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Women Are Gatherers

I think about Delta Sweeney a lot, especially when I’m baking. She and her husband, Douglas, lived around the corner from us, in the old Mansfield house. Miss Delta was short and pudgy; Mr. Douglas was short and round. I remember him going to, and coming home, from work. And eating all of his weekday meals inside a slanted, enclosed sun porch, on a worn, leather recliner that had been placed in front of a folding food tray, and an old television set. In stark contrast to the rest of the spotless house, Mr. Douglas’s sun porch was littered with timeworn newspapers and fishing magazines, and smelled like a years-worth of cigar smoke.

Miss Delta was an expert multi-tasker. She would wash the dishes, iron the clothes, sweep the floor, dust the living room, and hold Mama a detailed, womanly conversation, all at the same time. Everything in her life seemed to center on Mr. Douglas’s comings and goings. She would say things like, “Better start supper, Sweeney’ll be home soon.” Or, “I better plate Sweeney something. He likes to nibble on something sweet while he’s waitin’ on his dinner.”

I don’t remember Miss Delta for her home baking; especially, for her home-baked sweets. When I think of her culinary skills, what comes to my mind, are her delicious soups and stews, her well-seasoned meats, her delectable stove-top corn breads, and her beautifully laid out shelves—they were always full of store bought cookies, candy boxes, and packages of store-bought pie crusts. I also think about her wonderful ability to take a store-bought dessert and rearrange it so that it looked, and tasted, homemade. For instance, she would add chopped nuts and fruits to store-bought cookie dough and you would never know that she hadn’t made the cookies from scratch. She would buy plain cupcakes and top them with her own glaze, to give them a warm and delicious, and homemade look and taste. And she would run the backside of a large spoon around the edges of her store-bought frozen pie crusts, to give them that homemade look and taste. Sometimes, she just trimmed off the machine-made crimps on frozen pies, altogether, and fashioned her own. I remember Miss Delta saying that most of her sweet things came from farmer’s markets and Mom and Pop bakeries. Now that I’m older, and a home cook myself, I realize that those are the places that carry the best smelling, and looking, hand-made goods.

One day. while my mother and Miss Delta sat in the living room, having one of their wifely conversations—Miss Delta was older than Mama, and gave some enlightening, womanish, insights—I remember sitting at Miss Delta’s kitchen table, munching on a helping of the delectable store bought treat that she had set in front of me—if I’m not mistaken, she had placed a dollop of softened, vanilla ice cream between two soft, store-bought oatmeal cookies, and called them ice cream sandwiches—and thinking that one day, I would buy all of my desserts from the store and refashion them, the way that Miss Delta did, so that they would taste and look delightful. And homemade.

Mama knew pies, and she knew that Miss Delta had made hers with store-bought fillings and store-bought crusts, but she would tell me that once Miss Delta put her special touches on hers, she made the best homemade pies in town.

Once, my mother said to me, “For one reason or the other, not all women cook. If a woman doesn’t cook, that’s okay; as long as she knows where to go to get good-looking food, and how to arrange it in her cupboard, so that it looks good to eat.” For me, the statement clarified so much of what I loved about Miss Delta’s deliciously-arranged, store-bought cabinets, and it enlightened me further, about the influence that good scratch food, made on a person’s mind. It was suddenly clear to me—that men were natural hunters…and that women, by nature’s design, were food gatherers. Good cooks, are the women who know how to stock their shelves in an alluring way…they know how to plate their food so that it looks and smells enticing. And if they don’t cook, they know what to gather, and where to shop to get it. Women are gatherers.

This after-work pie is perfect for working women who want a quick and easy dessert to accompany a week night meal, and stay-at-home women who are raising small children, and need a Zen moment away from it all. Men love this pie. But we all know that we shouldn’t tell one all of our little secrets…in other words, he may love the pie, but he doesn’t have to know how easy it was for you to make.

Delta Sweeney’s Homemade Store-Bought Apple Pie

For The Apple Pie
2 store-bought 9-inch pie crusts (the boxed kind)
1 large egg white
2 (21 ounces) cans of store-bought apple pie filling
½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

For The Apple Pie Glaze
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon milk or heavy cream
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the apple pie filling and brown sugar. Gently, blend the brown sugar into the pie filling. Sprinkle the mixture with the ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg. Gently stir in the vanilla extract. Line a glass pie plate with the bottom pie crust. Brush it with the egg white to keep it from getting soggy. Let the egg white dry. Spoon the seasoned filling into the pie crust. Dot the pieces of butter, evenly, over the entire pie. Unfold the second pie crust over the apple pie filling. Trim the overhang to about ½ to 1-inch. Fold the top and bottom crust edges together, folding them downward, to create a seal around the edges of the pie. Using your fingers, or the tines of a fork, crimp the edges. Brush the top of the pie with the glaze.

