So many stories surround the Irish: luck, gold, rainbows. My grandma was Irish, and for years, her story has fascinated me. As a young woman, she went to the University of South Dakota. It was rare for a woman from a farming family to attend college in the early twentieth century, yet she received her teaching certificate and taught in Salem, SD. Besides being a teacher, she was a mother and an avid journal writer. Unfortunately, when she died, her journals were discarded. I wish I had those journals now. I have many of her pictures, which tell their own tales. She labeled them, commented on them, and glued them to comic strips like Flapper Fanny. My memories of her are like that: random, incomplete, surprising.
She wasn’t a conventional grandma. I never ate cookies at her house. I watched Perry Mason, though, and ordered as much ice cream as I wanted from the delivery man. Her husband died young (long before I had a chance to meet him), and she was widowed longer than she was married. She and her two sisters were fond of playing cards and drinking beer. Hell-raising never interfered with Sunday Mass, however, and Grandma always had a spare dollar to give or candle to light for someone who was in need. The family worried about her house burning down because of her love affair with candles, papers, and books. When she passed away, my dad and his three brothers split up her book collection. When my dad died, my sister and I split up his collection. That tells you how much she read.
My dad told lots of stories about my grandma, but one of my favorites was the story of Grandpa publishing a notice in the newspaper. Grandpa stated, very pragmatically, that he would not be responsible for Grandma’s debts. They were in an argument at the time, and he did not want to be liable for her bills. When I remember the story, I smile because it matches what I knew about her. She ordered lots of magazines and books. I have a treasure trove of Time Life books from her collection, and her house had to be sold before her Fingerhut bill could be paid.
But it’s the kind of funny, surprising tidbit I’ve come to expect from her story, and I think that’s why I like it so much. Whenever I look at old pictures or peruse online newspaper databases, I find something surprising—a fact that doesn’t fit or shouldn’t be there. In some ways, her life is a great mystery to me. Recently, for instance, my sister shared Grandma’s recipe for Hot Milk Sponge Cake. The name alone is intriguing. More intriguing is the thought of grandma baking. (I remember her overcooking noodles once!) But I was able to replicate the cake and thought I’d share the recipe with you for St. Patrick’s Day. Even if you’re not Irish (according to a DNA test, I’m 18%), I hope you enjoy this easy recipe from my Irish grandma!
Hot Milk Sponge Cake
4 eggs 1 tsp. salt
2 c. sugar 2 tsp. vanilla
2 c. sifted flour 2 tsp. baking soda
2 tbsp. butter 1 c. milk (2% or whole)
1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour pan. (I used a Bundt pan.)
2. Beat eggs. Gradually add sugar, beating until fluffy and light colored.
3. Combine flour, baking powder, salt. Add to egg/sugar mixture.
4. Add vanilla.
5. Heat milk and butter to almost boiling. Stir quickly into batter.
6. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until cake springs back.
If desired, ice or serve with fresh fruit.