Tag Archives: cake

Sauerkraut Supper 2011

By: Clare

Deep in the rolling Midwestern hills of Wisconsin, there’s a place called Middle Ridge. That’s where I grew up. Located on the top of the hill, right across from my house, is a Jewel. The Jewel of the Ridge, we call it. It’s our Catholic church, St. Peter’s. It’s stood proudly at the top of the hill since the late 1920s, I believe, and has since been inhabited by a great many German Catholic families. In the 1960s, the congregation of St. Peter’s held the first annual Sauerkraut Supper, which has been successfully held every year since then on the second Wednesday in October.

 My first memory of the Sauerkraut Supper is from when I was a four-year-old homeschooled kindergartner. Mary and I headed over with a handful of quarters and jumped in line for the cake walk. You bought some Tootsie Rolls and if I remember correctly, the one with a gold wrapper underneath the regular wrapper was a winner. After I won one cake, it just wasn’t enough, and I was hooked on the cake walk for life. I now have my own little schedule for the Sauerkraut Supper. Get off the bus, grab all the loose change off my dresser, and head straight for the cake walk.

  The cake walk, as well as everything else the Sauerkraut Supper has to offer, is run by parishioners of St. Peter’s who I know well. This meaning that I can usually coax and cajole them into letting me pick whichever cake I want. Sadly, the boy on the left made sure I didn’t get any special treatment. This special part of the Supper has kind of turned into a competition between the siblings to see who can win the most cakes, so I wanted to get the most cakes, as well as the best tasting ones. As it was, I ended up with 4 cakes and 1 container of cupcakes. That was good enough for me, knowing I would have to share, or just get my cake stolen, with the family.

 Truth be told, The Sauerkraut Supper is very popular with the elderly, and it honestly took me ten minutes to spot one young person in the considerable crowd. This is a little bit humorous. One elderly man won a cake by drawing the orange chip out of the box and decided to walk away with his chip instead of collecting his cake. His wife just shook her head and muttered something to herself. Another man who was old, and broken by hard work on the farm decided he wanted to give the cake walk a try, so he rudely hobbled over to his wife, poked her in the arm, and said, “give me some money for this”, and walked away with her wallet.

I had promised my friend that I would help her serve for a while before I sat down to eat. Now, usually I wait the tables after I finished eating, but I figured I might as well help out a little extra. I didn’t turn out to be very dedicated, and ended up taking quite a few lengthy breaks to the cake walk, and to run across the road to my house. It’s hard, waiting tables! I found out that I’m not very good at it either. I’m always getting into someone’s way, or forgetting something. Once I tried pouring an older man’s coffee and ended up spilling it all over the table! Many, many people attend our small church’s supper, a fact that I’m very proud of. We get well over a thousand people every year. They start out buying their tickets in the tent, where they can sit, visit with friends, and listen to some traditional polka music.

Or you can opt to sit in the church and wait for your ticket number to be called.

Once their number is called, they can head down to the church basement for a delicious meal, started off with some homemade pie. I know, dessert first? Yup, it’s just that great of a supper.

Mashed potatoes and gravy. Carrots. Some amazing sausage.

And of course, the very famous, sauerkraut.

One word. YUCK. It may be called the Sauerkraut Supper, but for me it’s all about the mashed potatoes and the sausage!

Although the meal is amazing, the real intrigue is behind the scenes, in the kitchen. This is not as true today, but when the supper comes around you’ll see many women in the kitchen who you don’t often see in church. But every October, they’re there, working hard. These strong, hard-working German women never sit down. Their all about the ‘kraut, and they put a lot of time and energy into the supper. For instance, a couple weeks ago I went over to church one day to help out cleaning the church in preparation for the supper. One older German lady decided she couldn’t stand up for much longer, and wanted to know if she could have a “sitting-down job”. One lady suggested that she just sit down and rest, and the look of dismay on this woman’s face when that was suggested was almost laughable. She couldn’t fathom taking a break. She never ended up sitting down by the way.

It took me awhile to summon up the courage to even go up to them and take them a picture. They seem like such intimidating people to me.W

When Mary saw this picture she said that even running into posts could not deter these German women from plowing right into their jobs. This is very  true. Too true, too true.

