Celebration Pear and Cranberry Cornmeal Cake

I hope you’re all having a great long weekend! I am thoroughly enjoying the last vestiges of the summer holiday. (What?? Summer is over?  Back to school and sweaters and crinkly leaves on the ground and pelting rain and mud and paw prints all over the carpet and frigid mornings and seeing your breath as you huddle toward the car–in the dark–and cranking up the heat and pulling out the jackets and scarves and gloves and snow–snow!–and ah, me, it’s winter and—)

Waaa!  Boo hoo!  Snuffle snuffle. *SOB*! I want summer back!

Sigh. Sorry about that little outburst.  I’ve regained my composure, now.

Besides, now that I’m an adult (chronologically, anyway), I do realize that autumn isn’t all bad.  There’s the flavorful fall produce, and hand knit sweaters (which are so good at covering up those midsection lumps and bumps) and corduroy, and crisp, fresh air that sharpens everything, as if the houses and trees and automobiles have been outlined with a thin tracing of ink.

Oh, and a bevvy of holidays.

When I was growing up, we shared a duplex with my aunt’s family just upstairs. Because Aunty M (no relation to The Wizard of Oz) was almost 20 years older than my mom, and because our grandparents had died before we were born, we kids always thought of Aunty M as more “grandmother” than “aunt.” And let me tell you, nothing could compare to holidays at Grandma’s house.

The otherwise utilitarian kitchen table, a long wooden rectangle stained and etched from years of daily use, would be pushed into the living room (there was no dining room), with what looked like its metal-and-plastic progeny–the folding card table–set beside it (that was where the kids sat, of course).  Freshly laundered and pressed white tablecloths were shaken out and smoothed into place, intersecting lines permanently engrained in their weave from having sat, folded neatly in blocks in the linen closet, for the remainder of the year.

On these occasions, my real grandmother’s silverware was fetched from the basement, a lone “K” engraved proudly on the handle of each knife, fork and spoon. We had actual napkins at the table for once, and soda (or “ginger ale,” as we referred to all types of carbonated beverages) was served in glass pitchers rather than directly from the plastic bottles.  Glasses were set out and glistened, scalloped pickle plates were laid out, and the entire house began to buzz with anticipation.

My mother and my aunt would spend days preparing in the kitchen as we children wandered in and out, plucking raisins from cookie dough or absconding with whole chunks of semisweet chocolate.  We’d peek at the huge pots like mysterious cauldrons bubbling and spurting on the stovetop, never venturing too close. At same time, the oven toiled all day as it transformed jiggly pans into cakes, cookies, or kugels, warming the kitchen and spreading the aroma of chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla and apple throughout the house.

Holidays were family occasions, shared with as many relatives as possible.  I loved it when my cousin CBC and her family made the trek from Boston, since her kids were close to my age and their arrival always meant days filled with giggling, plays in the back yard, a co-conspirator with whom to tease the CFO, and extra treats for everyone. Despite anything that had preceded, the holiday dinners themselves were always happy affairs; adults were jovial and relaxed, we kids were allowed to indulge in second helpings of dessert, and everyone embraced the festive atmosphere. Whether it was a holiday, anniversary, or birthday celebration, we all came together to enjoy each other’s company along with the feast.

(When the HH and I were first together, I was both shocked and appalled to discover that he grew up in a home that didn’t celebrate holidays. No big family gatherings; no special meals; no gifts. “All days are special,” was his (otherwise normal) dad’s philosophy. “Every day is a holiday.” In fact, the HH was so accustomed to his family’s indifference about such things that he didn’t bother to get me a birthday present that first year we shared a house. Oh, yes.  Hysteria [mine] ensued.  Contrition [his] followed closely behind. And no, he hasn’t made the same mistake since.)

This year, I was feeling a little disheartened at the prospect of those imminent celebrations and Christmas just around the corner (for which I now supply a list of desired items to the HH every year) precisely because food has always played such an integral role in our family gatherings.  I hadn’t anticipated still being on the ACD by now, you see.  No feasting?  No wine with dinner?  No–dessert?!

