Mother Waddles’ Sweet Potato Pone

much wetter than I expected; the liquid wasn't milky, it was more like the juice that seeps out of baked sweet potatoes so I'm not sure if reducing the milk would actually make it firmer or not

The Mother Waddles Soul Food Cookbook

this image appears at least three times in the book too, a constant visual assurance that everything is going to be a-okayA couple of weeks ago at John King Books, I found a pamphlet called The Mother Waddles Soul Food  Cookbook published by Perpetual Soul Saving Mission For All Nations, Inc. © 1970. Perpetual Soul Mission was an aid society founded by the Rev. Charleszetta Waddles (aka Mother Waddles) in 1957 to provide 24-hour emergency services to Detroiters in need, including food, shelter, clothing, medical and dental care, legal aid, transportation, job placement, training programs, and help for drug addicts.

Waddles also ran a kitchen on Cass Avenue which served 70,000 meals a year for 35 cents each, or “free if you have no money.” And she hosted a radio hour every weekday morning on WCHD-FM. She doesn’t sound like the kind of woman who sat still very often. According to a note on the inside front cover, she only found the time to write this cookbook while confined to a hospital bed after falling down a flight of stairs.

There are prayers and poems interspersed with recipes for oyster pot pie, chitterlings, beef gumbo, and hot dogs with spaghetti. The soup section is prefaced, “In the upper crust sections of each and every town, the serving of soup is quite reknown, but all you have to do in the ghetto sections of the same town is to mention soup and you might get knocked down.” There are nine recipes and one poem about neck bones, short meditations on what it means to be a “a true brother” or “grass roots people,” and a poem titled “The Devout Weight Watcher” describing a family party as a form of torture:

Look at uncle Bill eating all that meat
Boy, I wish I could have about 10 Bar-B-Que pigs feet
They said because of calories, I can’t eat what I please
Therefore, I just have myself some cottage cheese

I'm partial to any recipe books that call for bacon fat by the half-cup

And in the very back, there’s the full text of a resolution signed by Governor William H. Milliken proclaiming Mother Waddles week: 

WHEREAS The estimable and loquacious Mother Waddles has led this community in a fuller understanding of the mandate to, “Love Thy Neighbor as Thy Self,” and,

. . . .

WHEREAS Mother Waddles is in constant need of assistance, for money, for meat and potatoes, for clothing and shelter, and,

WHEREAS Mother Waddles’ dedication and commitment commands all of us to meet her half-way*

Be it therefore Resolved that October 19 through 26, 1970, be declared Mother Waddles’ week throughout the glorious State of Michigan, and, on this day let every citizen become cognizant of quest [sic] of this lovely lady who in a simple way labors for the gains of her neighbors and the glorification of her society.

topped with graham cracker streusel, a bit like an inverted sweet potato pie

*I love the idea of declaring an honorary week as a method of meeting someone “half-way.”

What the Heck is Pone?

Before the Mother Waddles cookbook, I’d only ever heard of corn pone, which usually refers to a southern-style corn bread made without any eggs or milk and traditionally cooked in a cast iron skillet. The word “pone” was apparently derived from the Powhatan word apan, meaning “something baked.” It was adopted by English-speaking settlers in Virginia to refer to what was also called “Indian bread,” or bread made from corn instead of wheat. But I can’t figure out how it also came to refer to what turns out to be a custardy sweet potato casserole, which, unlike corn pone, is full of eggs, milk, and sugar.

Mother Waddles’ recipe actually calls for so much sugar that’ I’m almost certain it’s a typo: 1 1/2 lbs (3 3/8 cups) in a recipe with only 2 lbs sweet potato? The rest of the recipes in the book give sugar amounts by the cup and some other recipes for sweet potato pone call for as little as 1/2 cup of sugar (or 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup molasses) for comparable quantities of sweet potato. I’m guessing the recipe was supposed to read 1 1/2 cups not pounds. The other recipes also claim that sweet potato pone originated as a 19th Century street food in New Orleans also called pain patate (potato bread), so perhaps this “pone” comes from pain not apan. 

Most recipes call for spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and most describe it as firm enough to slice and eat by hand. According to one cranky commenter on the recipe for Jazz Fest Sweet Potato Pone on Food.com, the “real deal” also involves coconut and raisins and a “darker topping that isn’t all sugar.” A Times-Picayune article says many home recipes call for a hefty dose of black pepper to give it a little kick. Some more recent versions add brandy and orange zest.