Half an hour before the supper ended, when things started dying down, I decided I couldn’t take standing up anymore and went on home. Hey, I’m proudly Irish, NOT German. And it shows.

Just before I crossed the road I looked back and realized I had forgotten something. There’s a horse chestnut tree by our church, and the horse chestnuts are all around the ground when the time for the Sauerkraut Supper comes. The kids used to have some pretty intense chestnut wars with them. I used to take these wars very seriously, and would walk across the road to stock up on chestnuts almost every day for about a week before the Supper, just so I was prepared. I realized that I hadn’t thrown one chestnut that day, and I knew I couldn’t leave my tradition in the dust. Bending down in the dark, I took a minute to fumble around and finally found a small chestnut. Scooping it up in my hand, I threw it across the road, reliving memories past. With my deed done, I contentedly walked back home with a stomach full  of great food, and hands smelling of ‘kraut.

Kate’s Chocolate Cake

by Kate

The forsythia is in bloom.

I fell in love with forsythia in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina in the early spring, when the mountains are blue and grey and white with fog. Before the green starts to steal over the hills the forsythia flames out through the mist, fiery and golden against the dull hues of chilly winter. Last year I noticed the flowers flaming into life as I trudged up the steep hills of Pittsburgh nine months pregnant and hoping to deliver at any moment, and I thought that if I had a girl I would name her Forsythia for this bright bud that explodes with color and dramatically ushers in the spring. I walked down to the river beneath my house and returned home with my arms full of woody stems three feet long, arranged them in a tall glass on the table, and waited for my baby to blossom.

Last year was warm, much warmer than this long cold spring, and the magnolia tree in the neighbor’s yard had burst forth in a lush cascade of blossoms. It was the perfect time for a baby.

We didn’t name her Forsythia, we named her Olympia Julianna.

Olympia is a saints name, after all- a perfectly respectable Greek widow, wise and appealing to my mother who was willing to tolerate eccentricity if it was appropriately linked to a powerful saint of some sort. Yesterday was Olympia’s birthday. It has been a beautiful year. My tiny blossom of a baby has grown into a curly haired staggering toddler, already dancing as she hurtles unsteadily across the floor.

There have been several birthdays already this past month, and Olympia has had ample opportunity to acquire a taste for chocolate cake. I have had ample opportunity to practice making the cakes. Baking is something I utterly neglected throughout my entire 20’s. When I began again as a newlywed bride I was grateful for the many hours I spent baking for my younger siblings as a homeschooler. I was also grateful for a magical cookbook that I received as a wedding present.

This cookbook is a compilation of recipes and a celebration of the life of Kate Hundt. The Hundt family are the royalty of the ridge where I grew up. When my family arrived, new and ragged and Irish and odd, they graciously reached out calloused and welcoming hands. Kate was an elegant and beautifulwoman, an incredible matriarch who raised 11 children on a windy remote ridge. The kids milked the cows and worked on the farm and then went on to a one room school in Middle Ridge, WI and then out into the world to study in Rome, join the peace corp, see the world . Some of the kids moved on to the big city, some of them stayed at home to continue ruling the ridge, battling it out between conventional and organic farming and all possessing an incredible intelligence, work ethic, and strength of personality. Kate was an artist in the kitchen and an amazing painter as well. The cover of the book features one of her paintings, and the pages are full of her artwork and stories gathered from her children and grandchildren, who are roughly as numerous as the stars in the heavens.

One of my favorite things about the cookbook is that it features journal entries that Kate wrote.

I love that the journal entries are a few lines each. This reminds me that I don’t have to write an epic sweep of pages every time I pick up my journal, an and encourages me to do it more often. I also love reading bits of life that remind me of the ridges and the people of home.

Inside Kate’s cookbook, I found what I consider at the moment to be the perfect chocolate cake.  This recipe was contributed by Kate’s daughter in law Dawn, a formidable matriarch in her own right. I have used it as a sheet cake for several birthday parties and festive occasions, and it has been an amazingly easy and consistent recipe. For Olympia’s birthday, I attempted to create a layer cake.

