Make this cake once and you will understand why this was Granville sisters, Ms. Hallie Mai and Ms. Sallie B’s, go-to cake recipe. Since the 1920’s, this yellow cake recipe has been enjoyed at casual Sunday lunches and fancy dinners requiring multiple forks. This versatile recipe can be made quickly with common ingredients you have on hand and it is always delicious. Plus, it will give you serious braggin’ rights because it is “scratch made” and not from a pre-made mix.
I think you’ll appreciate the recipe more if you have a little background for the old fashion one layer cake. Over the years, it has been called the “anytime cake”, or simply the “yellow cake” and even sometimes called the “vintage cake”. I like to call it the “sister cake” as a reminder of the two southern ladies that passed down the recipe to me. Whatever the name, it is always good!
Back in the 1920’s in the South, ingredients were scarce. General stores could be miles away from the farm and the only means of transportation was a horse and wagon. And walking to Sutton’s General Store in Granville to shop for ingredients for a dessert simply did not happen. There were cows to be milked, gardens to be weeded and clothes to be hung out to dry. But, as Ms. Hallie Mai and Ms. Sallie B reminded us “Everyone likes just a bite of sweet to end the meal, but not too sweet”. Lucky for us, all of the ingredients in the sister cake were common ingredients and already in the pantry, so you always had what was needed. Whether it was baked in a cast iron skillet or a cake pan, it was quick to stir up, easy to make and the results always the same... good!
During the summertime, it was commonplace that wild blackberries were picked from the hillsides in Tennessee and the orchards on the farm provided apples, peaches and pears. The fruits were perfect as fresh toppings for the sister cake. And if it was a good year, there was enough fruit to be stored and served during the cold Granville winter months as a reminder of why we all looked forward to spring and summer. If you were lucky, you'd have fresh cream whipped a bit and dolloped on top of the fruit.
Some liked the cake best when served warm with butter. And chocolate lovers weren’t left out either… boiled chocolate icing poured over the top of the cake was a special treat. Are you getting the idea, yet? This cake could go from the kitchen table to the dining room just by changing the topping and presentation.
The importance of sharing a meal goes beyond the food, even beyond this cherished dessert. Some of my fondest memories growing up in Granville were centered around cooking and spending time together in the kitchen. It was an opportunity to catch up with each other about the day’s events, tell a couple tall tales and pass down the recipes from earlier generations. You could even say that these recipes have the power to unite families, honor our past and help young people celebrate their heritage. They are as important as any family heirloom we have.
But, let’s be honest, our grandchildren probably will not go through our old cookbooks, rummage thru recipe cards or read the recipe written on a brown paper bag. So, how do we keep these recipes and traditions alive? How do we share treasured family recipes with our grandchildren? With everything going on in the digital world today, we talk via Facetime and meet via Zoom. Instead of snapping beans on the front porch, we Snap pictures that disappear. So, I’m not sure I have the answer. However, I believe Ms. Hallie Mai and Ms. Sallie B would be pleased that four generations later my self-proclaimed “expert” tweenage cake maker was in my kitchen following their recipe, learning a little family history while baking the sister cake from the 1920’s. Maybe that’s it…everyone reading this blog is the answer. Whether in person or across your chosen platform, WE can still share recipes, spend some time together and tell some tall tales while baking the only cake recipe you will ever need.
The Original Recipe for the Sister Cake from the 1920s
Compliments of Sallie B Huff Stout and Hallie Mai Huff Clemons
1 cup lard
3 cups of plain flour
A pinch of salt
1¼ tsp baking powder
½ cup sugar
1 cup sweet milk (Whole milk)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix half the sugar with the egg yolks and in a separate bowl mix the other half of the sugar with flour, baking powder and salt. Combine the two bowls into a larger bowl. Beat the egg whites and add the stiff beaten egg whites in last. Bake at 350 degrees about 40 minutes or until golden brown.
Adaptation of the Original Recipe
Learned through trial and error using todays ingredients!
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (You can use self-rising, just leave out the baking powder and salt.)
1 ¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla
½ cup sugar (If you want it a little sweeter, use ¾ cup sugar.)
⅓ cup vegetable oil
½ cup whole milk
Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease an 8 or 9-inch round cake pan. With an electric mixer on high, beat sugar, eggs & vanilla for one minute to thicken. On low speed, add remaining ingredients but do not over-mix. (This should take less than a minute. It is a stiff batter.) Pour batter into pan and bake for 25-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. To prepare a layered cake, double the recipe.
For a denser short cake, like the original recipe, use the plain flour & other ingredients option. If you want a fluffy, more moist cake, use self-rising flour.
If using fruit as the topping, bake in a cast iron skillet for “just the right amount of crust”.
Eat at Sutton Store and experience country cooking with delicious homemade desserts made from Historical Recipes of Granville. Historic Granville is open Wednesday – Friday 10AM- 4PM and Saturday 10AM- 5PM. Sutton General Store serves country cooking Wednesday- Saturday 11AM- 1PM. Arrive about 10AM, go to Sutton General Store and purchase a town tour ticket for $5.00. Admission to all museums and historic buildings included with this ticket. Enjoy the Granville Whiskey Decanter Museum, Mayberry & I Love Lucy Museum, Whistle Stop Saloon, Clemons Car Museum, Post Office and Barber Shop Museum, Granville Museum, Farm to Table Museum, Sutton Homestead, Pioneer Village with an Antique Car Museum, 1880’s cabin, barns, vintage farm equipment and tools. During the month of October craftsmen will be demonstrating their craft in the village. An additional bonus in October is the Scarecrow Festival featuring unique and creative fall displays with scarecrows everywhere.