Real Cooking

On one of our last excursions around the state following Meg’s softball team, The Crush, Keith, Alex and I found ourselves on a field trip of sorts to the Russell Stover factory in Abilene.

Over the summer, it had become a habit for team members and their families to find these little “educational moments,” as we came to call them, to fill the time between games.

So, when we found ourselves in a two-day tournament in Abilene, we took the girls-along with a slew of their friends and relatives-and invaded the local chocolate factory.

Even though I had been aware that Russell Stover had an outlet store at their factory in Abilene, I had never been in it.

Oh, my….

We swarmed into the outlet in a sea of florescent orange shirts. If the team’s signature color hadn’t alerted the salesclerks that The Crush was there, the oohs and ahs of a dozen kids as they caught sight of the sample table probably did the trick.

There, laid before us, was a 10-foot long table laden with trays of free candies and other goodies. Chocolate-covered almonds, 20-pound boxes of Russell Stover fancy chocolates, peanut and almond brittles and chocolate chip cookies. For those counting calories or with dietary limitations, sugar-free treats were available, too.

As the girls and their moms fell on the table, I heard one of the dad’s say, “What is it with women and chocolate?”

“I’m not sure,” came an answer from another man. “All I know is you just don’t get in the way of it.”

That’s right, brother. There is a story reported by Thomas Gage back in the 1600s about a bishop who outlawed the drinking and eating of chocolate by the women of his congregation-during church, that is.

It seems the ladies claimed “much weakness and squeamishness of stomacke, which they say is so great that they are not able to continue in church unless they drinke a cup of hot chocolate. For this purpose it was much used by them to make their maids bring them to church a cup of chocolate, which could not be done to all without a great confusion and interrupting both mass and sermon.”

When the bishop banned the drinking of cocoa in church, he was found dead eight days later. The death was never investigated, but it was rumored that a gentlewoman persuaded one of the bishop’s servants to slip him some poison in his bedtime cup of hot chocolate.

Women and chocolate is a powerful combination.

OK, enough for our little history lesson. Now, back to the chocolate factory.

The Russell Stover factory outlet store literally has walls of chocolate. The boxes of delights just go on and on with prices dramatically slashed on the products that have passed their sell-by dates or on factory seconds. These chocolates are still good to eat; they just can’t be sold in stores.

And of course there are boxes of candies that are fresh and first rate, yet selling below market prices. Boxes of mints, packages of coconut cups, sacks of nut clusters-the rows of candy displays seem to go on forever.

Keith and I walked along the aisles and picked up a few boxes to take home. We admired the display of giant chocolate figures that had been designed by the artisans that work at the factory and we looked at the fancy hand-dipped chocolates that were for sale by the piece.

And then, to top off our visit, we stopped by the ice cream parlor and bought a scoop of their specialty ice cream.

That cup of ice cream reminded me of one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies, “Steel Magnolias.” In that movie, one woman asks another to write down a cake recipe for her.

“Oh, we don’t need to write it down, it’s so simple,” says the one with the recipe in her head. She then goes on to recite the ingredients: a cup of brown sugar, a can of fruit cocktail….”

The list continues with each addition being more syrupy than the next.

“And I serve that with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to cut the sweet.”

I love that line. And that’s how I felt after eating all that chocolate. I needed some vanilla ice cream “to cut the sweet.”

The boxes of chocolates we brought home that day are empty now and I was just wondering…. Anyone up for a trip to Abilene?

* * *

Our family spent some time out at Ebenfeld Mennonite Brethren Church this past weekend to help that congregation commemorate its 125th anniversary. My son came into the kitchen one afternoon and announced for all to hear, “Boy, this is a friendly church.”

I couldn’t agree more. God’s blessings to all of you at Ebenfeld. Thanks for including us in your time of thanksgiving and celebration.

* * *

The recipe that follows won the Pillsbury Bake Off a few years back and has become one of our family favorites. I recently brought it to a couple of functions that I participated in and was asked to share the recipe. So, Ev and Carol, here it is.

Don’t be put off by the length of the recipe. This cake is so simple to put together and the product is wonderful.

Chocolate Praline Cake

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup whipping cream

1 cup packed brown sugar

3/4 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

1 Devil’s Food cake mix (the recipe calls for Pillsbury brand-duh -but I’ve used other brands with success)

11/4 cup water

1/3 cup oil

3 eggs

13/4 cups whipping cream

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1/4 tsp. vanilla

In small saucepan, combine butter, 1/4 cup whipping cream and brown sugar. Cook over low heat just until butter is melted, stirring occasionally.

Pour into two round cake pans and sprinkle with chopped pecans. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, oil, eggs and water and prepare as directed on package. Carefully spoon batter over pecan mixture. Bake at 325 degrees for 35-45 minutes or until cake springs back when touched in center. Cool for five minutes and then invert onto plate and carefully remove pan.

Beat 13/4 cups whipping cream until soft peak form. Blend in powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until stiff peak form. To assemble cake, place one layer on serving plate and spread half of the whipped cream on top. Top with second layer, praline side up and top with more whipped cream. Garnish with shaved chocolate and toasted pecans. Store in refrigerator.

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