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Handwritten is a place and space for pen and paper. We showcase things in handwriting, but also on handwriting. And so, you'll see dated letters and distant postcards alongside recent studies and typed stories. 

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Filtering by Tag: Family History

Lemon Pound Cake • Kelly Spivey

Brett Rawson

A note from Curator Rozanne Gold: In this beautiful story about a memorable lemon cake (and Brunswick stew), Kelly shares her experience as both a pastry chef and as a devoted member of a tight-knit family.  Kelly’s love of food led her to drop out of graduate school where she was pursuing a Master of Fine Arts to study baking (a girl after my own heart, I also dropped out of grad school long ago to pursue a career in New York’s food world.  I later went back to get an MFA — who knows — so might Kelly). After ten years as pastry chef, Kelly now works at a specialty coffee roaster and coffee bar in Memphis, Tennessee, while she researches and writes about the history of baking and pastry in the south. Southern food ways are so in vogue that I await her gorgeous prose.

In the South, our relatives are our people.

My people come from North Carolina. They were farmers and owners of a general store. They lived in Northampton County, almost at the border of Virginia, where the pine trees were just as much a commodity as the peanuts and cotton. 

My grandmother, Elizabeth Braswell Spivey, was born in Northampton County in 1925.  She lived on a farm very far out in the country.

On the property was a long, rectangular cook-house and an adjoining family room with a fireplace, couches, and games. The cook-house had a large wood-fired brick oven that housed two large cast iron pots, and a cast iron, gas-fueled fryer that only was used for cornbread.    

Starting somewhere in the ‘30s or ‘40s, my family has held a Brunswick Stew every year in the Fall.  We would wake up early for an hour drive to my grandparents’ house, usually arriving around seven. The men hauled firewood to the brick oven and lit the fire. The women gathered in the cookhouse family room to peel pounds and pounds potatoes, and to empty huge cans of tomatoes into the cast iron pots.  

Generally, the men did all the stirring with wooden paddles the size of boat oars, but as a defiant teenage girl, I refused to peel potatoes and insisted on stirring instead. I would sit on top of the warm bricks, next to the cast iron pots, and stir for hours. After three hours it was time to “take up the stew” and fry the cornbread.

I loved how we all came together and took hands as we gathered in a large circle. The head of the family (my grandfather and after he passed, my father), would lead us in giving thanks and each joined hand would gently squeeze the other before letting go.

Finally, we could reap the rewards for our work. Plates were filled with Brunswick stew, pulled pork, slaw, and fried cornbread. Then they filled again with brownies, pig pickin' cake, lemon pound cake, thick slices of pie, and occasionally, ice cream.

We made between 200 - 250 quarts of stew each year, to be shared with family and friends. It was kept in the freezer and sustained us all winter.   

After my grandmother's death in 2013, I received boxes of her cookbooks and recipes jotted down on envelopes or advertisements for fertilizer. Some were just newspaper clippings. I received all of this during a time when, as a pastry chef, I was beginning to delve into my own history and re-create the desserts of my people. 

The earlier recipes are written in cursive so neat you can almost see the lines of the grade school primer it was practiced in. The later recipes become smaller, cramped, and more hurried, making them illegible to the untrained eye. Sometimes there were just notes denoting "good" recipes.

As I worked my way through the scraps of paper and fragile books, I put the ingredients together in my head, tasting every dessert on the sideboard at Christmas and every contribution from my aunts at the annual Brunswick stew.  But it was my grandmother’s lemon pound cake that was in evidence at every gathering.  

The first bite was so good — the tart-sugary glaze on the pillowy, yellow-tasting cake.  The second bite was to make sure that yes, you can taste yellow. To this day, it is the only cake my brother will eat.

My assumption that this cake was a made-from-scratch triumph was quickly shattered when I asked my mother for her copy of the recipe and saw that a box of Duncan Hines yellow cake mix and instant yellow pudding were two of the key ingredients.  I wanted to make the legendary cake for my brother's birthday.  This was years before my grandmother had passed and I was at the very beginning of my pastry career.  (I’m now 33). 

