Friday, June 7, 2013

The Canadian Food Experience Project: Wacky Chocolate Fudge Cake

I was sitting in my kitchen the other night, looking through my recipe books, trying to put together a meal planner for the next couple of weeks. I do this periodically when life gets busy.

Tucked into all of my recipe books, are little bits of paper with such things written on them as “Christmas Menu 1992” or “Book Club Dessert 1998.” In one, there is a poem that I wrote for my son when he was a baby. I’d been up very late, enjoying some time to myself, and reading my cookbooks, much like I’d been doing the other night.

I’ve left the papers there, knowing that someday they might mean something to somebody. Proof that I was here, perhaps.

That night, though, I decided to look for some “old time” recipes and came across a recipe book that was unfamiliar to me. The cover read Time Honoured Recipes of the Canadian West from Nabob Foods.

 As I opened the cover and began looking through it, I discovered a legacy:

Little bits of paper, yellowed and worn, stained over years of good use fell from the pages. Bits of paper written in my Grandma’s distinct script. Labeled with headings like, “Matrimonial Squares—good!” and “Prune Layer Cake - try.” Each one decorated with hand drawn pictures of roses and daisies and ivy. My grandmother’s trademark doodle—the flower.

I sat for a long while thinking about what I had found. Treasure maps connecting me once again to someone I have loved. She had sat, just as I do now.

I wondered if she knew how much the things she created from those little bits of paper meant. Her homemade breads, biscuits, and cinnamon buns. The gardens she tended, the flowers she planted and painted, the jokes she told, the dreams she kept. I wonder if she knew, truly, how much they were valued. That she was valued.

I wonder if she ever made that Prune Layer Cake and if it was good.


I wrote the excerpt above almost 11 years ago - about two months after my beloved grandmother, Helen Moody passed away and it was the first thing I thought  of when I decided to join The Canadian Food Experience Project.

The Canadian Food Experience Project begins today, June 7 2013. Participants will share our collective stories across the vastness of our Canadian landscape through our regional food experiences, we hope to bring global clarity to our Canadian culinary identity through the cadence of our concerted Canadian voice and we hope that other Canadian cooks and bloggers will join us.


The theme for the Canadian Food Experience Project this month is: My First Authentic Canadian Food Memory and the first thing that came to mind is birthday cake.

I grew up in Winnipeg, and though any Winnipegger will tell you the place to purchase a birthday cake in the 1970's (or now) was Jeanne's Bakery, mine was not a family with a lot of money and so for me, birthday cake was always this:

Wacky Chocolate Fudge Cake

Wacky Cake was a recipe my mom got from a co-worker at The Bay where she worked in the credit department until the early 80's, and the fudge icing - a topping that tastes remarkably, somehow, of maple - came from my grandmother's recipe box.

Put the two together, and you have a slice of my Canadian childhood on a plate; and indeed when I took my first bite this evening, I was a ten year old girl once again, having a slice of cake under the warm prairie sun in my back yard.

Is it 5 star dining  or a dessert filled with complex flavours and ingredients?

No. But that's not the point.

This recipe can be easily put together with ingredients most of us have in our pantries. That was the kind of food I grew up on. Our vegetables came from the garden and were eaten seasonally or blanched and frozen for winter, and the meals my mother and grandmother prepared were usually simple and very delicious.


We are each only here for the blink of an eye. A series of little bits of paper, strung together as moments that connect us to one another, and in turn, to ourselves. And then, one day we come across them, and we think, “Thank you. Your life had meaning. And value. Thank you for the buttons that you sewed, and for the moments that we spent together.”

There are two lessons in this. The first is to love and to value the people in our lives. To recognize the little things and take the time to notice. Don’t wait. Take nothing, and no one for granted. We are each living on borrowed time.

The second is to remember our own worth, and to think of our own little bits of paper, whatever they may be. Because when all is said and done, it won’t be the large gestures that will be remembered. It will be the bits of paper we leave behind, the smile, the kindness, that small gesture, and the love squeezed in between the lines.

I am proud to be a Canadian blogger and to add this little bit of my own paper to this very exciting project.

So now it's time to add yours... tell me about your grandmother. Do you have special food memories of the things she used to cook and bake? If so, tell me about it it, I would love to know!