To make the apple pie glaze, in a small bowl, whisk together the large egg yolk and milk, or heavy cream if you desire. Whisk well. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar and the ground cinnamon (the ground cinnamon is optional), until the mixture is well-combined. Lightly brush the egg yolk mixture over the top of the pie. Evenly sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture over the top. Using a small paring knife, cut 3 to 4 slits in the top of the pie to allow the steam to escape. Place the pie on a baking tin to catch any spilling. Then, put it in the preheated 350-degree oven. Bake the pie at 350 degrees, for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the pie is nicely browned and the filling is bubbling through the slits. Take the pie out of the oven and let it cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

NOTE: You can fit the pie with a pie shield, or a ring of tin foil to prevent the edges from over browning. Also note: I glaze the tops of all of my double-crust pies, to get the pretty shine and rich color that sets a good pie apart. Sometimes, when I take my double-crust pie out of the oven, I thin ¼ cup of light corn syrup with a small amount of hot water, and brush the tops with the mixture, then sprinkle it evenly, with about 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar. I put the pie back in the oven for a couple of minutes, just to let the mixture set.

Makes One double-crust apple pie.

Six Flavored Pound Cake

Delicious and Tender

Delicious and Tender

Six Flavored Pound Cake

When I don’t have a certain extract that this cake recipe calls for, I exchange the flavor for another. My cousin, Renee, makes a five-flavored pound cake that’s out of this world delicious. I’ve seen flavored pound cake recipes that call for as many as seven different flavors of extract. I’ve seen recipes that call for four, three, two, and of course, one flavor of extract—everything in life, really does depend on what you like…from pound cakes to men.

This is a delicious cake, with a tasty, crusty top, and a moist and tender crumb. People won’t know what combination of spices you’ve put in the cake; the extracts meld together nicely, and form one amazing flavor.

For The Cake
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup vegetable shortening
3 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon rum flavored extract
1 teaspoon butter flavored extract
3 cups sifted cake flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup evaporated milk

For The Six Flavor Glaze
¼ cup water
½ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon lemon extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon coconut extract
½ teaspoon rum flavored extract
½ teaspoon butter flavored extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube or Bundt pan. Tap out the excess flour. Set the pan aside.
To make the cake, in a large bowl, combine the unsalted butter and vegetable shortening, Cream the mixture together, until it is smooth and creamy. Beat in the granulated sugar until the ingredients are light and fluffy. Add the large eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla, lemon, almond, coconut, rum, and butter extracts, blending well, after each extract addition. In a separate bowl, combine the cake flour, baking powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk together the ingredients until they are thoroughly combined. Gradually, add the flour mixture alternately with the evaporated milk, to the unsalted butter mixture. Begin with the flour mixture and end with it. Mix well. Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake pan. Place the pan in the preheated 325-degree oven. Bake the cake at 325 degrees for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until the cake is cooked through, and the top of it springs back when you lightly touch it with your fingertips. Remember, every woman’s oven cooks differently. Take the cake out of the oven. Let it cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Take the cake out of the pan. Place it, right side up, on the wire rack. Put a sheet of waxed paper beneath the rack to catch the glaze drippings. Prick the top of the cake with the tines of a fork. Carefully spoon the Six Flavor Glaze on top of the warm cake. Let the glaze soak in, and drizzle down the sides of the cake. Let the glazed cake rest for about 15 to 20 minutes, before carefully moving it to a cake platter. Let the cake cool completely before serving.

To make the six flavored glaze, while the cake is baking, in a heavy saucepan, combine the water and granulated sugar over low heat. Stir constantly, until the granulated sugar has dissolved. Add the vanilla extract, lemon extract, almond extract, coconut extract, rum flavored extract, and butter flavored extract. Over low heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, until the ingredients are combined and fragrant. NOTE: Some cooks prefer to glaze their six flavored cakes while they are cooling in the pan. When the cake is completely cooled—in the pan—they remove the cake, glazed side up—and transfer it to a cake platter. Also, the glaze is an important component of the deliciousness of the cake. I know the addition of all of those extracts sounds a little bizarre, but they really do come together nicely. You can omit some of the flavorings, or change them to lesser amounts, but do not omit them altogether.

Makes One 10-inch tube or Bundt cake

Cherry Cobbler

Cherry Cobbler

Cherry Cobbler

Cherry Cobbler

My childhood friend, Benita Gomez, gave me the recipe for fruit cobbler years ago. As I recall, Benita was the kind of pretty girl who talked incessantly about men and marriage, and how neither would take her zest away. I remember walking home from school with Benita , and her telling me that she was going to be the kind of wife who would keep her dark hair, long and sweeping, and smelling like oranges— Fidel Santiago, who loved oranges, was the boy of her dreams…actually, Fidel Santiago, tall and built, was the boy of every girl’s dreams. Benita would tell me that she was going to be the kind of wife who always wore gorgeous outfits—even to bed—and that she would cook delicious meals, and set beautiful tables, every day.