It was almost enough to make me jump on the HH’s “let’s just ignore the date” bandwagon. But then I realized two things: first, we could still make the days special. We can still set a beautiful table and make a point of sharing the evening with friends or family.  We can still enjoy nature’s bounty.  And I can still enjoy special-occasion foods; they just won’t be the same ones I used to eat as a child.

In fact, once I began to think about it, I was amazed at how many foods have found their way back into my diet.

First, there was chocolate–albeit unsweetened–but chocolate nonetheless.  In Stage Two, the ACD gave me fruit.  Previously forbidden apples (and pears, and berries, and peaches and nectarines) were welcomed back to the menu. Finally, as the symptoms continue to abate (they’re about 95% cleared up, now) the universe continues to bestow more and more low glycemic sweeteners.  And the Universe said, “Let there be coconut sugar. And with it, let there be the occasional agave nectar.” And so, life is good.

This pear and cranberry cornmeal cake is the first cake I concocted with coconut sugar.  Since corn is so often a symbol of autumn harvest, I thought cornmeal would be a perfect ingredient to include in this celebration dessert. Like the coconut sugar, corn is an “occasional” food on the ACD.  Pears are abundant right now, and cranberries are quintessential harbingers of the holidays and the festive season.

Like sparklers on a birthday cake, the cranberries in this moist, dense sweet add glitter and verve, a tangy counterpart to the smooth sweetness of the pear chunks dotted throughout.  The cake presents a surprisingly fine crumb, and the addition of lemon zest brightens everything. In fact, this dessert was so good that I took a first bite and immediately thought, “Oh, no, I’m not supposed to be eating this on the ACD” before realizing that “Oh, yes, I am allowed this on the ACD!”

Well, in moderation. It is a special occasion food, after all.  But then again, despite what the HH’s father may have thought, it’s not every day we celebrate a holiday.

For those of you who celebrate, have a Happy Rosh Hashanah! :D

I thought this cake would be an ideal submission to Amy’s Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays event.  Hop over and take a look at all the other delicious creations!

DDD News and Updates:

There’s a New (FREE!) Ebook from the lovely Alisa of Go Dairy Free and One Frugal Foodie.  When she noticed the sorry state of back-to-school foods in her area, Alisa decided to do something about it and recruited a group of food bloggers to contribute recipes for an e-cookbook.  The book, Smart School Time Recipes, contains over 125 recipes (a few from yours truly!) for healthy, kid-friendly breakfasts, snacks, lunches and more! You can download the cookbook directly from Alisa’s blog, here.  Have I mentioned that it’s FREE?

And don’t forget there’s my new ebook, Desserts without Compromise, for $9.95 (available here). Or buy both ebooks for just $16.95.  Great for holiday meals and desserts if you’re on a special diet!

I also wrote a guest post last week for Amy’s blog, Simply Sugar and Gluten Free.  Amy’s recipes and mine have a lot in common.  Somehow the perfect recipe match brought to mind the perfect life partner. . . so that’s what I wrote about!  Check out the post here.  I had lots of fun writing it.

DDD Gets Around:

Again this week, I’ve been honored that several DDD recipes were prepared or mentioned by other bloggers or writers!  Here are some of the recipes you’ve all made or blogged about:

Did you cook up something from the blog or one of my cookbooks?  Let me know if I’ve missed your post and I’ll add it next time! (for cookbook recipes, please ask permission before posting).

Never miss a recipe–or a comment from The Girls! Click here to subscribe to RickiHeller.com via email. You’ll get recipes as soon as they’re posted, plus cookbook updates and news about upcoming events! (“We love subscribers, Mum. . . almost as much as we love treats!”

You might also enjoy: Rustic Plum-Topped Breakfast Cornmeal Cake

Two Years Ago: Pizza with Pizazz: Jalapeno Pesto Pizza

© 2010 Ricki Heller

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Comments

  1. What a beautiful cake! I love cranberries & cornmeal together–this looks like a winner!

  2. This cake includes quite a few of my favorite flavors, no wonder it seems so delicious to me! I can almost taste it already… yum!

  3. The cake looks good — not deprivational at all. I think you’ll do just fine for the holidays. But as for your descriptions of the end of summer, I’ll take the first one. I guess I’m not adult enough to see the good points of the approaching winter. All I have to say about summer is, “COME BACK. COME BACK.”

