Because of buttermilk.

By Anita Garner

This whole thing started because there’s buttermilk in the fridge.  I can only go so long without a batch of buttermilk biscuits or tart/not sweet cornbread. I need to go make some biscuits today, sturdy ones, the kind I grew up with. I’ll never cast aspersions on the fluffier, grate-a-stick-of-cold-butter kind, but when a biscuit’s also a memory, there will be Crisco inside. The skillet will be preheated with a dollop of bacon grease and the tops will have a slight dent so they can be brushed with more bacon grease.

A few years back I bought a set of biscuit cutters at Sur Le Table in Corte Madera, a store where even a person like me who only cooks occasionally can spend a day just looking through stuff.  These babies cut everything from little tea size nibbles to much bigger ones.  This makes me the only member of my family I know of who’s ever bought biscuit cutters.

The people who raised me cut biscuits with their favorite glasses or jar rims or a special-sized can with both bottom and top cut off, so the dough wouldn’t stick inside.  A tea-sized biscuit from Daddy’s mother in Arkansas would be cut with a Kraft Pimento Cheese jar she kept for that purpose.  Mother’s mother migrated to Southern California but stayed with her favorite iced tea glass for shaping.

Our people made all kinds of biscuits.  Some of the aunts were celebrated for their risin’ biscuits.  Church potlucks featured Angel Biscuits, made with a touch of yeast.  At home, our biscuits had work to do. They were a warm breakfast in the morning, then brown paper bags carried them to school stuffed with chunks of ham or dry salt or fried Spam. Put the bag on the cloakroom shelf above the coat pegs and it gets slicker during the morning. Nothing says dinner (our midday meal) will be delicious like serious grease stains on your lunch bag. A dry biscuit was never found in our house.

When I make this batch, I won’t use the cutter for all of them.  I’ll save out a piece of dough and hand-form it, leaving it bumpy on top.  It’ll be the biggest one, the Cat Head biscuit (named for just what you think, because it’s big as a cat’s head.) Mother sprinkled her Cat Head biscuit with cinnamon sugar.  Daddy cut his open at dinner time to sop up something with it. I’ll go for blackberry preserves on mine this afternoon.

Tall glass of iced coffee, dash of cream.  This morning’s memory is brought to you by buttermilk in the fridge.  It doesn’t take much more than that these days.

******

New category: Things I haven’t cooked in ages.

By Anita Garner

Depression Cake
(Recipe below)

We made this as far back as I can remember.  Churchwomen shared the recipe. It showed up at every potluck.  They called it Depression Cake.  I wasn’t around during The Great Depression. i was born into post-war rationing and my family counted pennies but we always seemed to have the ingredients for this when we needed a treat.

The recipe requires no eggs or milk or butter or oil and the cake turns out soft and moist and delicious.  Mayonnaise is the magic ingredient. You won’t taste the mayo, but you may decide this is richer than most chocolate cakes.

Grandma made it in California.  Mother made it in the Deep South.  My brother and I cooked as soon as we could reach the stove and we made it too.  Leslie Ray and I made it Sunday night after church and ate it straight from the pan.  You get to call it snack cake when it stays in the pan, which means you can take a forkful every time you pass by and no one’s going to complain about the edges.

I didn’t frost this one.  We had a smidge of confectioners sugar left
in the baking drawer, so I sifted it on top.

You already know what frosted chocolate cake looks like, but here’s a picture anyway because cake with frosting is pretty.

This recipe isn’t super-sweet, therefore according to  snack cake rationale it isn’t only for dessert. I know someone who had it for breakfast this morning.

Bonus picture from a show-off who topped theirs
with cream cheese spread.

DEPRESSION CAKE RECIPE

One big mixing bowl.  One spoon.  One pan.  I used 8 x 8.
Heat oven to 350.  Grease pan.  If you use a different size pan, watch your baking time.  Bake about 25-40 minutes depending on oven and depth/size of pan.

About a cup of boiling water. Include a splash of brewed coffee in this measure.
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder.
(Add a few chocolate chips if you like. I didn’t use any.)
2/3 cup mayo
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda,
3/4 cup granulated sugar. (May need a bit more)
1 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
I added some chopped walnuts. (I put them in everything.)

Bring water to a boil.  You may only need 3/4 cup, so make brewed coffee part of your first 3/4.  Save the rest of your water in case you need it.

Put cocoa powder (and chocolate chips if you’re using them) in a large mixing bowl. Pour 3/4 cup hot water over your chocolate and leave it to melt for a minute, then mix together.

Stir in mayonnaise, salt, baking soda, 3/4 cup granulated sugar until smooth.  Stir in vanilla, then the flour.  Mix it very well until lumps are gone.

This is where I taste and decide whether to add a bit more sugar.  I often need another sprinkle. If the mixture is too stiff to pour, drizzle water until it’s the consistency you know a thick cake batter should be.

