June Sageser's request for Spanish Bar Cake intrigued several folks, including myself, who had never heard of such a cake. June remembers the dark spice cake from her childhood in the '50s and '60s and that it was sold in grocery stores.
Well, apparently it is an A&P thing. A&P, which stands for the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., is a 150-year-old grocery store chain now concentrated in the Northeast. At one time, its territory extended farther south and west, making it the first national supermarket chain in the United States.
A bit of trivia: In the 1930s, A&P pioneered the concept of self-service, meaning customers selected their own groceries without the assistance of a clerk.
As for the cake, a number of people made the A&P connection, such as Frances Freeman of Montgomery, Ala. She e-mailed, "My mom used to buy this at the A&P. After I married in 1955 I shopped A&P also and would buy it. It is very good. Would love to have the recipe."
I also heard from faithful contributor Ann Strawser of Arlington, Texas. She wrote, "I remember well buying Spanish Bar cakes at the A&P grocery many years ago in Circleville, Ohio, just down the street from J.C. Penney's where I worked until we started our family. It was my favorite — so moist with lots of raisins."
Ann shared a few recipes copied from The Columbus Dispatch newspaper in Ohio. Here's one, described as tasting exactly like the original.
Note: The batter also can be baked in muffin tins. Decrease the cooking time to 30 minutes.
A&P Spanish Bar Cake
Makes 9 to 10 pieces
1 cup raisins
1 1/4 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Glaze (recipe follows, optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8-inch cake pan or a loaf pan.
Soak raisins in hot water until plump. Drain.
Sift flour, soda, spices and salt together three times.
Cream shortening and brown sugar. Add egg and beat. Gently stir in applesauce. Add flour mixture in three additions, stirring after each addition. Gently stir in nuts and raisins.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 45 minutes.
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon water
Blend ingredients until smooth. Drizzle or spread over top of cake.
Ann Penegar of Atlantic Beach, N.C., and Hollywood offers another version from the Winston-Salem, N.C., newspaper.
Spanish Bar Cake
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup water
1 stick margarine
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
Cream-Cheese Icing (recipe below)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square pan.
Simmer raisins in the water until soft and plump. Drain, saving 2 tablespoons liquid to use in the recipe.
Melt margarine in saucepan. Remove from heat and add the sugar and 2 tablespoons raisin liquid; blend well. Stir in flour, soda and spices. Add egg and beat well. Lightly stir in plumped raisins until combined. Bake about 30 minutes.
Cool cake in pan about 5 minutes, then remove from pan and cool thoroughly. When cool, frost with icing.
Cream Cheese Icing
2 tablespoons cream cheese
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 to 3 tablespoons milk
In a mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, butter, confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Beat in milk 1 tablespoon at a time to make a thick, spreadable frosting.
Also thanks to Doris Tylee of North Charleston and Soraiya Wilkins, who works for SPAWAR Charleston.
Who gives a fig?
We do. Fig trees all over the Lowcountry now are bearing ripe, sweet fruit, which is a little bit of heaven for fig fans.
Unlike some other fruit trees, figs are easy to grow here. The Brown Turkey and Celeste varieties are the most common.
Carole Brier of Summerville asked for recipes to make good use of the figs she's picking by now.
For one, it occurred to me that the Spanish Bar Cake above could be made with coarsely chopped figs instead of raisins.
Paula Beckham of Murrells Inlet says she is a convert after trying this dish. "Never a fig eater, I now find myself looking forward to ripe figs so I can make this appetizer. It's loosely based on a dish I enjoyed at my very favorite Charleston restaurant and is a wonderful mix of sweet, savory and salty."
Figs Stuffed With Goat Cheese and Wrapped in Prosciutto
Use as many figs as you like. Remove the stems and split from stem end to base without cutting all the way through. Stuff with a small spoonful of goat cheese. Wrap each fig with piece of prosciutto and secure with a toothpick.
Drizzle with small amount of olive oil. Grill or cook in heavy skillet over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, turning occasionally, until prosciutto is lightly browned and cheese is melted.
Remove toothpicks, serve over lightly dressed mixed greens. (I use a balsamic vinaigrette.)
Jean Tschevlin of Goose Creek called in a quick recipe for jam:
Makes 2 1/2 pints
3 cups mashed figs
3 cups sugar
2 (3-ounce) packages strawberry gelatin (see cook's note)
Cook's note: Raspberry-flavored gelatin, even grape and orange, may be substituted.
Combine figs, sugar and gelatin. Let stand for 30 minutes for flavors to blend and a little liquid to form. Put mixture in a pot and bring to the boiling point — not a fast, rolling boil — and cook and stir for 5 minutes. Put in sterilized jars and seal.
Also thanks to Mary Larry of Charleston.
Tommy McGee, thank you, too! Tommy, a Post and Courier colleague, gave me a bag of fresh figs last week. They were greatly appreciated since my biggest tree is still going through transplant shock and is not all that productive.
That night, I tried this dessert, a recipe torn — oddly enough — from an issue of Fine Homebuilding magazine. Maybe it's not to everyone's liking, but it was an ideal marriage of flavors to me.
The recipe calls for Black Mission figs, which are larger and more manageable on the grill than what we grow here. However, I did manage by being extra gentle with the tongs.
Grilled Fresh Figs With Ice Cream and Honey
Serves 6 to 8
12 to 16 fresh Black Mission figs, stemmed and halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 to 2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 to 2 pints vanilla ice cream
About 1/2 cup honey
5 large mint leaves, thinly sliced (optional)
Heat the gas grill to medium low, or prepare a low charcoal fire (or use the dying embers of a charcoal fire).
Set the figs cut side down on a baking sheet, and brush the rounded side with the oil. Flip and brush the cut sides of the figs with the balsamic vinegar. In a small bowl, toss the sugar with the thyme, then sprinkle over the figs. Set the figs on the grill, cut side facing up.
Cover the grill, and cook until the sugary tops start to bubble and brown and the bottoms of the figs get light grill marks (without burning), 5 to 8 minutes.
Serve immediately over scoops of ice cream, drizzled with the honey and sprinkled with the mint if using.
A Summerville woman wonders if anyone has had luck cooking boiled peanuts in a slow cooker.
Yes, says Paula Beckham of Murrells Inlet and Jeff Fers-ner of Charleston.
From Paula: "I've done boiled peanuts in the slow cooker many times, and it really is the easiest way to cook them. My pot is relatively small (I believe it's 3 quarts), and it will hold 2 pounds or so of green peanuts. I then fill with water and add about 1/2 cup of kosher salt. Because the peanuts float, I usually put a saucer on top of them to weight them down a little, then put the lid on the slow cooker. It normally takes about 8 hours on low. To speed it up, start on high for an hour, then turn to low. About halfway through, I remove the weight and stir. Near the end of the cooking time, I'll test a couple of peanuts to see if more salt is needed.
"I've heard that newer cookers cook faster than my vintage 25-year-old pot so cooking times may vary."
Spicy Boiled Peanuts
2 pounds raw peanuts in shell
2 tablespoons crab boil
2 tablespoons cajun seasoning
1/4 cup salt
4 ounces, or to taste, jalapeno peppers, raw, canned, sliced or diced
Place peanuts in the slow cooker. Sprinkle in crab boil, cajun seasoning and salt. Cover with water. Stir in jalapeno peppers (with their liquid, if canned).
Cover and cook on low a minimum of 12 hours, or until peanuts float to the top of the water.
Who's got the recipe
--We're still in the hunt for Wanda Crosby of Round O for a spinach and artichoke dip recipe that tastes similar to the one served at Outback Steakhouse.