Looking back on my stint as a homeschooling baker, I seem to recall every single layer cake I made falling apart. I crossed my fingers and hoped that perhaps the years would somehow magically have imparted to me vital missing knowledge. This was not the case. Although the cakes coming out of the oven were as fragrant and moist and perfect as ever, my attempt to ease them out of the round pans onto the cooling rack was a disaster and they fell into several pieces. It looked like my barbarian brothers had attacked them, wresting away greedy fistfuls.  However! All hope was not lost. I was determined to try a new chocolate frosting at the request of my husband. The frosting (also from the Kate Hundt cookbook)  luckily turned out to have the thick rich consistency required to architecturally reconstruct the shape of a layer cake.

Having staved off disaster by spackling the cake back together, I needed to let it set. I knew the frosting would harden a bit at a cool temperature, but there was not even a remote chance I could fit the thing into my refrigerator. Luckily for me, this spring has been bitterly cold, forestalling all but the most determined blooming, and the afternoon was chilly with a good chance of snow. The back porch beckoned, but there is something about the thought of setting baked goods outside which perturbs me. I am not sure if this is because if this is because I am a country girl afraid that a stray chicken will attack it, or because as a child I read too many books involving hobos stealing pies from the open window of the pantry. I ignored my instincts, though, and put the cake out to cool and set. An hour later, I fetched it back in. The cold spring air had worked its magic, and the cake was almost perfect, except for the slight fact that my country girl instincts had been correct and a tiny corner of the thick chocolate frosting had indeed been attacked by one happy city mouse- or something. I sighed, and cut off that section of that cake, smoothed out the frosting, and gathered it up for the birthday party. I think that is what Kate Hundt would have done.

And so, Olympia had her birthday cake.

She was wildly appreciative.  Wild being the operative word.

Here is the recipe for the perfect chocolate birthday cake and thick, rich chocolate frosting.

Kate’s Chocolate Cake

4 squares unsweetened chocolate                1 t vanilla

½ stick butter                                                        1 2/3 cup boiling water

2 1/3 cup flour                                                       2 cups sugar

½ cup sour cream                                                 2 eggs

2 t baking soda                                                        1 t salt

Combine chocolate, butter, and water. Stir till chocolate is melted and smooth. Add remaining ingredients and beat till smooth. Pour batter in a greased 9×13 pan or 2 layer pans. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes depending on your oven. You want it to be beyond gooey, but still moist and not overdone. If you are making a layer cake, cool on wire rack at your own risk. If you have any tips on getting cakes out of pans onto wire racks, please please leave a message in the comments with advice on this matter.

A couple notes on ingredients. I often use baking cocoa instead of bars of baking chocolate. I finally researched the substitution ratio for cocoa/bar chocolate and it has been incredibly helpful to me because now I can switch back and forth at will. Sometimes I mix the two forms together to create an added depth of chocolate.  Here is the ratio:

1 square chocolate (1 0z) = 3 T cocoa + 1 T butter/oil/shortening

Haha! Who said homeschoolers can’t do math!

Also, I substituted buttermilk for the sour cream yesterday and it turned out perfectly. Now, onto the frosting.

Thick Chocolate Frosting

3/4  stick butter                                               1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 t vanilla                                                             2 squares unsweetened chocolate

2 egg whites                                                        dash salt

Cream butter and add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and blend. Add vanilla, melted chocolate, and salt. Mix well. Beat egg whites until stiff and gradually add remaining cup of powdered sugar, 2 T at a time. Beat after each addition. If you are incredibly motivated, beat till mixture stands in peaks. Fold in chocolate mixture.

A couple notes on this one. For some reason I rarely buy powdered sugar. I think it has some anti-caking ingredient that may be unhealthy but really I am just cheap and lazy. When a recipe calls for powdered sugar I simply pour some sugar into my coffee grinder and powder it. This works like a charm. As for the eggs- yesterday I discovered that when the eggs are warm, they whip up much quicker. I was using a wire whisk and doing it by hand, so this was an important discovery for me. I suggest setting the eggs you will be using for the frosting out when you begin baking- they will have ample time to warm up a bit.

