September 17, 2020 – Washington Co., WI – The tines are bent and uneven and the wood handles show more than a century of wear. They live in the far recesses of the silverware drawer and hardly see the light of day anymore, but I cannot bear to part with them because they belong here in the house where they came as new forks to be used by the farming family who became my great-grandparents and grandparents and mother.
My grandparents married in 1920, but just a year or so earlier my grandfather became ill with the Spanish Influenza. No one was certain how he caught it because as a farmer, he almost never went anywhere. It was said that WWI soldiers brought the virus back with them from the front. Was he sneezed upon by someone at the feed mill or the hardware store? Could he have caught it at a dance, perhaps?
Family lore still speculates, but he was very ill for three months. His unmarried sister Mary came to keep house and nurse him, and his brothers helped with the farm work. I am pretty sure he ate with those wood-handled forks left behind by his parents because he didn’t yet have a wife to change the silverware style.
Somehow September and the start of autumn makes me want to nestle into home. I cook and bake and reminisce about the times shared in the kitchen around tables seasoned with family recipes and stories that keep us connected and cozy. It somehow is important to me to touch the things that family before me touched and those links to the past make the present warm and the future inviting.
Find more stories by Ann Marie Craig at CenturyFarmhouse.com
Now seems like a wonderful time to share Great-Grandma Anna’s recipe for little Hermits – a treat my mom remembers well, and a recipe Great-Grandma no doubt made here in my kitchen when my grandfather was growing up. Perhaps our oldest family recipe belonged my great-grandmother, Anna Tennies Wagner , who made fruity cupcakes she called Hermits. According to my mother, she made them all the time as after-school treats for her grandchildren, but they also were on the cookie plates among other treats at holiday celebrations. We don’t know exactly when she started making them – perhaps she made them as a child, growing up in the mid-1800s.
Great-Grandma Anna’s Hermit Cupcakes
1 pound seedless raisins
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
2 egg yolks or 1 whole egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup milk
In a saucepan, combine raisins and boiling water. Simmer until raisins are tender and plumped. Drain, reserving ½ cup water in a 1-cup or larger measuring cup. Let water cool to just warm.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Sift together flour and spices.
In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg.
Add baking soda to the ½ cup warm water; it will foam up.
Add flour mixture and milk alternately to batter, beginning and ending with flour. Stir in water and raisins.
Divide batter evenly among 48 greased or lined mini-muffin cups.
Bake at 350 degrees 10 minutes if using a dark pan, 12 minutes for a light-colored pan.
Let cool 10 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely. Sift powdered sugar over the top, if desired. Makes 48 mini-cupcakes.
Note: This recipe was originally published in The Flavors of Washington County Cookbook, page 292, submitted by my mother’s cousin, Rosemary Gundrum, of West Bend, WI. My sister Carol and my mom reworked the recipe to fit today’s baking standards and that was published on May 23, 2017 in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. These Hermits are wonderfully soft and fruity. Yum.