Sentimental post alert.
I want to talk about my Grandma Marjorie.
She was my mom’s mom and she was a very interesting lady, to say the least.
Growing up with a family who’d lived and survived through the Great Depression (and being child #7 of 8), she never had new things or nice things. She had to use hand-me-downs or share, and somewhere in this lifestyle she developed a hoarding bug–and bad.
My childhood memories of my grandma consist of going to her house a couple times a week and spending a few hours over there while my mom visited with my grandma and grandpa. They lived in a nice little house only 10 minutes away from my own home, but because my grandma was sick most of my life (and my mom’s), they didn’t travel much.
Most of those memories are based around me finagling my way around the piles and mounds of stuff my grandma had collected over the span of many years, if not decades. The couches were filled with old newspapers, and there were makeshift tables constructed from aged National Geographic magazines, most of which were probably never read.
The family room was my “play room” where I’d spend hours building small homes for my Barbies, reading books or allowing my imagination to run wild. Blue & white and Norman Rockwell collector’s plates studded every inch of the walls. A huge hutch housed only a minor fraction of her ever-growing prized collection of vintage Beswick Beatrix Potter figurines, all hand-painted and looking as magical and dainty as the characters play in each of Potter’s books.
I was always intrigued by her “office” (or lack thereof): a room consisting of a door that only opened a fourth of its normal ability and revealed a mess of piled boxes, bags, magazines, and a mystery mass of junk that cleared an easy four feet tall. One day, I spotted a frog-shaped candle across the entire office and begged my grandma if I could have it. The caveat was that I’d have to cross the dangerous, uneasy terrain of stuff in order to obtain my coveted candle. I had a search party stand in the door frame in case I should be sucked in (I wasn’t, and I also got myself a frog candle).
My grandma wasn’t a very friendly woman, but she loved me and she loved my family. She and my grandpa would serve us slice ‘n serve ice cream–the checkered orange and vanilla kind, or spumoni–and we would make paper plate faces out of noodles that were probably, if I had to guess, from 1827. My grandma would let me watch All in the Family or The Price is Right with her, and she’d make the best green eggs, per my request, after Dr. Seuss’ famed ‘green eggs and ham’ recipe.
When my grandma died, I was only 10 years old. I didn’t stick around long while my mom and her siblings and my grandpa cleaned out the house, so I didn’t get dibs on anything truly “special.” I was able to snag a marble Dachshund figurine I’d always loved, as well as a beloved porcelain dog set I’d played with day after day which now sits on my desk, a constant reminder.
I also inherited the Beatrix Potter collection which I’d only previously thought consisted of that hutch in the family room and a small shelf in her bedroom. Turns out, that “collection” was a very broad word that expanded anything and everything donning Peter Rabbit and his fictional friends: from paper napkins, to cookies in a Peter Rabbit tin expiring in the 1970’s, to unused baby photo albums with the famed bunny on the cover.
As well as a huge collection of her prized Beswick figurines. All of the hundreds of them, all in mint condition.
It was a HUGE inheritance, one I did not understand. After careful consideration, I decided to sell the figurines and as much of the collection I could, using the money I received for my college education fund–something far better of use than a house full of figurines.
Sometimes I wish I would have held on to some of those fictional cuties–Jemima Puddleduck and Mr. Tod–but ultimately, I have an even greater gift than those material items (besides my dog figurines and a now-growing collection of jewelry my mom is generously sharing with me): recipes. You must agree, most recipes from grandparents are wonderful, delightful things that make us feel comforted and warm and fuzzy all over. Grandma Marjorie’s are no exception!
Grandma was known for her amazing spaghetti sauce–chock full of meat and spicy sausage and spiced to perfection, as well as her tender and pillowy green-colored scrambled eggs and her spicy chicken paprika. But if there’s one thing that screams “Grandma Marjorie” in the kitchen (other than old cans of kidney beans and blue plates on the walls) it’s coffee cake.
Her coffee cake RULED.
It’s sweet and spicy and warm and comforting and totally a staple in my household. I’ve been eating it since I was born and my mom has told me stories of how, as a kid, when my grandma made it, it was the best. And it still is. It’s a family favorite, one that’s near and dear to all of our hearts (and stomachs).
When we smell the signature scent of nutmeg and brown sugar uplifted in the air, we know something good is baking in the oven. And once it’s out, we’re pawing at the piping hot slices of cake, falling apart from the heat as we shovel it into our mouths. It’s the only coffee cake I like and the only one I’ll eat. Nothing compares. It’s THE. BEST.
I wanted to ask my mom for permission before sharing this recipe as I didn’t know if she wanted grandma’s recipes out and around the interwebs. But ultimately, my mom wanted everyone to enjoy this recipe as much as we do–no use in hoarding something everyone can truly enjoy–so here it is.
Grandma died on December 31, 2000 after a long battle of sickness spanning both my mom’s life and my own. And while she hasn’t been physically with us for eleven years (!!) now, every time we take a heaping spoonful of spaghetti or inhale a pan of coffee cake, we think of her. Her presence and her recipes will forever hoard my mind of wonderful memories as a child growing up in her house. And Nat Geo.
2 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup oil
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk mixed with 2 Tbsp white vinegar (also known as sour milk or buttermilk)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9×13″ baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients until combined. Add the flour and oil and mix with a rubber spatula or spoon until blended and moistened. Remove 3/4 cup of the dough and set aside. Add the beaten egg and the sour milk to the remaining dough and mix until blended. The batter will be lumpy.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan in an even layer. Sprinkle the remaining topping evenly over the top of the cake, using your fingers to break up the larger clumps of topping. Bake, uncovered, for about 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with light moist crumbs. Allow to cool for approx. 15-20 minutes before cutting into squares and serving. It’s best served warm, but can be reheated quickly in the microwave if needed. Store leftovers covered, airtight.
Miss you and love you, Grandma! I hope wherever you are there are plenty of comfy muumuus and bunnies that look like Peter.