Years later, I still enjoy Benita’s company—she has grown into the kind of woman who gives a well-rounded talk…fashions, politics, electronic innovations, music, and how to keep a husband satisfied. Like she said she would, Benita kept her hair long, and has a standing appointment with her hair stylist to keep it dark and fashionable, and smelling faintly, of spiced oranges. To be truthful with you, she is so kept up, she is the kind of woman that I prefer to visit when my hair and nails are freshly done.

Benita and Fidel are married now, despite his bachelorhood forays with bottled-blonds, brunettes, and dark-skinned girls, and like she promised all those years ago, she sets an enviable table, every day, replete with cloth napkins and fresh garden flowers. Benita also keeps a spotless house, with closets full of her husband’s neatly hung shirts and pants, and his bureaus full of ironed socks and underwear. Some women are just designed to be housewives; some women are designed to woo their husbands with pressed clothes and gilded table settings. I’ve heard them say, those are the kind of women who make the best wives.

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 20-ounce can cherry pie filling (you can use any 20-ounce flavor of pie filling)

In an oven set at 250 degrees melt the butter in a 9-inch-by-13-inch glass dish.
In a medium-sized bowl with a spout, mix together the granulated sugar, all-purpose flour, and baking powder. Mix well. Stir in the milk and vanilla extract. Stir until the mixture forms a smooth batter. Take the dish out of the oven when the butter has melted. Pour the batter evenly over the melted butter. Do not stir. Gently spoon the pie filling down the middle of the batter. Do not stir. Turn the oven temperature up to 350 degrees. When the oven has heated to 350 degrees, about 10 minutes, put the cobbler in the oven. Let it bake for about 30 minutes, or until it is golden brown and some of the batter rises around the cherries. Take the cherry cobbler out of the oven. Serve it warm, with a dollop of fresh, whipped cream, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Makes one 9-inch-by-13-inch cherry cobbler.

I’ve Got A New Man

Mama once told me, “Until you learn a man—what makes him laugh, what makes him angry, the punch lines in his jokes, how he carries himself around others—it’s not good to go all-out public with a new man, right off the bat. Spend some alone time with him first, while you’re gettin’ to know his way.”

She went on to tell me about her girlfriend, Aunt Lenore, and Aunt Lenore’s beau, Buford, and how in tune Aunty Nore was with Mr. Buford. Mama said Aunt Lenore had studied Mr. Buford so thoroughly, at times they seemed to be so connected, you couldn’t tell where Aunt Lenore ended, and Mr. Buford began. Said, when they were out, Aunt Lenore didn’t bat an eye when Mr. Buford flashed his teeth in some other woman’s face or complimented the woman’s hairstyle, ‘cause Aunty Nore understood that hospitality was embedded in his nature.

Well, I have a new man in my life. He’s a musician; plays the bass. He’s one of those manly, chivalrous, kind of men—I suspect, he’s using his chivalry on me, the way I’m using my Chanel No. 5 and my cooking, on him.

I’m at the point in the relationship where I’m getting to know what makes him tick; I’m learning him. Truth told, I’m also waiting to see—as my grandmother would say—if he’s gonna show his ass. For now, I’ll just call him, “Harris”.

Meanwhile, I’m getting my things in order. I believe a woman can softly and quietly communicate sensuality in all of the aspects of her life—her house, her car, her office, and of course, through her kitchen prowess. You have to do it in subtle ways though; cause I believe most men, pumped up by the so-called man shortage chatter, walk into new relationships believing the woman already has a wedding dress and white, satin pumps hidden in the back of her chiffonnier. That’s why I say, with a new man especially, it’s best to act a little indifferent, nonchalant, sometimes. My mother used to say, “You
shouldn’t let any man, not even your husband, get too confident about your love for him. Most men enjoy the chasing, just as much as they do the catching; most of em’ll treat you better if you pull back from time to time.”

Anyway, back to Harris. I’m culling through my storages and pulling out all of my womanish bling—the kinds of trinkets that men like to see and hold; the kinds of culinary-object charms that speak to their manly sensibilities—consciously, and unawares. At the moment, I have my stuff laid out on the kitchen table; it’s so much fun picking through it, and trying to decide when and how I’m gonna use it.

To tell the truth, I’m excited to have a new man in my life. Especially one that’s manly and chivalrous. For some reason, the mannerisms in a mannish man, always brings out more of my womanish. When he flexes his muscle, I bat my eye.