I tried to reverse-engineer it — omitting the instant pudding and cake mix (the horror!) and adding in real lemon zest and juice — but the results were never as good.  Some things are best left alone.  My grandmother understood, after all, that a cake is just a reason to gather together.

Lemon Pound Cake

Note:  Kelly says that she often uses a Kitchen Aid with the paddle attachment and beats the batter for 8 minutes.  Her grandmother did it by hand for 10.  Pour the batter into a large loaf pan that has been brushed with oil and lightly floured.  Although the handwritten recipe does not include instructions for icing, Kelly prepares a thin glaze made from 1 cup of sifted powdered sugar and 2 to 4 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.    

INGREDIENTS: 

1 box Duncan Hines yellow cake mix
1 box instant lemon pudding
2/3 cups water
1/2 cup Mazola oil
4 eggs
Lemon flavoring to taste

DIRECTIONS:
Put in mixing bowl and beat for 10 min.
Preheat oven at 325. Cook for 1 hour
Does better if you do not open the oven door until the hour is up.
Makes 1 cake

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Kelly Spivey (left) and her grandmother, Elizabeth Braswell Spivey (above)

Gwen Beinart's Teiglach • Charlene Beinart

Brett Rawson

Note from Curator Rozanne Gold: What a lovely surprise to receive this beautiful story all the way from New Zealand.  Psychologist Charlene Beinart learned about “Handwritten Recipes” while listening to a podcast of “A Taste of the Past,” hosted by culinary historian Linda Pelaccio. The show, recorded in a hip studio at Roberta’s restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn, managed to tickle the tastebuds of a childhood in Durban (South Africa.)  How I love that connection! Teiglach (also spelled taiglach) is a sweet treat eaten on Jewish holidays, but most popular for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year).  This recipe is particularly fascinating to me because the teiglach of my youth were small balls of pastry boiled in honey and stuck together in pyramids with bits of candied fruit.  Gwen’s teiglach are, instead, large, oval rings of pastry afloat in amber syrup. Who needs to wait for a holiday?    

BY CHARLENE BEINART

My mom, Gwen Beinart (nee Sackstein), born in 1936, has always been the heartbeat of my love for baking. Over her lifetime she gathered a collection of recipes handwritten onto small cards — some her own, and others gathered from family and friends, tested, tasted, and kept as part of her core repertoire.

Of Lithuanian and German Jewish heritage, I am the second generation born in South Africa, and the youngest of three girls.  A typical Jewish immigrant history, my grandparents on both sides came to South Africa looking for a better life. They were very poor and my parents wanted nothing more than to give us the best possible life and education. My father was a self-made businessman and my mother was a very creative homemaker.

Of all of her recipes, there’s one that brings back the most vivid memories of delicious family time: Teiglach.  Syrupy, crunchy, chewy donut-shaped biscuits, these sweet offerings were at the centre of every gathering and a symbol of the importance of the occasion being celebrated.  This recipe was what my mother was best known for.  My emotional attachment to it was so profound that it took me more than 20 years after her death to make them. 

I am remembering, from my childhood in Durban, all the many conditions needed to make perfect teiglach.  First: the weather.  It must be a humid-less, sunny day, because the teiglach got dried out on my parents’ brick-paved patio before being boiled in syrup. Next: the equipment. You had to have the right pot, with a heavy metal lid and a brick placed on top to make it completely airtight. Then: no draughts! My sisters and I knew to never open the kitchen door and let in a draught when the teiglach were boiling on the stovetop!

I was always excited when my mom made them because it meant something important was happening!  Most likely, we were going to Johannesburg to be with my aunts, uncles, and cousins for Rosh Hashanah or Pesach.  Huge round Tupperware containers would be filled with my mom's teiglach and offered as gifts.  Everyone made a fuss: teiglach were considered a great delicacy.  Best of all, the containers were never returned empty — my aunts filled them to the brim with treats for our long car journey back to Durban.

