.
I’ll miss you, Florence.
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