Click here to visit the printable recipe for Wacky Chocolate Fudge Cake or enjoy my easy to follow step by step how to video:

Cake Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 cup luke warm water
  1. Mix the dry ingredients together in an un-greased square cake pan and make 3 wells in the dry ingredients.
  2. Pour the vinegar into one well, the vanilla into the second, and the melted butter into the third.  Slowly cover the cake with the luke warm water and then mix until smooth and bubbly.
  3. Bake in a 350 oven for 25-30 minutes. Cool and cover with fudge sauce. 
Fudge Sauce Ingredients
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  1. Bring ingredients to the boil in a small saucepan over medium eat and let boil, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.
  2. Remove from heat, let cool to room temperature.
  3. Beat in icing sugsr until smooth and then pour over cake.
  4. Refrigerate cake until fudge topping has set. Slice and serve.
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  1. Unfortunately I never knew my grandmothers since they passed away long before I was born.It will be fun to explore Canada from coast to coast during this project. I enjoyed reading your post!

    1. I'm sorry you never got to know your grandmothers. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting! I'm excited too!

  2. I, too, lost my grandmother but have since found some of her treasured bits of paper and it makes me feel a little closer and much like her. Great story Lyndsay. I learned about Wacky Cake when I was a volunteer at Ten Thousand Villages. We made it all the time because it was inexpensive and everybody loved it. Ten Thousand Villages head office is in Winnipeg! So there is another connection!

    1. Isn't it fun seeing the connections we all have, already, just through this project? Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting Sarah. I'm so glad you found your bits of paper.

  3. My dearest Lindsay,
    Ah, you were a prairie gal! Now it all unfolds... First, that handwriting is so much like my own mother's, she could have written it. Her name is Helen. She is 83, and I just bet I am that much older than you. Serendipity. Next, birthday cake is such a Canadian food tradition! There isn't just one... but the very idea of it exists, and the quintessential one would probably be the layered cake, iced. Ours was angel food. I have a beautiful post written about the family history of that cake. Next, our traditional family cake that has become the companion birthday cake is mom's FAMOUS chocolate cake with brown sugar icing. The cake and icing are different, but the idea is the same.... and I have never met anyone else who makes that combination. You can find that on my site, but I need to do something more about recording the history of exactly how she makes the icing. It is almost like a fudge. Last, your video is spectacular. Love the Bewitched "music"... that little theme is such fun. I imagine this cake recipe to me mid 50's. Would I be right? As, the three wells in the cake would be a mid-century modern kind of idea, me thinks. What a fun recipe for kids to make! (except the icing would be a little dangerous!)
    Thrilled you have joined this project! Such a flood of similarities... oh - the pieces of paper with holiday menu plans... I cannot bear to throw mine out, either! But, since technology is so prevalent, the space time I used to enjoy to leaf through such pages no longer exists. I have to put it on the calendar to get to do it. Such a lovely way to start my morning!
    Big hug

    1. Valerie, I can't say enough about how much I'm enjoying this project and how appreciative I am of you putting this on! Each blog I read creates a new connection or brings back a memory of something I've experienced. Any questions I may have had about our Canadian food identity have already begun to be answered.

      I agree that the Wacky cake must have come out of the 1950's or maybe even the late 1940's. I write a weekly story on my blog about a small Saskatchewan town in the 1940's and, as such, have seen the trend towards "quicker easier recipes" coming out then :-)

      I'm honoured to have you read my blog! Your kind words mean a lot to me Valerie. Thank you!

  4. Oh - Lindsay - another thing that tells me there is an era difference in our ages... everyone bought birthday cakes when you were young. It was unthinkable when I was young. There was really no such thing. I mean, if the cake was bought, the mother was sick, or something, and everyone knew it just wasn't that good... then later, when the flowers and the big decorations appeared, we loved that, but the cake was never good. Everyone buys everything now. Homemade cake is a rarity. Isn't that just so sad.

    1. I'm trying to think about the first time I would have seen or tried one of the cakes I'm talking about from Jeane's Bakery and I'm thinking it was probably the 80's when I was a teenager, though they were around long before then. Like you, I never even imagined someone would ever buy a birthday cake :-)

      Of all the store bought cakes I've ever had, though, Jeanne's Bakery is the best!