  4. Was so nice to hear your family’s holiday description! Thanks for sharing, and the cake looks delicious!

  5. Thanks for the shoutout – it was heaps of fun to make your recipes :)

    I am so not ready for fall. For the first time ever a warmer climate year-round is terribly appealing.

  6. This sounds really lovely! I am going to have to buy some pears now.

  7. Jes,
    I had had cornmeal cakes before, but never with cranberries. It really is a lovely combination!

    Josiane,
    Me, too! Oh, wait, I did already taste it. . .!! ;)

    Andrea,
    I’m with you on the “hate winter” thing. I am already feeling glum about the impending darkness and cold. Sniff. Boo hoo. Will just have to make cake, I guess. ;)

    DJ Karma,
    Thanks! It made me think I need to do a little more for the holidays around here. :)

    Valerie,
    I feel the same way re: climate. Been wondering where else I can live that doesn’t have a winter. . . let me know if you think of anything! ;) And glad you liked the recipes. :)

    Noelle,
    It will be worth it! :)

  8. Reading this post brought back memories of my own family’s holiday celebrations. Those are some of my favorite memories from childhood. Even though some of the family has moved to different parts of the country and our celebrations are much smaller, they are always special to me. It’s funny, my boyfriend’s family sounds like HH’s family. They celebrate the “big” holidays, but even still, they are nothing compared to my family’s celebrations. Even birthdays aren’t a big deal for them. I find it so weird!

    • I found the HH-family approach weird, too! But then again (as I’m sure I’ve said many times on this blog), the HH is pretty weird, all around. ;) Hope you have a great long weekend (think of it as a “mini holiday”) :)

  9. Pear and cranberry is one of my favorite combinations! This looks so delicious.

    I have to say, I LOVE fall! I’m so happy summer is coming to an end. It’s been too hot this year!

    • I have to say that pear and cranberry is one of my favorites, too–since I made this, anyway! ;) And I think I could handle fall if it never turned to ice and snow. . . sniff, boo hoo!

  10. Hi, I was googling and I came across your blog, especially for your homemade nut butter combos. I love your food blog! Your foods are always so creative, it makes me want to try them all! Thank you for posting the recipes for so many of your wonderful eats and keep them coming – I’ll be reading! :)

  11. oh my, to not have holidays! what a shame :) i suppose i love it now just for the occasion to get family together, and to cook for them!!

  12. ha how I remember the card table for the kids – mine is a family that celebrates for any reason and E’s family doesn’t seem to understand celebrations in the same way – but he loves to share a good meal so is happy to join in

    love the cake – have frozen cranberries in my freezer still from a bag I bought a while back and this seems an interesting way to use them – haven’t seem too many recipes for fresh/frozen cranberries in cakes – hurrah for change of season – we have had a wet cold winter so some sun is quite welcome here

    • Seems every family has “the card table,” doesn’t it? It must be E’s Scottish background (like the HH’s). And I’d much rather be going through your kind of seasonal change than the one we’re about to get over here!

  13. Corn might signal fall, but cranberries mean winter to me! Oh my! Has summer already finished?

    Feel fere to include my post in your next round-up: http://tastespace.wordpress.com/2010/09/02/baked-blueberry-oatmeal-breakfast-pudding/

  14. Ricki!! I always *LOVE* your long posts about family stories and anecdotes! It feels like I’m right there hearing those mysterious cauldrons bubble.

    What a beautiful cake! I wish my silly tastebuds would like cranberries already!

  15. That cake is sooo gorgeous, Ricki! I love using cornmeal in baking. :-) What sweet holiday memories, too. And, LOL on Aunty M, no relation to the Oz aunt. ;-) We used to have celebrations like those with kids’ table and all on Mr. GFE’s side of the family. Now they are all feuding and we’re lucky to have the whole family together. Sigh. I’ll keep hosting though for my family and enjoying it all.

    Oh, and way cool on so many folks making your recipes!!!

    Shirley

  16. I love reading about your holiday celebrations and all the people and bustle and food. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as coconut sugar! I’ll have to keep an eye out for that. This cake looks wonderful. I love cornmeal in baked goods.

  17. Ricki,
    What lovely memories shared with this cake.

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