Heirloom recipes


'The cake that won the war'

Stories by Mary Ann Roser

The most vivid memories of holiday celebrations include shared meals with loved ones: the aromas, the tastes, the fellowship.

In honor of Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative’s 80th anniversary — and the electricity that made cooking and baking such a snap —we asked our members to share their favorite family recipes.

Click the white arrows below to scroll through recipes from the story. Then read more and download the full story, and select recipes, below the recipe carousel. 

‘The cake that won the war’
One of Lael Neill’s earliest memories is watching her mother make an heirloom apple cake, wrapping it in wax paper and sealing it in a paraffin-lined box. Off it went to her father, who was a U.S. infantryman fighting in World War II’s Battle of the Bulge. 

When the cake arrived in Europe six weeks later, it was in perfect condition. Her father shared it with his tentmates, cutting tiny pieces so they could enjoy it each evening while reminiscing about home. “They stretched that cake out quite a while,” Neill, who lives in Cedar Creek, said with a laugh. “He called it ‘the cake that won the war.’ ” 

The recipe, which Neill believes is German, has been in the family since around 1750. 

“I can always remember it at Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Neill, a published author, retired computer technician and former English teacher. She emailed a photo of a stained index card from her mother’s recipe box, saying, “You can tell it’s been very well used.” 

Download the Raw Apple Cake recipe »

Cookies baked with love

For half her life, 16-year-old Ana Matthews of Del Valle has been baking and decorating Christmas cookies, just like her grandmother taught her.

Grandmother Jesserene Matthews, a former home economics teacher who also lives in Del Valle, knows a thing or two about baking, as did one of her sons, the late Daryl Ray Matthews, who was known for his pies. Jesserene got the sugar cookie recipe from a friend in the 1950s and shared it with Ana, along with her old cookie cutters.

“I like anything having to do with something old,” Ana said.

Ana bakes the cookies in gratitude. After a spark from the stove ignited when Jesserene was cooking in her spacious kitchen, firefighters from the Travis County fire station in Elroy had to be called. They came, armed with axes that, luckily, weren’t needed.

Ever since, Ana has delivered dozens of carefully decorated sugar cookies and Toll House chocolate chip cookies to the fire station in Elroy for Christmas. “It’s a way to give back,” she said. “Taking them to everybody is my favorite part.”

Download Grandma Jesserene’s Sugar Cookies recipe » 

A young mother's legacy

Nancy King of Martindale has happy memories of dining with her mother at the now-defunct Tavern in Crystal City in South Texas, where the family once lived. Her mother’s favorite dish was Portuguese Tortillas, a cheesy chicken nachos dish that can be a shared appetizer or meal.

The two loved cooking together, and King’s mother, Genevieve Blackard, figured out how to make the tortilla dish at home. It’s among the many hand-written recipes from her mother that King cherishes.
“She died when I was 12,” King said. Scarlet fever had ruined her heart, and she was just 33.

“I was her right-hand person,” inside the kitchen and out, King said. They would lie in the backyard together on dark evenings, and Blackard would point out the constellations.

King made the recipe for her husband, who died in February 2018, and still serves it to her children and grandchildren. It makes her feel closer to her mother. “When I make it, I remember the times we lay out in the yard and looked at the stars,” she said.

Download Portuguese Tortillas recipe » 

Her ‘go-to’ dessert

Charlene Yezak of Brenham is the kind of person who devours a cookbook, reading it from cover to cover, like a novel. She loves making new dishes, but one recipe that’s been in her repertoire for more than 30 years is still going strong.

Yezak found the chocolate cake recipe in The Houston Chronicle when the family lived in Spring, just north of Houston. She baked it to celebrate her daughter Rebekah’s fourth birthday. Ever since, Rebekah’s Favorite Chocolate Cake has been a family favorite.

“I try never to do the same thing twice, except for this cake,” Yezak said.

When Rebekah, 37, lived in Boston for about a decade, Charlene baked the cake in a small bread pan and mailed it for her birthday.

Charlene also uses the recipe for cupcakes and freezes them to satisfy her husband’s sweet tooth.

Rebekah’s son, Thomas, enjoyed his grandma’s chocolate cupcakes when he turned 4 in September. Then, Charlene whipped up a cake for her dad’s 91st birthday in October. “This is definitely a go-to recipe,” she said. “I make it five to ten times a year.”

Rebekah and the rest of the family are glad she does.

Download Rebekah's Favorite Chocolate Cake recipe »

Nurturing a Wendish tradition

If you have any doubt the Wendish culture still thrives in the Giddings area — 165 years after the Ben Nevis clipper ship docked in Galveston with 500 Wends from what is now eastern Germany — look no further than the noodle dishes served throughout the area.

“I remember my grandmother making noodles,” said Brenda Muniz of Serbin, which is about 7 miles south of Giddings. She was preparing a favorite casserole with her twin, Linda Wilkins of Elgin, earlier this year as their mother, Minnie Mae Schulze, looked on. “My grandmother had a big table, and she would roll out the dough and make little strips. She’d let the noodles dry out overnight,” Muniz said.

The twins’ grandmother would then kill a chicken and simmer the noodles in the broth. The aroma of baked chicken and noodles greeted family members as they arrived.

Today, the sisters make a hearty family favorite with noodles and beef, a recipe they credit to their mother, who lived in Serbin. She died unexpectedly in September 2019.

Wilkins picked up homemade noodles from the Texas Wendish Heritage Museum in Serbin, and the twins used their late grandmother’s 100-year-old wooden spatula to stir the pot.

“We would meet at my mother’s every Sunday after church and, occasionally, we’d make this recipe for lunch,” Wilkins said. It sometimes appears on their Christmas Eve menu. Always, it reminds the sisters of their grandmother. Now, it will always be a memory reminding them of their mother, too.

The family traces their ancestors to those who arrived in Texas. Five generations later, the noodles live on.

Download Hamburger Corn Bake recipe » 

Pick a pie

Long ago, before there were supermarkets, most rural families had to hunt, grow or forage for their food.

Donna Wynn of Bastrop County thinks about that by-gone time when she steps outside, picks a bunch of mustang grapes and makes green grape pie.

“This pie is from an era that doesn’t exist anymore,” Wynn said, adding that her mother, grandmother and, quite likely, her great-grandmother, made the same pie. “To me that’s sad. It’s not my world anymore” because fewer people today grow what they eat.

But she happily recalls the values her foremothers passed down: independence and self-sufficiency.

The best time to pick mustang grapes is the second week of May, when the seeds are soft, Wynn said, although some cooks prefer to pick the small mustang grapes in summer. She cleans the grapes and freezes bunches so she can have her favorite pie whenever she wants.

The grapes are highly acidic, and can even taste sour, so Wynn uses a cup of granulated sugar for each cup of grapes to create a sweet pie.

“People are usually a little bit skeptical,” she said. “But after the first bite, they’re usually pretty pleasantly surprised. And it’s wonderful with vanilla ice cream on top.”

Download Green Grape Pie recipe » 

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