I used Mother Waddles’ recipe as a base, cut the sugar to 1 cup, added 1/4 cup molasses and a cup of raisins soaked in orange juice and topped it with a graham cracker & pecan streusel. It definitely wasn’t firm enough to eat by hand, although it might be if I’d used half as much milk & eggs, like some of the other recipes linked above. Instead, what it reminded me of most was bread pudding, but straddling the line between a sweet side dish and dessert. It also makes enough to feed a lot of hungry people, which I suspect was probably exactly what Mother Waddles had in mind.

Recipe: Sweet Potato Pone (adapted from Mother Waddles and assorted others)

Ingredients

  • 2 –2 1/2 lbs sweet potato (about 2 very large or 3 medium) I was initially going to bake this in a souffle dish, but there was too much of it
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 6 eggs*
  • 4 cups milk*
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon mace and/or allspice
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • juice and zest of a large lemon
  • 1 cup raisins (optional)
  • 1 cup orange juice (optional)

*For a less custardy, possibly hand-holdable version, reduce to 3 eggs and 2 cups milk

Streusel (optional) next time I might make more streusel

  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup melted butter

Method

1. Soak the raisins, if using, in the orange juice for a few hours. A splash of bourbon or brandy would also be welcome.

2. Peel & grate the potatoes and cover with milk to prevent browning.

3. Generously butter a 9×13 or 2 quart baking dish and preheat the oven to 250 F.

4. Beat the eggs well and add the rest of the ingredients, including the sweet potatoes and milk, mixing well to combine. Pour into the prepared dish.

5. Combine the streusel ingredients in a bowl and mix until crumbly. Sprinkle on top of the sweet potato mixture.

6. Bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until browned on top and set in the center.

7. Let stand for at least 30 minutes before serving.

halving recipe recommended; this makes an unseemly amount of sweet potato pone

Quick Spring Dinner: Stir-fried Noodles with Ramps & Eggs

and roasted cauliflower and fish cake (aka surimi aka imitation crab)

This is the kind of quick, simple cooking I rarely blog about because it doesn’t involve any advance research and usually happens at the end of a busy day when I’m too hungry to bother with pictures. But I was excited about my first ramps of the season and pleased enough with how the meal turned out that I decided this might be worth sharing.

Ramps are wild onions (or leeks) that grow across North America from South Carolina to Quebec in the early spring. Like morels, they’ve acquired a special status in part because they’re generally perceived as tasty and in part because they aren’t cultivated commercially, and thus can be difficult to come by. Unless, of course, you know how to forage for them, which is especially common in Appalachia and the Great Smoky Mountains. All of which gives ramps a sort of split personality: they’re prized by fancy urban restaurants because they’re the epitome of the “fresh, local, seasonal” aesthetic—they’re only available for a short time every year and too delicate to transport far or store for very long. But they’re wild and free and used extensively in some of the poorest regions of the country, where their short growing season is celebrated at the kinds of middle America heritage festivals whose attractions might include an RV rally or an outhouse race.

two bunches, $4 at Eastern Market in Detroit

If you happen to get your hands on some, you can use them the way you’d use any green/spring onion. Unlike commercially-cultivated leeks, their green tops are tender enough to eat. I decided to  freeze the ones from these bunches for the next time I make stock because I love the flavor of leeks in soup.

As for the rest, I minced the white parts of the ramps to sauté in bacon fat along with some garlic and ginger while boiling a few handfuls of udon noodles. Spaghetti would have worked, too. I left the slender burgundy stalks whole and added them in later, once the garlic and white parts had started to soften.

kind of similar to how I might cook garlic scapes

Then I tossed in some chopped, roasted cauliflower left over from dinner a few nights earlier, and when the noodles were done, I drained them and added them to the frying pan along with a splash of soy sauce. Meanwhile, I threw a couple of eggs in the same pot I cooked the noodles in and let them boil for 5 minutes (so the yolks would still be just a little custardy in the middle) while I stirred the noodles until they were evenly coated. Added a package of fish cake and stirred some more, just until that was heated through—if I wanted to get fancy, I might have used a can of real crab instead. I'm really not sure if this is more Chez Panisse or RV Rally. Maybe somewhere in between?

Garnished with the eggs and some chives from a friend’s garden, as seen above. Kind of like a cross between Vietnamese garlic noodles and udon soup—the noodles were studded with bits of the sautéed ramps & other vegetables, full of funky garlicky flavor, with slightly-sweet bits of fish cake and the creamy semi-hard boiled eggs. In retrospect, some kind of bitter greens would have made a nice addition, but it was pretty delicious as is.

