Catholic Food: The Little Things

by Kim Long

Not all groups are made of huge numbers. Not all endeavors must be large. These points were made known to me in a powerful, quiet way over the past 13 years by the group at our church known simply as “the Bible study ladies,” a small but faithful contingent of six (although when school holidays take precedence or someone has an appointment with a doctor our numbers can shift in either direction). Although we are a Bible study group, we alternate with other books as well. Currently we are working our way through Miriam’s Kitchen by Elizabeth Ehrlich, both a biography and autobiography.

Liz writes with a voice that changes and grows as she herself does. We meet Liz as a cultural Jew who falls in love with the only son of Holocaust survivors. This book works on several levels by telling us the story of Miriam, who in the fullness of time becomes Liz’s mother-in-law, and we see Liz grow in her faith, her marriage and motherhood from her lessons in Miriam’s kitchen. The book is flavored with recipes reflective of the Jewish liturgical year. We applied this to our own lives by taking the subject a bit wider and discussing how these paragraphs reflect our Catholic lives as women, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, granddaughters and daughters-in-law. The conversations are never dull.

One of our members is Winnie, a woman I have known since my early days in Catholicism. Cooking seems to bind us together. Twenty-six years ago my phone would ring and Winnie’s cheerful voice would ask me for a covered dish. Winnie and I served as part of the bereavement ministry. Now years later we are still exchanging recipes, lore and growing together in our faith. This past Wednesday, Winnie brought cake to our meeting, but not just any cake: Miriam’s cake! After finishing our session, Winnie announced “there is cake in the kitchen.”
As we quickly brewed a pot of coffee and set out cups and spoons, we oohed and aahed over the cake. Soon we sank our forks into “just a small piece” and then the room went silent – that cake was so good! I tasted the chocolate, the sour cream, the love Winnie stirred into it, the experiences of Miriam’s life and the wisdom of Liz and I heard a tune in my head: the Ray Conniff Singers crooning the chorus of one of my mom’s old favorites, “Love is the sweetest thing, what else on earth could ever bring, such happiness to everything…” My own mother, in heaven for many years, joined us for cake.

I don’t know if my “sisters” had similar thoughts swirling in their own minds as we feasted on cake and wisdom and cared for one another, but I can tell you this, we all shared a common bond of love.

Grandma’s Chocolate Sour Cream Cake – 1930’s

Cake Ingredients:
• ¼ lb sweet butter
• 2 ½ oz unsweetened chocolate
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1 ¼ cup cake flour
• 1 cup sour cream

Cake Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease pan well.  2) Melt butter and chocolate over a low flame.  3) Beat egg; add sugar and beat; add sour cream and beat.   4) Sift flour and baking soda together and mix.  5) Add melted butter and chocolate. Mix.   6) Bake at 350 degrees, if one tube pan, for at least 45 minutes; if two small layers, 325 degrees for 30 minutes.  7) Cool 10 minutes in pan on rack then turn out and cool for 10 minutes more on rack before frosting.

Frosting Ingredients:
• 3 ½ oz unsweetened baker’s chocolate
• 3 tbsp. sweet butter
• 3 cups sifted powdered sugar
• 1 tsp salt
• ¼ cup milk
• 1 tsp vanilla
•  dash of instant coffee

Frosting Directions:
1) Melt chocolate and butter over hot water or a very low flame.   2) Blend remaining ingredients and add hot chocolate mixture.  3) Let stand in a coolish place. Stir until right consistency.

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