It started pretty innocently: ever since I moved to the west coast, 3 summers' worth of time, I've been awed by the fact that I can actually get Real.Cherries and Real.Figs and Real.Huckleberries. Sure, I'm happy about other things, too, but I got over my Salmon.Euphoria pretty quickly, and the catch in my throat when I round a bend and get a glimpse of Mt. Rainier is no longer accompanied by an audible gasp.
But the fruit? Still inspires actual hand-clapping. My latest thing is working up glazes for figs, running them under the broiler and then scraping the fruity, bubbly, steaming goo off onto a scoop of hard-frozen vanilla ice cream and then RUNNING to the couch to enjoy it mid-melt. If I trip, it's no good--pre-melt and post-melt are not the same experience, and plus, there's the mess on the carpet.
Last night I made some with orange juice and balsamic vinegar, and the flavor took me instantly to a childhood place: 711 E. 17th St. in Little Rock, AR, sitting on a counter stool at a bar with a yellow top and a boomerang pattern, watching my great-grandmother, Nanny, making Lane Cake.
I actually hated it. My little girl palate wasn't down with vinegar in a cake frosting, and Black Walnuts had some sort of acrid thing going on that alarmed me. And raisins? Meh. Too "lunchbox" to be on a cake. But somehow the taste memory lingered--like a happy virus lying dormant--and it came alive last night, transformed into something that made sense.
Turns out, though, that Nanny's recipe wasn't at all traditional. I've been poking around on the internet, and hers didn't have candied cherries or coconut or icing, per se. It was a vanilla-y, butter-y cake (well, oleo-y), and it had a cooked filling that featured vinegar, Black and English walnuts, pecans, and raisins that oozed out from between the layers and down the sides.
So what to do? I'm thinking of taking my fig/balsamic/orange thing and some of the other components of Nanny's cake and see if I can't come up with a hybrid. She was a great experimenter, so I feel certain she would approve.
First challenge: I'm not in the Ozarks. Where do I get Black Walnuts?