Born in 1909, Sarah Jones lived in the small town of Cynthiana, Kentucky. Much of my great-grandmother’s life was spent on a farm, and my mom always likes to tell stories about watching tiny chicks in the incubator as a kid. By the time I came around, or at least as far as my memory goes, the farm was gone. I remember a field of flowers. I remember that we had to take long, winding roads to get to her house, and I would usually throw up because I’m prone to motion sickness. And I remember that she made the only green beans I enjoyed eating as a child.
Then I grew up, and even though the highway made it easier to get to her house, I didn’t see my great-grandmother much. I guess I was busy being a teenager in Cincinnati and then trying to be an adult in lands far away. She died at 98, and the last time I visited her we ate slices of her famous jam cake at the kitchen table, laughing as we picked the blackberry seeds from our teeth.
My aunt recently gave me the recipe, which calls for a large bundt pan, but she said she often makes small loaves to give out to people around the holidays. My friends and I got together for a baking extravaganza and used mini-bundt pans that made individual servings.
Sarah Jones’s Kentucky Jam Cakes
- 1 c butter, softened
- 2 c white sugar
- 6 eggs
- 3 c flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1/2 tsp cloves
- 1 c buttermillk
- 1 c seeded blackberry jam
- 1 c nuts
- 1 c raisins
In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar and mix in eggs one at a time. In a separate bowl, sift flour, salt, and spices. Whisk baking soda into buttermilk and add to egg mixture. Add flour mixture gradually, beating smoothly, and stir in the remaining ingredients.
Pour into a greased bundt pan. Bake at 325 for 65 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. (I think we baked the mini-bundts for about 25 minutes). The directions say to start out on the bottom rack and transfer to the top halfway through, but we didn’t do this and our minis turned out fine.
You can eat them as is, but they are best with my great-grandmother’s caramel frosting. Actually, that’s the best part!
- 2 c light brown sugar
- 1 c granulated sugar
- 2 tbs corn syrup
- 3 tbs butter
- 2/3 c heavy whipping cream
- 1 tsp vanilla
Mix all ingredients except for vanilla and bring to a rolling boil. Cook 5 minutes and add vanilla. Let cool until it begins to thicken. Frost away!
Admittedly, I couldn’t figure out the best time to frost the cakes. At first, it didn’t seem cool enough–too runny–but then suddenly it was pretty stiff. I was able to go back over the cakes after frosting and smooth them out to some extent. Alternatively, you could try pouring the frosting over the top of the cake while it’s still warm.
If you make miniature versions, pop yours into the microwave briefly before you eat it for a warm and festive New Year’s treat. I’m curious to hear if you have any cherished family recipes that remind you of a special moment in your life.