Pour the batter into greased pan.  Bake until center springs back when lightly pressed.  Our oven is old and finicky so I set a timer for 20 minutes, use the toothpick test, then turn the pan to finish baking.

******

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handsome maverick on The Glory Road

By Anita Garner

Most of the evangelists and pastors and performers in our circle of friends in the Deep South were snappy dressers in suits and splashy ties and starched dress shirts.  Daddy was one of them.  From the late 40’s to early 50’s, there were lots of double-breasted suits in our family albums.

Reverend Raymond Jones snapped by a street photographer
Wichita, Kansas, 1940’s

When he wasn’t wearing one of his signature hats, Daddy refreshed his shiny pompadour with Brylcreem.  Here he is with other evangelists.

Brother Daly and Daddy in Texas

Brother Franks and Daddy in Oklahoma

Enter Reverend Denver Ogden.  Here’s one of his publicity postcards, mailed out before  his appearances at churches and revivals and other gospel events.  He preached and sang and played multiple instruments like all of them did, but away from the pulpit he changed into flowing shirts with full sleeves and taught art classes.

As he traveled the Southern states with art supplies and a wardrobe unlike any we’d seen, his personal following grew. Women turned up in droves when he arrived. Even his name belonged on a movie poster. Everyone had a crush on Denver Ogden.

Our own Mother decided to brush up on her sketching and charcoal drawing and painting skills with him.  Yes, there was a Mrs. Ogden and she was a sweet soul.  We spent time with both of them, getting together every time we were within hailing distance of the same state, but there was only one star in that family.

During one especially hot and humid summer in the Deep South, when a bunch of evangelists and performers gathered to attend a big Singing, my brother and I gained a measure of respect for his unusual ways.  Out on the grounds during a sweltering afternoon, while the other men sweated in long sleeved shirts and ties, Denver Ogden appeared in short sleeves, carrying his jacket, which he  put on only when he stepped onstage. We’d never seen such a thing in all our years as little gospel gypsies. a preacher without a starched white shirt.  Fortunately, Mother was nearby (probably just a coincidence) to take this picture.

Somebody in our group was bound to challenge the rules someday.  We kids were proud it was someone we knew.  Denver, you short-sleeved rascal.  You rule-breaker.  You Errol Flynn, James Dean, Marlon Brando of evangelists.  We preacher’s kids, we future rule-breakers, salute you.

******

Working 9 to 5. Then 8 to 2. Vintage Los Angeles.

By Anita Garner

Early 1960’s. Mardi Gras Room, Park Wilshire Hotel near MacArthur Park, Los Angeles.  The former Nita Faye Jones, now Anita, with Barry Townley of The Barry Townley Trio. 

There was almost no time lapse between graduating Herbert Hoover High in Glendale and singing all night in clubs.  I was underage, wore tons of make-up and turned my natural red hair blonde, spending hours in a salon every month to keep it that way.

Step down from Wilshire Blvd into this hotspot. Seats on the right faced the stage. It was packed even on weeknights. 

A nightclub singer’s wardrobe was flashy. Feathers. (There are feathers on the bottom of that white dress and the bottom isn’t far from the top.)  Sequins.  Fancy fabrics.  Much of my paycheck went to a little shop in Beverly Hills where I made layaway payments.

The pay for a singer back then?  Not enough to afford the clothes.  Many of us worked two jobs.  I was a skinny teenage girl burning the candle at both ends. My day job was to try to look good at a front desk in the  plush lobby of a high rise in downtown Los Angeles.  I was a lickety-split typist but I didn’t tell them that because I doubt I could have stayed alert enough to complete a task, so I just sat there.

The company was LAI, Lockheed Aircraft International, where military officers from other nations came to negotiate the purchase of aircraft with a team of LAI attorneys.  My job was to smile and greet them and push buttons to summon their hosts and translators.  Through translators, we chatted. They loved music and wherever I sang, there they were.

So – all day in an office, then change clothes and sing until 1 or 2 AM, then drive home, try to sleep, wake up to lots of coffee and do it all over again. it took a while before I made enough from singing to stop the day jobs, but eventually every bar and restaurant featured musicians and a singer and times were good for live music all over Southern California.

I don’t remember back then ever having a single conscious thought about my work in clubs having anything to do with rebelling against my upbringing.  It was just something I knew how to do.  I grew up performing with my family.

I’m still surrounded by boxes of photos for my book project.  Pictures do bring up stories. I’m telling this one to say, well I’ll be damned,  there’s much in  common here with my mother.  Fern Jones took her guitar into a radio station when she was 12 and they were glad to give her a show.  By the age of 14, she lied about her age to sing in honky-tonks, then went to work with a big band. Then she met Daddy.

Because of Daddy’s religious beliefs, I was raised with no makeup, no going where liquor was served and pretty much everything else a young woman wanted to do was a sin. These days I look at pictures of teenage Fern and it’s apple, meet tree.