And with that, I am going to head to the kitchen and cut a tiny slice of leftover birthday cake. Let me know if you have any questions, please tell me how to get the layer cake out of the pans without disaster, watch out for city mice and country mice and hobos. Good luck. Happy Birthday!


For more about the story of Olympia’s entrance into our lives, click here.

Blushing Brides and a Bitter Bagpiper


This weekend I played the harp for a thousand frenzied brides.

More accurately, I attempted to play with the baby on my lap, stood near the harp with my arm draped over it in an ornamental manner, and wandered around the floor of the convention center exploring the bizarre world of Bridal Shows, including a booty shaking boy band dancing to the Black Eyed Peas, one member of whom slipped and fell down on his aforementioned booty. This particular bridal show was held at the David L. Lawrence Convention center, named after the first (Irish!) Catholic governer of Pennsylvania. I am utterly ignorant regarding architecture, particularly modern, but I love the way the convention center swoops out over the Allegheny River, the huge glass vistas overlooking the water and bridges, and the way the convention center floor is illuminated by great shafts of light. So often indoor expositions are painful in part because you are walking around under eye busting flourescents all day in a clatter of painful ear piercing noises. Here, the glass rises up and lets in the sky.

All right, so my brief research into the history of the building does indicate that there was a fatal truss collapse just before it opened, followed by a section of the loading dock giving way under the weight of a semi and falling into the “water feature” below, all of which supports my distrust of fancy modern architecture.

Still, the sunlight did a nice job of illuminating a thousand frenzied brides let loose in a whirl of tulle, chiffon, rhinestones, pearls, slate coasters, and thousand dollar china.

The light created some particularly beautiful shadows.

Here is my favorite moment of calm in the midst of the storm.

Make no mistake, however, it was a storm. A storm of women of all shapes and sizes wearing convenient labels- bride, bridesmaid, mother of the bride- many of whom were tottering about in sky high heels. There is something about a bridal show that drives women to dress as though they are starring in their own personal romantic comedy. This meant lots of interesting fashions, and heels heels heels.

These red heels may have been the simplest and classiest pair there. By the end of the day there were multiple limping, barefoot women staggering around the floor, staring with glazed eyes at the confections, both pastry and dress varieties thereof. Last year I wore stilletos to this event. I was also eight months pregnant. I identify completely with the suffering of the staggerers. This year I was able to periodically set the baby down, which was preferable. I also enlisted the services of the Utter Romantic Christina, who was thrilled to help wrangle the baby and explore the convention center while dreaming about misty veils and place settings. She had roughly eight hundred thousand times more fun than my long suffering husband would have had being dragged to this event.

Christina was enthralled by the place settings

The various princess-like accoutrements

The peacock cake

And the flower arrangements dripping with crystals

Wait, what is that booth featured above called? Flowers in the Attic? Flowers in the Attic!? I am pretty sure that is a young adult novel featuring a very, very unhealthy interfamilial relationship between children locked in an attic. This is madness. Then again, the theme of the Wagnerian opera that Here Comes the Bride is lifted from is also about a horribly failed fiasco of a marriage between siblings. It is at this point that we hit upon the inescapable fact that American brides are pretty much insane, and I introduce my favorite part of the day: the Bitter Bagpiper.

When I arrived at my booth at the beginning of the Expo, the bagpiper who had been assigned to share it was already there, looking gloomy and glum and full of a deep Scottish malaise. He was dressed for the occasion from head to toe but looked deeply apprehensive and understandably tortured at the thought of sharing the next five long hours of his life with a roomfull of crazed brides in an explosion of chocolate and tulle. He expressed a deep desire to run full tilt to the nearest bar and take a couple of steadying shots, but instead, to my delight, he took comfort in a quart of Wisconsin Whisky. I think the milk did help him through, somehow.

There was something strangely comforting about having a bitter bagpiper to accompany the overpowering saccharine sweetness of a bridal show. All in all it was a great adventure, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly. I look forward to playing the expo again next year, and to never having to get married ever again.