Great-Grandma Minnie's Knitting Needles and Cake

Over this past week, my family has been cleaning out my grandma's house.  She's been in assisted living for a bit now, and, for various reasons, decided it was time to start sorting through her worldly goods.

As I suspect would be the case with anyone who's lived in a house for over 50 years, there was way more than any of us could or wanted to take.  But--vintagey nut that I am--I did find a few treasures, and,slowly but surely, I want to take the time to tell the stories of them.

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We were all sitting in the basement going through an old trunk full of pictures and souvenirs--many of which seemed to be from my grandpa's Navy days--when someone pulled aside a bit of clothing to reveal these.  I was almost too excited to talk, but eked out, "Oh, can I please, please take these?"

"What are they?"  my dad asked, with a puzzled look.

"They're knitting needles!"

Judging from the rest of the items found in the trunk, we guessed they belonged to Grandpa's mother, Minnie.  From them, I was able to add another few tidbits to my store of knowledge about her.  

First, she wraps her double pointed needles in string from the last project she worked on, just like I do.  Second, she was a good knitter.  The needles are sizes 0 and 2--good for knitting socks and lace, not just chunky beginner scarves.

That's a lot to add, considering that I only knew about three things about Grandma Minnie before.

I knew that her great-grandfather was a tailor for the King of Sweden, and her grandfather worked in the King's gardens.  Her father, David, married her mother, Bengta--who worked in the palace brewery--and they immigrated to the United States in the 1880's.

According to my grandmother, who would have been Minnie's daughter-in-law, she was fairly meek and submissive to my great-grandfather--refusing to spend money on even small household goods without his permission.  But to the extent I remember him talking about her, I got a definite sense that my grandfather, her younger son and the baby of the family, adored her.

One summer--I must have been 10 or 11--my step-mother and I connived to surprise my dad with a picnic dinner.  I decided to make him a cake from a book of family recipes, and settled on one submitted by "Minnie", unaware that she was my great-grandmother.

Somehow, I ended up putting in far too much shortening--I think I must have switched the amount of shortening and the amount of sugar.  The picnic surprise came off perfectly, but then my dad bit into the cake.  

What you have to understand about Nice Dad is, he was wonderful about eating what I cooked with a smile, no matter what.  But this was so bad, even he couldn't fake it.  "Is this a joke?" he sputtered, as he spit the piece of cake out.  I quickly took a bite myself, and--there was no help for it--the cake tasted like a spoonful of straight Crisco.

When we next saw Grandpa, I recounted the story of the "Crisco cake".  It was he who informed me that "Minnie" was my great-grandma.  He said he remembered her making that cake all the time, and smiled fondly as he told me how he used to love it.

Looking at Grandma Minnie's knitting needles the other day, I got to thinking about that cake.  I pulled out the book of family recipes and decided to give it another try.

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I immediately realized why--at 10--I had difficulty with it.  It's obvious from reading it that she had it memorized so well that she didn't need basic instructions, like how long to bake it for or at what temperature.  But I took a good guess (350 degrees, start testing at 20 minutes and go until a knife comes out clean), and I can see why it was one of her favorites.  Not too sweet, light but still substantial...my piece didn't even make it long enough to get icing--it was perfect on its own with a big glass o'milk.

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