For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV)
Oh, how I love the first days of spring! For those of us in areas prone to cold temps and frozen precipitation, the chance to open the windows is a harbinger of warmer days. The fresh, damp air carries the songs of wren, robin, and finch. Blue jays screech their squeaky-door calls at the chattering squirrels. My eyes take in the green mist of trees coming to bud and grass renewing in the ditches. Loamy and rich, the smell of wet dirt whispers of unturned fields.
I grew up in midwest farming country. The landscape was flat and wide open, and we joked that the wind started in the Dakotas and didn’t stop until it reached Wisconsin. Temperatures at my home in Minnesota could dip to well below zero with windchills of -25° or colder, so imagine the joy when we had that midwinter thaw between spring snowstorms! As March passed and April came upon us, we would watch the frozen lakes for the ice to gradually darken — a sure sign that the surface was only inches, not feet, thick. This was the time to pour over seed catalogs, clean out the bird houses, and trim up the dead brush that hid the new growth sprouting around the house. A freshness slipped over the land and through the windows, inviting neighborly visits over cake served on a china plate and cups of steaming coffee.
It’s at this time each year, filled with thoughts of visiting and catching up, that I pull out the oldest recipes in my file box. These family recipes are clipped from the hometown newspaper or handwritten on cards or paper scraps by my grandparents, mom, and dad. I’ve tucked them in an envelope entitled “Old Recipes,” and if the house was on fire, they would be the one of the first things I’d grab. A Minnesota coffee time standard is chocolate cake with chocolate icing. My dad’s cousin Alice always seems to have a chocolate cake on hand or in the freezer that can be thawed out on the counter in an hour or so. Her words “Why don’t you stop by for coffee later?” speak of comfort, conversation, and catching up on the family news. In honor of this season we awaken from our winter hibernation and reconnect with friends and family, I invite you to bake our favorite chocolate cherry cake and top it with my mom’s (‘Bubbi’ to her grandkids) old fashioned boiled icing and invite a friend for cake and coffee time. A note on the icing — this recipe is from the 1950s, when you could buy chocolate chips in a 6 ounce bag. Use a heaping 1 cup measure of chips for the recipe.
For the cake:
1 box chocolate cake mix (I prefer a dark chocolate mix)
1 can cherry pie filling
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°. Spray sides and bottom of 9 x 13 pan with cooking oil.
Put the cake mix, pie filling, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl or use a stand mixer.
Beat on low speed for one minute.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat two more minutes.
The batter will be thick. Scrape the batter into the greased pan.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the cake springs back when you press it gently with your finger.
For the icing:
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk
1/3 c. butter
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Place sugar, milk, and butter in a heavy saucepan.
Cook on medium heat, stirring slowly with a wooden spoon. Scrape sides of pot while you stir.
Bring to a low boil, stirring and scraping the pot, and cook at low boil for three minutes.
Remove from heat, add chips and vanilla, and quickly stir until completely blended.
Pour the icing into a 4 c. pyrex bowl to cool a bit, stirring occasionally. The icing will thicken as it cools.
Pour on cooled cake and spread icing to the edges.
This recipe will cover the top of one 9×13 cake.
The featured image is courtesy of Annie Nardone and used with her generous permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Annie Nardone is a flannel-clad, cowboy boot-shod adventurer who seldom travels with a map because joy and surprise are discovered in the journey! Her sincere passion is the reintegration of the arts and humanities with theology and the Christian imagination. She holds a Masters Degree in Cultural Apologetics from Houston Baptist University and writes for Literary Life and the quarterly magazine, An Unexpected Journal. Annie resides in Virginia with her Middle Earth/Narnia/Hogwarts-loving family, and an assemblage of sphynx cats and feline foundlings who read with her daily. In a poll taken among friends, six things that characterize her include: books, C.S. Lewis, spontaneous adventure, Shakespeare, caffeine, and cats.