Pear Upside-Down Almond Cake (Gluten-Free)

an attempt at a spiral a ring with smaller pieces in the middle

All upside-down cakes are essentially the same: you start by lining the pan with sugar and pieces of fruit. The batter goes on top, and after it’s baked and cooled, you hold your breath and turn it over. If it doesn’t stick to the pan or fall apart, the fruit on the bottom of the pan, which will have caramelized in the oven, should form a beautiful topping. No additional assembly or decoration necessary.

Pineapple is the American favorite, often with maraschino cherries tucked into the center of the rings. The French classic tarte tatin usually uses apples. I found myself with a glut of overripe pears again, so I thought I’d give those a try. I also wanted to keep it celiac-friendly, so I was delighted to find this recipe which uses ground almonds in place of any grain flours.From the original recipe at Epicurious

Flourless almond cake is apparently a specialty of several regions in Spain—I found it attributed to Galicia (in the northwest corner), Majorca (an island in the Mediterranean off the southeast coast), and Navarre (which borders France). It was likely created by Jews as a Passover dessert, as it’s free of both dairy and flour; the only ingredients are almonds, eggs, sugar, lemon zest, and (sometimes) cinnamon. Pastry shops near the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia now sell it year-round, dusted with powdered sugar except for a Santiago cross stenciled in the center. At cafes and restaurants on Majorca, home to over 4 million almond trees, the same cake is served with a scoop of dairy-free almond ice cream, which is described as being so light and pure in flavor it’s almost more like a sorbet. In Navarre, it’s typically topped with apricot jam.

Although the pears break with Spanish tradition, I think they complement the recipe well. They add a welcome bit of additional sweetness without overwhelming the delicate combination of almond, lemon, and cinnamon. The caramel also adds moisture and richness, without which it might seem a bit plain. And if you’re not keeping kosher, a generous helping of cream whipped with vanilla or an orange liqueur is a fine substitute for the ice cream.

Only a 1/4 cup of caramel for each cake, but the pear juices also caramelize and seep into the cake; also, a recipe that doubles with no problems

Recipe: Pear Upside-Down Almond Cake (adapted from Gabby’s Gluten-Free and Bon Appetit)

basic caramel, which I opted for instead of the brown sugar versions which seem to use 4x as much sugar and can be grainyIngredients:

For the topping:

  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 2 T. water
  • 1 T. butter
  • 1-2 large pears

For the cake:

  • 150 g. almond meal (1 1/4 cups; or 1 1/3 cups blanched, slivered almonds finely ground in a food processor)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • pinch of salt

Extras: more butter for greasing pan, parchment paper, whipped cream or ice cream to serve

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Generously butter a 9”  cake pan and line with parchment paper cut to fit the bottom of the pan.

my grocery store only carries that horrible "If You Care" brand, so my parchment is unbleached; I don't care about the color, but I hate supporting such a passive-aggressive brand name washing down the sides of the pan. you could probably skip this step if you add a tablespoon of corn syrup, which also prevents crystallization

2. Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan. Put some more water in another bowl with a pastry brush. Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir the sugar mixture until it dissolves. Continue cooking without stirring for 8-10 minutes or until it begins to darken. Use the pastry brush to wash down the sides of the pan with water periodically to prevent crystallization. Once it begins to color, swirl the pan so the caramel cooks evenly, and pull it off the heat once it’s a medium amber. Add the butter, which will bubble and foam, stir until combined and immediately pour into the prepared cake pan. If it wants to harden and won’t spread evenly, put the pan in the oven as it preheats for 5-10 minutes.

just beginning to color coating the bottom of the pans, doesn't have to be perfectly even

3. Core the pears and cut them into 1/8” slices. Arrange them in a single layer on top of the caramel.

spiral on the left, concentric circles on the right

4. Combine the egg yolks and sugar and beat until they’re pale and lemony. Add the almond meal, lemon zest, cinnamon, extract if using, and salt and stir until combined.

yolks and sugar, first combinedthis is how much they lighten with beating: no color correction!

5. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold the whites into the yolk mixture in 3 parts. After each addition of whites, fold just until nearly combined—there will be some streaks of egg white remaining.  addition #1 all egg whites mixed in--you can still see a few faint streaks of white

6. Pour the batter into the pan, spreading so the surface is even.

7. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cake pulls away from the edges and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

 in the pansdone--the structure of the cake is pretty firm once it's cooked

8. Let cool completely in the pan. When ready to unmold, place a plate upside down on top of the pan and invert. Shake to make sure the cake has released and remove the pan.