It's is NOT quite spring yet, despite the date on the calendar. The telltale signs are all there -- fat robins, buds on trees, blooming daffodils (Grandma's favorite) but the thermometer says otherwise.
As far as seasonal cooking goes, there's not much local flavor to be had. At times like these home cooks have to rely on the pantry or freezer for inspiration and that is what I am doing today with raisins. About.com sums up the history of the raisin like this:
"Raisins are simply dried sweet grapes, of course. Until medieval times, raisins were the second in choice as a sweetener, honey being the top choice. At one time in ancient Rome, raisins were considered so valuable that two jars could buy a slave. In the 13th century, Damascus had quite a reputation for their sweet raisins.
The majority of the world's supply of raisins comes from California, dried from Thompson seedless (95 percent), muscadine, or Black Corinth (Zante) grapes. In 1873, California suffered a devastating drought which literally dried the grapes on the vine. Looking to recoup some of the grape crop, an enterprising marketer in San Francisco sold the dried and shriveled grapes as "Peruvian Delicacies," and the California raisin industry was off and running.
Most raisins are dried naturally by the sun right in the vineyards, although some are mechanically dehydrated. Once sun-dried, a process taking two to four weeks, they are then graded, cleaned, and packed. Some raisins are kept golden in color by the use of sulfur dioxide (sulfites)."
A Google search for this cake brought up not only the English version one, similar to this recipe here, but a German and Russian cake as well. A few sites referenced the cake's popularity during WW II as pantry staples were scarce and raisins helped pull a basic cake into a more special place at tea time.
English Raisin Cake -- submitted by Alice Laub
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, creamed
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon soda
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/2 cups seedless raisins
1 teaspoon lemon extract
This cake can be baked in a loaf; tube pan, or cup cakes in a moderate oven. Loaf about 30 minutes, tube pan 45 minutes, cup cakes 20 minutes.
The cake batter came together easily....as you know, the instructions are cryptic like many of the other recipes I've tried....tacit understanding again comes into play. I whipped the butter first, added the sugar and eggs and stopped. I then sifted together all of the dry ingredients and added them into the batter in an alternating fashion -- beginning and ending with the dairy (I opted to use yogurt instead of sour cream). I then added the raisins and extract plus the zest of one lemon for good measure. I greased a loaf pan (one of Grandma's Pyrex cast-offs) with the butter wrapper and then slipped it into a 350 degree oven.
Ms. Laub should have mentioned that the recipe makes TWO loaves, not one because the very-full pan was threatening to overflow the pan within five minutes of baking time. I hurried and pulled it out of the oven and spooned a good portion of the batter into two mini-loaf pans. Whew! I ended up adding an extra 15 minutes to the baking time until the toothpick came out clean. The mini-loaves were perfectly done and the large loaf a bit overdone (due to the Pyrex material).
Excellent! Mrs. Laub knew how to economize but yet achieve great taste. Reminiscent of soda bread yet a bit like pound cake, this one would be great to take to a picnic, gathering, or to serve at breakfast. Not too sweet, not too savory -- this is a cake that will be a permanent fixture in my files. Yum!
Soup Can Score -- Five cans out of Five