After my mom passed away in 1991, we (my husband, three sons, and I) moved to New Zealand.  Naturally, my mother’s treasured box of handwritten recipe cards came with us.  But making teiglach felt far too daunting (emotionally and otherwise) to do on my own. Good results never seemed attainable. 

Just a few years ago, when my sister Kerry visited from London, we agreed to set aside a day to (finally!) make my mom’s teiglach. We had her Kenwood mixer, the right heavy-lidded pot, her lengthy handwritten recipe, and we felt her loving guidance — along with that of our other sister Elona, supporting us from England.

The family was well briefed: no opening the kitchen door, no draughts!    

Kerry and I put our memories together and got started.  Kerry remembered the teigel shape and we molded the dough before setting them out to dry in the sun. I remembered the three-step process to stir the teiglach once they were boiling in the pot: lift the lid, wipe off the condensation, and stir. Do this all quickly (remember, no draughts!) Of course this resulted in many hot syrup burns — scars I wear with pride!

While I always knew making teiglach was far more than following a recipe, I was not prepared for the overwhelming feeling I experienced when we opened the pot of the boiling treats for the first of six stirs.  The sweet, syrupy smell flooded me with lifelong memories of love, happiness, and of our beloved mom.    

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Mommy’s Teiglach (Gwen Beinart)
Note: Adjustments for gas stove made by Charlene

A Photo of Charlene's mother, Gwen Beinart

A Photo of Charlene's mother, Gwen Beinart

Ingredients:

6 eggs
1 Tablespoon Oil
1 Tablespoon Brandy
Pinch salt
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
½ teaspoon baking powder

Flour: 3 cups to start
Syrup: 2 lbs or 1 kilo tin golden syrup,
3 cups sugar, and 2 ½ cups water

Directions:

1. Slightly beat 6 eggs with oil, add brandy, salt, orange rind and then baking powder.

2. Add 3 cups flour sifted (one at a time).

3. Take a little bit on a small heap of flour and work in flour until dough is soft, slightly sticky but pliable. Roll into shapes in floured hands.

4. Put into floured tray to dry – preferably in sun for approximately 20 minutes, s turning over after 10 minutes

5. In the meantime, put syrup, sugar and water on to boil in large heavy pot (or weighted lid).

6. When boiling fast add teiglach. Close lid and boil on high for 5 mins

7. Then turn down to medium/high (low to medium on gas) to boil for 30-35 mins (26 – 30 on gas) before lifting lid. (Very important to weigh down the lid!)

8. Wipe lid and stir in quick motion every 5 mins until done (an additional approximately 20-30 minutes, or six stirs). Total time on the stove is 1 hour 10 mins according to Mommy but on gas probably a total of 55 mins)

9. Special note for gas : after 1st 5 min fast boil move pot to medium size plate on medium gas for 30 mins. Then do the lid/wipe/stir @ 5 min interval either 5 or 6 times in total.

10. When done take off 1 ½ cups of syrup for next batch

11. Then put in 1 heaped teaspoon ground ginger andhalf to ¾ cup boiling water down the side of the pot.

12. Stir until bubbling stops and take out teiglach onto damp board or plate. Leave to cool.

13. Can roll in chopped nuts if desired.

14. Store in plastic air tight container.

15. If making further batch add ½ used syrup and ½ new to same other ingredients – usually better

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Charlene Beinart works as a psychologist in private practice and her husband is a university lecturer. She writes, "Our sons have turned out to be far better cooks than me, and their interest in food history has captured my own. We are regular listeners of Linda Pelaccio's podcast, A Taste of the Past. Our oldest son is currently a MA student at Hebrew University, researching the lives and stories of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants to South Africa through the cookbooks they created and the recipes they passed down to their children."